Organic and Biodynamic Trail

Harvesting organic sauvignon blanc
Handpicking harvest team

POD 7: Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Winemaking

If you start with healthy high-quality grapes it is easier to make healthy high-quality wine with no intervention. In the winery like in the vineyard one chemical intervention leads to another. At Chateau Feely we follow organic, biodynamic and natural wine-making, that essentially means making wine with no additives except a small dose of sulphites at bottling.

  • With natural winemaking the grapes used must be organic and in the winemaking no additives are used in the process except a very limited dose of sulphites at bottling if necessary
  • With biodynamic winemaking the grapes used must be certified biodynamic and the winemaking process can use very few additives as per a strict list (LINK for Demeter approved products) and stringent sulphite maximums
  • With organic winemaking the grapes used must be certified organic and the winemaking process can use some additives, but they must be from a list of approved products (eg certified organic yeast) and stricter sulphite maximums than conventional
  • With conventional winemaking any approved wine additives can be used (the EU is stricter than the new world in terms of additives and techniques, but the list is still very large).

Winemaking: the key steps

Wine-making: the key steps

The basic steps in winemaking are:

  • White wine and rosé: harvest – press – ferment – mature – bottle.
  • Red wine: harvest – ferment (on the grapes skins) – press – mature – bottle.

Each step is complex and the way each of these steps is undertaken has an impact on the finished wine.

Harvest weekend on an organic vineyard
Organic merlot grapes hand harvest

Hand harvesting at Feely farm

Since 2014 all Feely grapes are hand harvested.  Hand-picking is more expensive so why do it? For us there are four reasons.

  • Better quality grapes and more precision about when to pick. We do a stringent selection of every bunch that goes into our baskets. In addition, we can pick areas of a vineyard earlier or later depending on their ripeness.
  • Feely wines are organic and vegan: no animal products are used in the wine making. Machine harvested grapes include many small animals: mice, lizards, snakes, sometimes even small rabbits. For red you only find out what was in there when you take the skins out at the end of the winemaking. A ton of grapes, half a snake, one lizard, 2 mice, three quarters of a frog. Sounds like a witch’s brew not a recipe for good wine.
  • It’s also about the positive energy, the community and the care of hand-picking. When we take such care through our growing season then we start the grapes journey to wine with violent thrashing by a 3-ton machine it doesn’t add up. We feel a totally different ambience when we are hand-picking, even on long days. There is a sense of community, of working together and of excitement.
  • A harvest machine, given its own weight and the weight of the harvest it has collected, plus the humidity of the soil that time of year, creates immense soil compaction. This is not good for soil health. A healthy soil needs air like us. It doesn’t matter how much food and water you have if you don’t have air you are dead. It’s the same for the soil.

What is Natural Wine?

What is natural wine?

Natural wine rules are stricter than organic and biodynamic but there is no certification, it’s not controlled by EU law and what we understand as natural wine is based on rules set by natural winegrower associations. Chateau Feely follow SAINS, the French natural winegrower association’s guidelines and sulphite limits. They allow up to 30mg per litre for red and up to 40mg per litre for white and rosé. Natural wine is essentially organic wine with no additives in the winemaking, natural yeast (also required for biodynamic certification) and very low or no sulphites.

Annual blending at Chateau Feely - red barrel selection
Feely Vérité back label

Sulphites

Sulphites – what are they and why are they used?

Sulfites are added to wine as a preservative. Sulphur dioxide – sulfites – is used in the wine as a preservative and as a cleaning agent in the winery.

Sulfites are inflammatory. They can create redness, cause asthma, give you a vice grip headache / tightness across the forehead, runny nose and other inflammation.

Sulfites can be used in all winemaking, even in natural winemaking, but the levels are lower. For example the sulphite maximum for dry red:

  • EU conventional maximum = 150 milligrams per litre (mg/l)
  • Organic = 90 (mg/l)
  • Demeter biodynamic = 70 (mg/l)
  • Natural wine (eg SAINS) = 30 (mg/l)

 

Feely wines are organic, biodynamic and natural.

