Friday, July 17, 2009

LeDomduVin: Biodynamic, Organic, Sustainable, Lutte Raisonnée, Natural, Conventional, etc....

Flowers in Vineyard
(courtesy of unknown as found on the internet via Twitter with no name of the photographer)

Biodynamic, Organic, Sustainable Culture, 
Lutte Raisonnée, Natural, Conventional, etc....

More and more people are intrigued and interested in naturally crafted wines (and other naturally grown agricultural products), and very often, customers come to the store and ask me: "Do you have any Biodynamic or Organic or natural wines or any wine from sustainable culture?" And my answer is: "Yes, of course! Yet, not all wines mention it on the label or are fully "certified." So let me guide you through our selection of small artisan winemakers and give you my theory."

In some ways, Biodynamic, Organic, Natural, Sustainable, and Conventional cultures refer to roughly the same thing: "farming." Yet they are based on different methods, processes, and beliefs, all with their subjective differences, nuances, perspectives, and opinions. 

As my grandfather used to say, humans have been practicing agriculture and farming for the past 10,000 years. These natural farming practices already existed without being specifically named. They were just techniques and processes adapted to the vineyards based on the needs of the vines, taking into consideration the weather (meteorological variables, sunlight, rain, frost, etc..), the climate, and the micro-climate (average weather conditions, moisture, and humidity in the air), the season, the vegetative stages and cycles, the soil, the environment, the surrounding fauna and flora, etc.... combined with local know-how (savoir-faire), traditions and cultures, passed on from one generation to the next. 

The old adages resulted from these ancestral practices.    

These practices only started to change about two centuries ago with the advancement of cross-breeding processes, knowledge, information, and technologies. They changed even more rapidly since the end of World War II with the use of chemicals and genetically modified organisms.  

The period from the late 60s to the mid-90s saw the peak of heavy chemical use and experimentation, both in the vineyards and in the cellar. Vineyards became a monoculture where other plants and weeds were kept at bay using chemicals such as herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. 

30+ years during which men explored and experimented with harmful and detrimental methods to finally come back to the old, organic, more natural methods in the late 90s / early 2000s.   

It was as if suddenly, men rediscovered the benefits of letting Mother Nature do what she does best without too much human interference.      

The early 2000s marked the beginning of a new era with a heavier administration, including more laws, standard procedures, and rules.  

So, men had to give 'new names' to these old, ancient natural practices, traditionally done without machines, pesticides, herbicides, or other unnatural or modified substances. Before, it was simply called "farming." However, these methods had to be differentiated into authorized and regulated.  


But as my grandfather believed, giving 'new names' to already existing old traditional methods is just man's way of complicating things unnecessarily (as usual).  

I do not think that my grandfather was wrong on that note. Man complicated "farming" by differentiating the methods used to satisfy the different beliefs that appeared during and more especially after the Industrial Revolution (1760 to 1840). 

Before that, "farming" was just "farming". Knowledge was passed on from one generation to the next, from father to son (generally, that's how it used to happen in our patriarchal society, even if women were usually also working in the fields, doing the same things men used to do). Some innovations and techniques came with time, research, and better knowledge. And yet, before the industrialization era, things were done following ancient knowledge, know-how, customs, and timing based on the calendar and nature's cycles. And everything was "natural" and "organic" until about 175 years ago.    

Yet, before further developing this post, maybe going back in time will help to better understand how Agriculture ("Farming") evolved since its birth around 9000 BCE (Before Current Era).  

As a visual is worth a thousand words and often easier to understand as self-explanatory, I have created the following "Agriculture Timeline" mainly based on and courtesy of  

To better understand why and how our society needed to rename, re-categorize, or revamp the farming process and methods, we need to go back in time, roughly 70 years ago, when men firmly began to manipulate and try (via the following bias method) to improve the natural farming (agricultural) process and transform the aspect of mother nature, by using heavy manufactured chemicals instead of using the natural ingredients, tools, animals, insects, herbs, plants and soil components used by our ancestors for centuries before.

Chemical substances were first introduced in the late 18th century. They involve using and mixing different reactive elements and compounds to modify, enhance, or transform a part of a substance or matter's composition. Chemical substances were further developed in the 19th century, and after years of research and technological progress, they have been widely used since the early 20th century.

Remember that the Phylloxera plague that occurred between roughly mid-1860 and 1920, spreading and devastating most wine regions in Europe, especially in France, destroyed between two-thirds (or nine-tenths) of all European vineyards. A solution needed to be found, and chemicals and uprooting vineyards to replant more resistant American rootstocks seemed to be the best against the nearly unstoppable Aphid insect (I said nearly unstoppable because Phylloxera still exists to this day and it is still difficult to eradicate once it is established in the vines and the ground).

