Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all farming was organic by today’s standards. Nowadays, the norm in commercial agriculture is to boost crop productivity with chemicals, hormones and genetically modified organisms.
In conventional grape growing for the wine industry, synthetic fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers are all routinely applied in the vineyard. Some wine additives are permitted as well. However, reducing or eliminating the use of such chemicals can increase quality dramatically in ways that are considerably more apparent in fermented products like wine or cheese than they are in fresh produce.
Organic farming is an agricultural certification system that prohibits the use of specific types of man-made products and additives. An even “greener” and more rigorous system, known as “BioDynamic” certification, mandates a more complete rejection of modern agricultural methods, and returns to more ancient farming practices, like coordinating planting and pruning by the phases of the moon, or burying manures before use to maximize impact.
Both organic and biodynamic farming are growing in influence in the realm of fine wine because of their tangible impact on quality, and the higher prices that these wines can command. As a result, ambitious vintners are likely to use at least some organic- or BioDynamic-inspired methods, even if they don’t go through the effort and expense required for formal certification on the agricultural practices shown in the chart below.
Formerly the director of wine studies for Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute, Marnie Old is best known for her books published by DK – the award-winning Wine: A Tasting Course and He Said Beer, She Said Wine. Read her piece Why Do We Fill Wine Glasses Only Halfway?