Although it's not really a new concept, in recent years, global attention has been focused on organic farming.
Organic crops are produced without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Organic farming is labor and cost intensive, and often, the crop yield per acre is less.
On the positive side, less energy is normally required, and the soil is sustained in fertile condition. Proponents of organic farming look to long-term ecological benefits for their efforts. Some say organic produce has richer and more complex flavors.
There's another group of growers taking things to an even higher level and engage in "Biodynamic" farming. Biodynamic growers look at the farm itself as a self-contained, interrelated organism. The individual elements work together ecologically to produce a revitalizing, self- sustaining infrastructure.
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We recently had the good fortune to receive a personalized tour of the Emiliana winery in Chile. Emiliana is dedicated to organic and biodynamic farming. They take it seriously, maintain very high standards and produce some fine wines. Head Winemaker Antonio Bravo gave us a thorough immersion in their philosophy and winemaking process. We've visited organic and biodynamic wineries before, but the sophistication of Emiliana is unparalleled.
Flowers and insects are interrelated. Desirable flowers and herbs are grown throughout the vineyard to promote a favorable ecosystem.
Farm animals also play a major role. Mobile chicken coops are moved daily to ensure vineyard coverage and desirable insect population levels. Cattle, goats, geese, llamas, guinea fowl, other animals and humans all have roles to play. Organic eggs are a bonus and are made available to the farm workers.
Fertilizer is of major importance. A natural compost area has been established. Organic material and byproducts, such as grape skins and stems, are combined with cattle manure. The cattle graze in an organically maintained pasture, so the manure won't be chemically tainted.
Because it's only common sense, most wine growers use some components of organic farming. Standards for "organic" certification, however, are rigid and vary by country. In the United States, wines labeled as "organic" cannot have any added sulfites -- antioxidant and occur naturally during fermentation. All wines contain sulfates. Wines need sulfates to keep from breaking down and becoming vinegar. Most winemakers add at least a small amount of sulfates to their wine for this reason. Wines that have added sulfates, but are otherwise organic, are labeled "made from organic grapes."
Is all the effort worth the reward? Although it's an extreme example, if you've ever compared the flavors of supermarket produce to ones grown in a home garden, you get an idea of the difference that organic farming can make. It's been our experience that organic wines mature more quickly and are smoother with softer tannins than their non-organic counterparts. They generally have a shorter shelf life, as well, and require less aging.
Jim and Marie Oskins are Fort Mill residents. They can be e-mailed at winetime@com.