Friday, December 21, 2007

Biodynamic wine guidelines

BD (biodynamic) wines are better for you and don’t have any "nasty additives", right?

What’s the difference between "BD wine" and "Wine made from BD grapes"?

Can someone "spike" his BD wine with common "organic" wine?

From the DEMETER website come these delightful documents to help us all understand what they're attempting!

First, since I’ve parodied this topic many times before, I feel it important to note that I really do want to know what all the fuss over BD wines is about. And to the point of this post, I’ve been rather frustrated by the lack of specifics when BD proponents and producers talk of these wines.

We now have something a bit more detailed to work with: DEMETER USA has a Wine Standards document posted on its website. That should provide us with a good foundation to decide what is and isn’t allowed in BD wine production. (I'll try to help by translating the more "interesting" phrases in the document... but to view it in its entirety please use the link provided above).

The Standard is of 16 parts, and not surprisingly, the first part is relegated to establishing the vision of the BD wine movement. It also contains the single largest caveat/disclaimer of the document:

Now isn’t that a kicker?

That warning is there to put the producer on notice that BD in NOT a panacea, and that even using it and its associated “spiritual science” you still won’t be able to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Also, that since you won’t be able to use some of the common “traditional” winemaking techniques to adjust your wines that other producers can employ and still call your wine your wine BD. They expect to have variation from one vintage to the next, so big producers who try to minimize those variations by blending on large scales may be out of luck

But you might end up reading it thus: IF you happen to have a fantastic vineyard which churns out fruit to make a wine which in your eyes is exactly what you want from the start without manipulation, then BD would be happy to ride along on the coattails of your successes!

One would assume from that statement that blending from one vintage to another is verboten (currently allowed under TTB reg’s @ 15% max), but that restriction sadly remains unstated…so its anybody’s guess on how that’s handled for any given wine.

§2 defines the various types/categories of BD wine, as well as placing some restrictions on how the DEMETER name/ BD branding may be used and products labeled.

DEMETER recognizes two distinct categories:
“Biodynamic wine” (explicit)
“Wine made from Biodynamic grapes” (explicit) …

[The document then goes through much of the remaining restrictions applying them to both classes, so the points between them are few, but significant ones at that.]

This same section lays out what it means to be “Biodynamic Wine”, and states curiously, …

(§2.a) “...Common manipulations such as yeast addition, enzyme addition, acidity adjustment, tannin addition, oaking and chappalization (sic) are not permitted.” (See “Oaking”, below…)

However, that doesn’t apply to “Wine made from Biodynamic grapes”, where you can add yeasts and ML bacteria, and can even adjust acid and or sugar as needed, so long as…

(§6.b) “Justification for acid and sugar adjustment must be documented.”

What was that?
Would “it tastes better with the extra acid” be sufficient justification?
What qualifies that addition to be made? Do we need prior authorization, or just to scribble a note to ourselves “wine needs acid” before we do it?
How long does it take for DEMETER or one of its reps to get back to you, in the event you need to make a time-sensitive adjustment?

The door is left wide open on that point…

And there’s no real difference between the acids you can add as a BD producer and the acids you’d be allowed to add if you were a conventional producer: citric, ascorbic and tartaric are all currently allowed under TTB reg’s - depending on what type of wine you are making. The restriction for the BD producer is that those acids must be either organic or BD in their origin (conventional producers can use synthetic...not that there's anything wrong with that...).

And yeast nutrients CAN be added to any/all BD wines, provided it doesn’t contain DAP (see below) and is otherwise approved of by DEMETER.

What is explicitly forbidden is the use of any material which has a GMO (genetically modified organism) origin, either directly or through the process of its manufacture. Also expressly prohibited are;

Diammonium phosphate (DAP) – a yeast energizer (Steiner feared man-made ammonia!)

Isinglas (swim bladders from Sturgeon, which they have errantly called “Sturgeon gall bladders (isenglas)” in the document),

PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) – a clarifier which is added then filtered out of the wine (I think they did this because it is synthetic…but that wouldn’t explain why they later allow polypropylene and nylon filtration membranes to be used…curious, eh?)

Blood – classically used in the Rhone region of France to clarify wines (but not currently done to my knowledge)

Gelatin (because of the animal origin, though again that’s curious as they allow –nay require- you spray your vines with various concoctions made using bovine intestines (from BSE free countries), skulls ([only bone] from cows [less than 1 year old], pigs or horses), and stags' bladders (not originated from North America, for whatever reason...) [see link].

Neither class of wine is required to go to bottle unfiltered. In fact, there are no real restrictions on filtration, other than the glaring omission of cross-flow filtration. Unbleached pad filters can be used for any BD wine. So can DE (diatomaceous earth), gold filters (I don’t know anyone who’s using those – and it would be kind of a waste anyways…), and the aforementioned polypropylene and/or nylon cartridge filters (standard industry issue there…).

Wine labeled “Biodynamic wine” must be restricted to a single vineyard estate, but can be of various blocks within that vineyard –provided they are BD farmed vineyards (see my post on single-vinyard-wines here). Regarding blending and topping-off (§10.b) BD wines are stated that this should be done using wine made from BIODYNAMIC grapes.” I think they meant MUST , not should…though that means you could top a BD wine with BD or organic wines, or maybe even conventional wines – though that would really not be in keeping with the spirit of BD production…


This point made above of not allowing “oaking” is misleading – under §7, titled “Oaking” we see the following applied to BOTH classes of BD wines: “§7.a) Oak may be provided by using oak barrels or oak chips. Chips should be barrel grade.

