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The Baltimore Sun

Go green with organic and biodynamic wines

Organic products are getting a lot of buzz these days. They are trendy and becoming part of the consumer purchasing decision in a significant way.

The old rule of thumb used to be that if you are going to eat the skin of the fruit or vegetable buy organic. There will be no chemical residue. If you are going to peel the product, the organic nature of your produce isn't as crucial.

But there's more involved than just the presence or absence of agro-chemicals.

According to Christophe Ehrhart, director of Domaine Josmeyer, a biodynamic wine producer in Alsace, the agro-chemical industry launched after the close of World War II. Farmers examining the bomb craters in their fields noticed that the vegetation surrounding the periphery was lush and green. It didn't take them long to figure out that it was the nitrogen component of the bomb that was responsible for such vigor.

Nitrogen began to be applied into the fields indiscriminately. Plants grew fast … so fast that their resistance was compromised and they succumbed to disease and pests. Farmers counterbalanced the threats with pesticides and fungicides.

This was the birth of our chemical dependence on the farm, but it is only part of the story.

Nicolas Joly, in his book "Biodynamic Wine, Demystified," writes that herbicide use, intended to kill weeds, kills the micro-organisms in the soil. The plant needs the help of those micro-organisms in order to feed itself, he writes, "rather as we need our hands in order to eat….In their absence the root starves just as we would if we were sitting at a table full of food with our hands tied behind our back."

As the plants lack in nutrition, farmers apply fertilizers. However, many fertilizers are mineral salts that make the plants thirsty; so they drink. As they drink, they fill with water and become more susceptible to fungi, and so the farmers apply more chemicals to combat this threat.

Organic and biodynamic growers bank on healthy living soil to create healthy plants. Healthy plants have a strong immune system that combats disease. Do the compounds these plants produce naturally to fight off bad bugs (both macro- and micro-sized) create more healthful produce?

Professor Carlo Leifert, of Newcastle University in the UK, conducted a four-year study that found that organic fruits and veggies contained up to 40 percent higher anti-oxidant levels than conventionally farmed produce. Organic produce was also higher in minerals such as iron and zinc.

So, yes, the term "organic" helps market a product these days, but for very good reasons.

Organic growers eschew the use of agro-chemicals. Biodynamic farmers do also; but in addition biodynamic growers perform their vineyard and winery tasks around the celestial calendar much the way moon-cycle gardeners work the Old Farmer's Almanac.

If you opt to "go green" while shopping pink, white or red, you'll find "organic" and "biodynamic" put into print on the back-labels of the wine bottles … but not always. Many producers do not wish to incur the cost of official certification even if they follow organic practices.

As a starting point, biodynamic producers have made shopping a little easier by hosting a web site. For a listing of biodynamic producers, go to: biodynamy.com.

Alternately, ask your retailer. They know their stock … and their stuff.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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