Sulphites: maximum recommended levels, how is it possible to make no sulphite wines and more

Maximum sulphite levels for your body

The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends a maximum of sulphites of 0.7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. So a person of 65 kilogram should not have more than 45 milligrams per day.

At legislated EU maximum levels for conventional white wine, 200 milligrams per litre (mg/l), a 65 kilogram person reaches their maximum at less than a third of a bottle of white wine.

Some countries have higher levels than the EU. For example Australia has a limit across most wines of 250 mg/l and USA of 350 mg/l – more than double the EU  maximum for conventional red wine. At 350mg/l a small glass of wine would put you over the recommended maximum.

Take the example of dry red wine –  in the EU the conventional wine total sulfites max is 150 mg/l and the organic wine max is 100 mg/l. With certified organic dry red wine you can enjoy two glasses and stay well within the recommended level.

Not all wines can resist oxidation by natural means although organic and biodynamic farming helps to make it possible since antioxidants and acidity are higher than in conventional.

Biodynamic wine maximum sulfite levels different depending on the certifier

Biodynamic is stricter than organic, thus the maximum sulphite limits are lower in biodynamic than in organic:  Demeter is 90 mg/l for dry white and rosé wines and 70 mg/l for dry red wines ; Biodyvin is 105 mg/l for dry white and rosé wines and 80 mg/l for dry red wines.

Sulphite free or no added sulphites

You may have read or heard ‘it’s impossible to be sulphite free- winemaking creates sulfites in wine’. Articles say this can be anything from 6 to 40 mg/l. Analysis of Feely wines that are no sulphite added shows no quantifiable sulphites so despite having read and heard, like you perhaps, that sulfites are generated naturally in the winemaking Feely wines don’t show this.

Adding sulfites to wine kills the vitamin B naturally present in grapes and in wine and vitamin B helps our bodies process alcohol better – another reason to go for no sulfite when possible- but organic is more important than sulfite free.

Certified organic is more important than no sulfites (unless you have an allergy to sulfites) – pesticide residues will do more damage to your health than sulfites at the levels allowed in organic wine in the EU.

How is it possible to make sulfite free wine?

Natural winegrowers can make wines that are just grapes and nothing but grapes and not lose the wines to oxidation because of higher natural acidity and higher natural antioxidants that are created by organic and biodynamic farming.

Higher natural antioxidants like resveratrol (see Caros book Saving our Skins LINK) because the vines create antioxidants when they are attacked by pests and diseases. If they have been treated with systemic pesticides they will not be attacked and won’t create these things that are ironically good for us.

There is higher natural acidity because chemical fertiliser lowers acidity that found in the grapes grown on chemical fertilisers. The higher the acidity the lower the sulfites need to be as more free SO2 is available.

If you are sensitive to sulfites beware of them in other products not just wine for example cured ham, salami, smoked fish and other fish, dried fruit and nuts, fruit juice and many others.

Ace team handpicking a wild grape

Reflecting the taste of Terroir

A wine that has been made with enzymes, cultured yeast, added tannins, added acids and more reflects those products rather than where it is from. The wine becomes like a confectioned drink instead of a product of terroir that reflects its place. At Feely wines we aim to create unique wines that reflect their place, that are a reflection of their vintage rather than a reproduction of the same flavour each year.

Conclusion

Conclusion: Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Winemaking

Organic winemaking is essentially wines made from organic grapes with less additives and lower sulfites than allowed in conventional wine. Biodynamic winemaking is essentially wines made from biodynamic grapes with almost no additives and lower sulfites than allowed in organic wine. Natural wine is wine made from organic grapes with no additives and very low or no sulfites.

Continue your voyage through our biodynamic trail with POD 8 on what we can do to make a difference to the health of our planet and ourselves or jump to the start of the organic and biodynamic trail.

Come and learn more about winemaking at our wine school with a visit to Chateau Feely in South West France ; stay with us or do a multi day course or multi day tour . You can read about the story of our organic farm the series includes three books Grape ExpectationsSaving our Skins and Glass Half Full by Caro Feely.

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