Ok…first things first. Get your document in order so you don’t include self-contradicting propositions. Secondly, it’s pretty hard to classify chips as “barrel grade”, they’ve been through a chipper, and are unevenly toasted, etc….

To paraphrase the old anti-Chicken McNuggets ad “chips are chips”. Frankly, you’re never really sure where they came from or how they looked before the got ripped apart.

So I guess I’ll have to settle for anything other than barrels and chips being outlawed (that being oak extracts and oak powder)…otherwise its still business as usual!


Fining and filtration still can be done. Bentonite and egg whites are still possible agents for that. Most of the language that is included is the document merely outlines what would be considered “industry standard” practices – like the use of food grade equipment. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) can still be used, up to a total level of 100 ppm, which is lower than the TTB reg’s 350 ppm total sulfite level for conventional producers (my experience is that most conventional table wines in the US hover around 25~35 ppm free sulfite, and 100~120 ppm total sulfite).


What we see is an attempt to minimize the influence of the winemaker in making the wines. What I also notice is that despite all of the protestations of the adherents of the system, it is rife with “standard industry practice” and manipulation. Glaringly open manipulation still exists. Other production restrictions also apply as general Demeter production standards are evoked as well, but those can be boiled down to prohibiting the following: GMO products or products made via a GMO, irradiating, fumigated (except for N2 & CO2), and pretty much any treatment involving microwaves. Other restrictions also apply –see the links below for full details.

DEMETER Wine Standards (US)

DEMETER Processing Standards (INTL)

DEMETER Production Standards (INTL)

DEMETER Beer Standards (INTL)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Brett-barrel revisit

It's been a bit since I posted, and for good reason.
With the nights being as cold as they have been, it was perfect weather to shut down the vines, and therefore a perfect time to get out and prune all the vines before the start of the wet weather. Having just finished with that -actually I got lucky and finished on Sunday morning, as the rain was just starting- I can now relax (just a little) and get back to blogging, amongst other things around the cellar...

The weather is turning, and we should see around 2 inches of rain this week, and I'm glad not to be in a rush to get back in the vineyard for a few weeks.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand: Brett and barrels.

One of the points in my previous post was to point out that new barrels coming in from a cooper are probably not the source of Brett entry into the winery because of the high temperatures and the length of time that they are held at those temperatures. I still think that makes quite a bit of sense. But after talking with a friend of mine, I found he has examples of staves and barrels which have large cracks where Brett most certainly find refuge when the barrel was cleaned!

In the photo below, the areas circled in red are longitudinal cracks on the interior of the barrel from when the barrel was made (the whitish-pink deposits on the staves are tartrate crystals). The stave in the middle is intact, from the same barrel as the others, but doesn't have these flaws....
You might ask "so just how bad is this?"....
In a word, "unacceptable" fact this barrel should have been rejected and sent back to the cooper, never to be filled with wine. The flaw on the lower stave is about 7" long, and 1/2"deep.

Sawing the stave in half reveals what really is the problem: debris, lees, tartrate crystals, etc...
In other words, the perfect reservoir for molds and brett to hang about and reinfect any other wine ever put into it. Even with ozone, it's doubtful that this area ever was cleaned properly.

Cracking off the overhanging wood, you can look directly at the scum residing underneath it:
This is a problem when inspecting all barrels when they are coming into your cellar: looking through the bunghole, you only ever see half the barrel. And it's really not practical to take a head off of each barrel to inspect the interior before they're used.

Brett spores may have found their way 8mm into the staves in some instances, but the idea that there are barrels in your cellar which will be repositories for brett regardless of what you do to clean your cooperage is just damned scary.

For what it's worth, my friend said that this particular barrel was French oak from a French cooper, and had never contributed to any brett lot that he could remember. What a miracle that seems like when looking at what they were dealing with! Sure, every barrel is somewhat unique as they're made from wood, which by its nature is of variable density, grain, etc....
But this barrel never should have left the cooper to start with.

Perhaps Matt Thompson is onto something after all when he states that it isn't in the coopers interests to be looking for brett...or perhaps to overlook many things that they might think will go unnoticed upon arrival. Like cracked staves...

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Biggest bottle - ever!

"Biggest Bottle of Wine ever produced in Australia Exported to USA."

New York - Biggest bottle ever to leave the Southern Hemisphere filled with Aussie Shiraz, results in immediate wine shortage on the Australian continent. Aussie producers herald the idea as a new way to use up excess supply of Alice Springs Sparkling Grenache, or other non-market performing blends to help keep the bulk market in balance.

"What really put the corker on the deal, was the slogan Yanks had coined years ago: one bottle a day is all we ask", says Richard "Dickie Bull" Bulldoon, winemaker for Perth Pink Wines, LLC.

"...mind you", Dickie continued, "repeat sales are a bit soft, but we're comin' out ahead with each sales."

"Plus we can market ourselves as a small boutique winery since we only have enough wine to fill a thousand of these bottles each year, so the snob factor works on two levels: not only do you own the biggest bottles ever made (as well as a full tenth-of-a-percent of the annual output of New South Wales), you also own a bottle from a producer who has a client list with only a thousand entries on it. No mass mailings here, eh?! Each one has it's own container to be shipped in, usually by bulk sea carrier. But I'm sure they taste exactly the same as they would if you drank one right at the winery - even though they've gone through the tropics & Panama to get to you..."

"...and best of all, you never have any of these babies returned to the winery! I'll tell you that will never happen, not at a ton [metric] each! And who cares 'bout wine quality either?! By the time they drag the cork out of that monster, they're so tired they'd drink any old swill or plonk...
Say, we're still off the record, right mate?"