Biowine Box co-founder, Stephanie Eschler, began working with organic, biodynamic and natural wine producers after digging deeper into conventional winemaking processes. She talks us through her new subscription service, and why this growing industry fascinates her.
Can you introduce us to Biowine Box, your inspiration for launching and what makes you special?
My mother and I converted to organic living three years ago; we relentlessly scrutinised the provenance and farming methods of our food but overlooked it when we drank wine. We wanted to dig a little deeper into the conventional wine-making process and discovered that many wine-makers use heavy chemical pesticides for their grapes and artificial additives to alter the taste of the wine.
Many wine-makers use heavy chemical pesticides for their grapes and artificial additives to alter the taste of the wine.
When it came to wine-fuelled nights, knowing we were ingesting chemicals designed to murder insects was a major killjoy. So, Biowine was born because we believe you shouldn’t have to compromise your health or your values to have fun.
On our mission to discover wines made with love we came to understand that making wine is an art. Biowine is different because we give you access to the artists. We choose producers before we choose a wine – and we want the producer’s story before we investigate the production process. Then we share our artists’ stories with you via our Meet the Maker part of our online magazine.
What made you decide to follow the subscription box format – and why have you decided to keep your selections a surprise each month?
We want to offer our customers the variety of a curated selection of wines, the convenience of automatic deliveries and give them the opportunity to discover wines that they would not usually think of getting. Especially when it comes to organic wines, people may have some reservations; organic wines have had a false reputation of being “wines for hippies” and having too much of an “earthy” taste, which couldn’t be more wrong!
Our boxes have a handle so you can have the three-bottle-box delivered at work and still comfortably carry it home. You can also always buy more of a wine you enjoyed in our online shop. And we offer themed one-time cases and boxes that our customers love: the Vegan Box, French Dinner Party, BBQ Case, etc. with more to come!
From a business perspective, the subscription model makes cash flow more predictable. Believe it or not, creating a different bundle of wines each month is the challenging part. So many wines to taste, so little time.
What is the difference between organic, biodynamic, natural and vegan wines?
Organic wines are made with certified organically-grown grapes and contain little to no sulphite (a preservative used for antioxidant and antibacterial properties).
Unlike in the US an organic wine cannot contain sulphites. The wines are as Mother Earth intended, unlike the worst offenders which are treated with as many as 17 chemicals. That Merlot from the corner store, anyone?
The biodynamic winemaker considers astrology and ecology on top of organic farming. A biodiverse production aligns with the lunar cycle and creates a conscientious ecosystem.
The biodynamic winemaker considers astrology and ecology on top of organic farming. A biodiverse production aligns with the lunar cycle and creates a conscientious ecosystem. For example, one of our winemakers [Stephanie Ponson] introduced spiders to the ecosystem to protect her grapes from worms.
“Natural” means the wine has been produced with fair trade, the environment and its drinkers in mind. In practice, it usually means the producer fits the organic or biodynamic criteria and has chosen to boycott the expensive certification process. There are many reasons for this. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering or some others cannot as the surface of their vineyards is small and can contain even small traces of pesticides used in neighbour vineyards.
Vegan wine means that the fining process (used to remove the “off” tastes and prevent cloudiness) does not use any animal-derived agents, which usually include egg whites, gelatin and isinglass (from fish).
In short, organic, biodynamic and natural winemakers are about working with nature, not against it.
Why should we be drinking organic wine – what are the problems with conventional wine production methods?
The drinker, the “artists” and the planet.
The first time I heard about organic wines, I thought “Well… I’m making a conscious decision to eat organic produce but why am I not paying attention to the origin of the wines I drink?” Grapes are actually one of the most highly sprayed fruits, and wine is made by the mass concentration of hundreds of grapes, so we can only imagine the amount of pesticides that we are consuming with each glass.
Organic wines minimise the use of sulphur dioxide – a common preservative in wine that is used to inhibit unwanted yeasts and bacteria, and one of the reasons for those shocking hangovers. For most people, the choice to drink an organic wine comes down to taste. As with most organic produce, the flavours are inherent, complex, pure and delicious.
In stark contrast, the conventional wine production method chokes local ecosystems, taking plant, animal and aquatic lives with it to the point that the UK government has deemed nearby river water undrinkable.
In stark contrast, the conventional wine production method chokes local ecosystems, taking plant, animal and aquatic lives with it to the point that the UK government has deemed nearby river water undrinkable. In France last year, there were over 300 cases of winemakers aged 40 to 55 diagnosed with cancer linked to the exposure of pesticides. What really breaks my heart is that children living near these vineyards are affected too.
The enumerable cases of pre-pubertal growth in girls and malformations in boys show pesticides influenced their hormonal levels from birth. While testing the children’s hair, there were traces of pesticides that had been prohibited in 1998. The children are 11 or 12, meaning the pesticides affected them despite being prohibited seven years before they were born.
Furthermore, organic crops contain more vitamin C, iron, magnesium and less nitrates than conventional crops. There is no better time than now to go organic.
Where do you source your wines from and how do you decide which ones to choose?
We choose the producers first, then the wine. Organic wine fairs are a great opportunity to meet the makers. We prefer meeting in person when we can and once had to hike for hours because cars were prohibited in the vineyard! We knew there and then that this meant a lifetime of partnership – because he asked us to hike, and because we did.