So basically, we really started to damage and gradually destroy the natural balance and components of the soils pretty much everywhere in the world since we began to use heavy chemicals and other toxic substances (fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, synthetic nutrients, copper-based mixture, iron-based mixture, mercury-based mixture, etc...) in vineyards and other types of crop, in the 30's and more especially in late 40's (roughly just after World War II) with the apparition of intense, industrial agriculture and viticulture.

According to a different source (HYDE, UNDESA, PBR) about Historical World Population Estimates, there were about 2 to 2.5 billion people on earth in the '30s and '40s. The world population grew to a staggering 3.5 billion in the mid-'60s, to reach about 4 billion people by the mid-'70s. It was the "Baby Boom" generation. An unbelievable addition of 1.5 billion persons in about 30-35!... (and FYI, we are now nearly 7 billion in 2009, which is even more, twice more to be precise, 3 billion people more in just about 30-35 years from the mid 70's to now.... jaw-dropping...)... (and some people are still totally blind and unconcerned with the consequences of our actions and the pollution...come-on!)

Therefore, and accordingly, due to the "Baby Boom" generation, the demand for wines and other crops around the world increased dramatically and took enormous proportions. Thus, governments expanded the agricultural lands and producers planted more vines (sometimes planting certain types of grape in unadapted types of soil due to lack of knowledge and soil study) and consequently produced much more wines (and other crops) without necessarily caring about the quality and maximizing the quantity. As long as the wines (and other crops) sold, the rest didn't really matter. People needed to be fed, dressed, housed, etc... so most industries were booming, new ideas were blooming and wineries were mushrooming all around the world.

Remember that, at this point in the 50's up until the mid 70's, most European producers didn't bottled their own wines at the property, and most wines were sold in bulk to Négociants, wine merchants or to local co-operatives which bottled, marketed and sold the wines for them (making a lucrative business out of high margins on blended wines with often unidentifiable of origin - i.e.: Shiraz from the Rhone to pump up some Burgundy wines; Spanish Tempranillo and Garnacha in various European appellations; or even riper grapes grown in Algeria to add fruit, dimension and volume, etc... -).

You may also not know it, but by the mid-'70s, most of today's well known and established appellations and wine regions were doing very poorly (Tuscany, Bordeaux, and quite a few more). In general, vines were overly treated with new and powerful yet soil-insect-plant-unfriendly chemicals. The produced wines were often acidic and green with a lot of unripe tannins and bitter finish (which also explains why some of these wines from the 50s, 60s and 70s took more than 20 years to settle down and open up, if at all...).

Remember as well, that the grape juice was pressed by foot in open wooden press (allowing all sort of things to happen) and that grapes were often fermented with parts of stem, leaves and dirt. In some of the big appellations, harvests were done with machines, with heavy use of chemicals to treat the vines against mildew, mould and other diseases, herbs and insects. Wineries and cellars were not always clean and Brettanomyces problems occurred quite often. Corks were sometimes a problem too. Wine needed a change.

In the '70s, things gradually changed, and the new generation of winegrowers and winemakers opened up on new and more adapted techniques, with better vineyard and cellar management. Studies of the various soil components and multiple experiences with grape varieties in vineyard and laboratory revealed the importance of the Terroir of origin, soil's types, microclimate and exposure of the vineyards. Bottling at the property also became a more common thing in the '70s. It reassured consumers regarding the quality of the wine and more especially its origin, and ensure better control of the production and distribution.

1976's Steven Spurrier Paris Wine blind-tasting of California wines versus French with both prominent Californian and French producers and judges tasting these wines, dispelled the myth of French Wine superiority and promoted the expansion of wine production in the new world. Steven Spurrier is one of the famous British wine authorities that changed our way to taste wine. He is also the founder of the Academie du Vin and Christie's Wine Course (the famous Auction company), in addition to authoring and co-authoring several wine books. Following this event, the 70's also marked the beginning of a cold war of difference of taste and palate between the old world (lighter, with more acidity and tannins) led by the British and the French and the new world (riper, fuller, bolder, woodier) led by the American.

It is not until the 80's, that techniques and tastes really drastically changed, especially with the rising reputation of internationally renown wine critics, writers and importers (like Robert Parker Jr., Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, savvy wine writer and taster Hugh Johnson, and other wine connoisseurs like Clive Coates, Michael Broadbent, Kermit Lynch and many more, etc... plus, some magazines like Decanter, La Revue des Vins de France and Wine Spectator and more especially the importance of new importers and wine merchants digging for better producers).

