With Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon—cellarmaster for hip-hop’s perennial toasting libation of choice, Cristal—recently proclaiming that the future of champagne “will be organic and biodynamic,” a discerning tippler begins to wonder. Does it matter if the bubbly in the glass you raise this New Year’s Eve is organic? And what does biodynamic mean, anyway?
Environmentally sound winemaking, and how exactly to label it, is a subject of much debate in the industry. Three terms come into play: organic, sustainable, and biodynamic. Of the three, only “organic” is regulated by the U.S. goverment.
Right off the bat, things get complicated. There are two different kinds of organic in the wine world.
First, a wine can be comprised of certified organically grown grapes—raised without herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, relying mainly on compost for nutrients. But to prevent the wine from turning to vinegar, many winemakers thow in sulfites during the bottling process. Not exactly part of organic’s pristine image.
To be a wholly organic wine, no sulfites may be added at any stage (though they may naturally occur in small amounts). But without preservatives, a vintner risks what’s arguably wine’s most crucial factor—flavor. Plus, some experts complain that many organic vineyards aren’t sustainable over the long haul. Though natural pesticides are permitted when it comes to organic farming, weeds are often reigned in via an intense soil tillage process—which can lead to topsoil erosion and, some say, lasting damage to the eco-system.