Also in the '80s, deeply influenced by the American market, trend and fashion (TV series, clothes, music, cinema, food, etc...), European wines, in general, started to take a different attitude and dimension. The notion of ripeness became much more important and a key selling point. Bottling was now an established quality factor and the use of heavy toasted new oak barrels became a standard. Bordeaux (and a few more European regions) was Californized. The trend of overripe, higher alcoholic content, more opulent and woodier wines spread around the world from Australia to South Africa to South America. Strangely enough, it was a trend but it was also partly due to climatic changes and rise of temperatures, because of the ever-expanding population and more especially the pollution and its consequences (but this is another subject).

We had to wait until the mid-'90s to see the trend of taste changed and evolved for better wines from smaller producers from up-and-coming and fairly unknown regions around the planet. Winemaking also evolved and with the need of being more natural and the world, by now being a bit more aware of the consequences of our own behaviours and actions towards the environment, the trend went for Organic and Biodynamic and Lutte Raisonnée (or Sustainable Culture).

Et Voila! That is roughly (and shortly) and in a more simplistic way, how we went from natural farming and agricultural process under the name of farming from our ancestors, to completely motorized and mechanical agriculture and viticulture with heavy use of chemicals and machine for more than 60 years, and suddenly in the mid '90s, admitting our mistakes after destroying the soils for decades, we went back to the old ways by recognizing that our ancestors were doing the right things and were much more environmentally oriented and aware than we will ever be.

In fact, because it was our great and great-great grandfathers ways and methods, readapted with modern techniques and equipment, society decided to name farming differently, giving it a rebirth, and differentiating the style and methods.

So now, beginning of the 21st century, suddenly everybody swears only by Organic (Biologique in French), Biodynamic and sustainable culture (or Lutte Raisonnée in French) types of method. Well, I'm sorry, but we didn't invent or discover anything new. We just took the knowledge and "savoir-faire" of our ancestors and re-implemented it in our methods of today, simply because, only now, people are realizing the consequences of the last 60-70 years of untested experiences and the tragic result of the pollution. So we have to become green again and respect the environment in order to cure the ground and re-establish the natural living condition and ecosystem in the vineyards (and other crops) but also in our everyday life in general (recycling, using less water, less electricity, less gas, and so on...). At last, people finally understand that they have to open their ears and eyes to the world and become more environments friendly. We are far from recovering soon and it will surely take some time and patience before things will change and adopt a more concern and attentive attitude towards our planet. However, now the ball is somewhat rolling in the right direction. It is a good thing, and I hope that more and more people will do it and become greener and respectful of the environment.

But let's get back to our subject: What are these names really mean (Organic -Biologique in French-, Biodynamic and sustainable culture - or Lutte Raisonnée in French -)? And what are they referring to? Well to put it simply, here is my theory about these methods.

Organic culture (or farming or Biologique culture in French) means that only organic, naturally produced fertilizers, nutrients (like animal excrements, manures, composts mixed with dirt and other organic matters like herbs, hay, etc...) and non-chemical pest control can be used in the vineyards (or other crops). Herbs and natural ecosystem (like weeds, flowers, along with insects, etc..) in between the rows can be left untouched or partially managed by hand or machine by periodical aeration of the earth. It was somehow created to counter the rising of intensive industrial agriculture and viticulture after World War II.

Although some people believe that the organic movement only exits since the mid 20th century and that it was created in response to the shift towards synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in the early days of industrial agriculture, I do believe that it has always existed, we just gave a new name to it. But, it is basically how it has always been done, it is simple and pure natural farming, the way our great-great-grandfather used to do it. Acting with their feelings and guts and skills and knowledge on a seasonal basis, with estimated time zones during which they were doing specific things in the vineyard and in the cellar, also aware of the season, climate and nature changes. Paying attention to the moon, the tide, the rain and other natural phenomena's occurring throughout the year. Modern organic culture remains the same as the old one, although it is now a bit more accurate and precise due to newer techniques, researches and technologies.

Biodynamic culture is somewhat a fairly new concept for our generation that is not so different than the Organic culture but in my opinion, probably dates from further than we think. Basically, "Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms and crops as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system". (text partly taken from Wikipedia)

Holistic development or "Holism (a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (material, physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, etc.) can not be determined or explained by its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave"(text partly taken from Wikipedia). And Biodynamic culture is based on this concept that everything (and everyone) on earth, in our galaxy and in the entire universe, is related and indissociable.

"Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system, Biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamic has been described as an occult belief system, as it is based in anthroposophy, a spiritual world-view propounded by Rudolf Steiner. As a practical method of farming, biodynamic embodies the idea of ever-increasing ecological self-sufficiency just as with modern agro-ecology, but includes ethical-spiritual considerations." (text is partly taken from Wikipedia)

What I think, is that Rudolf Steiner, in the mid 1920s, wrote a book of previously gathered methods dating from the old ages, study them and apply them before turning his ideas, involuntarily but thanks to environment friendly green movement of the last 20 years, into the up-and-rising, successful concept and movement that it became in recent years.

Way before his time, Greek, Egyptian and Roman (from what we discovered and learned over the years in the diverse extracted, excavated and reconstituted ruins and other sites in the countries around the Mediterranean sea) were looking at the stars, had extensive and advanced knowledge about Architecture, Art, Food, Agriculture and Viticulture and already established the relation and the indisputable interaction between the moon, the tide, the planet's movement and rotation, the season and the way all these factors affected the environment, the climate and the seasonal growing development of the crops and their entire ecosystem. Our elders already knew about Mother Nature's calendar even if not on paper. It was a part of their everyday habits and life as producers.

I even remembered my grandfather, who was a local winemaker in the Cotes de Bourg, telling me about this kind of things when I was young. He wasn't following a book or a predetermined calendar. He was (and is still today) listening to Mother Nature, earth and her needs depending on the weather of the day and the season. And he knew, like many other men working the earth outside 364 days a year, what will be the forecast for the next few days, depending on the atmospheric pressure, the sky, the level of the water well, the behaviour of his animals. Like him, most elders that I met knew the signs to look for and how to interpret them. They were in constant and perpetual understanding with their surroundings and their lands. They were looking at there life as a whole, reflecting on their everyday choices in order to take the right decisions, at the right moment, in their and nature best interest.

Sustainable culture (or Lutte Raisonnée in French) is somehow a compromise between the two previous methods with more flexibility and the possibility to use some chemicals and pesticides but less often and less aggressively than conventional producers. Conscientiously practised, this method resembles quite a lot to organic culture in many ways, except for the use, even if minimal, of chemicals. And compared to Organic culture or Biodynamic culture, the producers using the Lutte Raisonnée method (or concept) are not subject to any system of checks from certified organizations or any previously agreed limits to what is permissible to do in his vineyards.

Therefore less restrictive, benefiting from more freedom and flexibility, Lutte Raisonnée results in taking the best of both concept and adapting it to the needs of your vineyards (or crops), depending on the type and fertility of the soil, the climate and micro-climate, the exposure, the topography and geography of the vineyards, but also the type of grape.

You see, for example, and that is one of the reasons why it is so difficult for a producer to certified Organic or Biodynamic: if your entire vineyard is fully Organic or Biodynamic but your immediate neighbour's vineyards aren't, you'll probably never be able to be certified. Moreover, if your direct neighbour uses pesticides and herbicides, you can't forget about it, because the wind may blow some chemicals in your vineyard and depending on the terrain, chemicals absorbed by the ground may drain or affected your soil too.

More producers every year adopt the Lutte Raisonnée method first and experience it to measure the effects during a short period of time (2 or 3 years) and compare the resulting wines with the previous vintage. If satisfy, they often opt for one or the other method between Organic and Biodynamic, but most don't want necessarily to be certified due to heavy administration, control and cost.

I could continue on and on about this fascinating subject but I rather stop here for now. I hope this article about Biodynamic, Organic, Sustainable Culture and Lutte Raisonnée was helpful to make you understand a bit more the background, the origin and the concept behind these 4 concepts.


LeDomduVin (a.k.a. Dominique Noël)

Step into the Green! Drink more Bio and Organic wines (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Preserve the Planet!


  1. Hello,
    I found your article rseearching informations about "lutte raisonnee" and it was very interesting. I am a photographer based in Tokyo but work also as a translator for a french wines importer from Cotes du Rhone and Bandol areas. The company aVin is just starting its activities wich include online shop( ) and wine events in Tokyo. We also would like to share informations and interesting articles on our website and would like to know if you think it will be possible to share this article translated in japanese with of course full credit giving to you and the link of your blog.
    Looking forward to hear from you.
    With our kind regards.
    Delphine Parodi

    1. Dear Delphine,

      Sorry for this late reply, and thank you for your comment. Although I love blogging and writing posts on my blog, I'm not not too much of a "techie" and rarely realize when people are leaving a message or a comment.

      Of course (and if not too late), I will be honored if you could share this article, translate it in Japanese and credit me for it. As a blogger I write with my heart and in the most unbiased way possible for the general public. Therefore, if you found this article interesting, please be my guest and share it to the world... :-)

      Best regards,

      LeDomduVin a.k.a Dominique Noel

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