Comparing Biogenic Amines and Polyphenols of Grapes and Wine After Conventional, Biodynamic, and Organic Practices: Which Method is Best?

Biogenic amines are carefully monitored in the food and beverage industries, since if they are taken in at too high of concentrations, they can cause significant health problems including headaches, breathing problems, and cardiac problems. Biogenic amines are nitrogen-based compounds that are derived from amino acids and include compounds such as histamine, serotonine, tyramine, tryptamine, phenylalanine, agmatine, putrescine, cadaverine, spermidine, and spermine. Many of these compounds may be formed during the fermentation processes of food and beverage production, which are caused by interactions with the microbial population in the system.

In wine, several biogenic amines have been identified, with the most common being histamine, tyramine, and putrescine, and with concentrations reported up to 50mg/L. It has been shown that polyphenols in wine actually serve to keep biogenic amine levels in check, as some polyphenols in wine have been seen targeting the enzymes facilitating biogenic amine production, thus keeping amine levels relatively low. In essence, these polyphenols are providing protection to the wine so that these biogenic amine compounds don’t rise to potentially toxic levels.

Several studies have examined whether or not certain agricultural or processing techniques affect the balance of polyphenols and biogenic amines in a variety of food products with varied results. Studies have examined conventional, organic, and biodynamic agricultural methods only to come up short in terms of general

Photo By drdcuddy (Flickr: Italia 2010) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By drdcuddy (Flickr: Italia 2010) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

observable trends. Some studies have shown that organic products have better biological activity than conventional products, while other studies have found no differences between conventional and organic agriculture and production methods. In general, it is assumed that organic and biodynamic agriculture and production methods are better for human health overall, though there is no solid scientific evidence to back that up quite yet (only mixed results).

Generally speaking, organic agriculture and biodynamic agriculture are very similar in that they both utilize composting and cover crops and prohibit the use of commercial pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and other sorts of man-made chemicals. One major difference between the two practices is that biodynamic agriculture utilizes special preparations that use mineral and/or herbs, as well as various animal organs, which can be buried until the soil or made into a spray to apply to the foliage of the plants.

The study presented today aimed to compare conventional, organic, and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking practices for both red and white grapes and wine, and to determine if any of these methods differ from one another in terms of their polyphenol and biogenic amine content and particularly if one viticulture or winemaking method is ideal compared to the rest in terms of wine and human health quality.


Red and white grapes of the Sangiovese and Pignoletto varieties, respectively, were all grown in 2009 from vineyards in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Conventional, organic, and biodynamic viticulture practices were performed for the different treatments.

Grapes were all picked on the same day from random locations throughout the vineyards and throughout the vines and clusters. 10kg of grapes were harvested from each treatment vineyard and were ground into a powder for chemical analysis.

Wine was made from the grapes at each of the treatment vineyards on site using conventional, organic, and biodynamic winemaking practices.

The following biogenic amines were measured for both grapes and wine: tryptamine, histamine, tyramine, diamine-propane, cadaverine, putrescine, spermidine, and spermine.

The following were measured for both grapes and wine: total polyphenols, individual polyphenols, anthocyanins, and antioxidant activity.



• Putrescine was the most abundant biogenic amine in all samples.
• Tryptamine was 4.7 times higher in Sangiovese grapes than Pignoletto grapes.
• Total biogenic amine levels in Sangiovese grapes were 5.5 times higher than in Pignoletto grapes.
• There were no clear trends or differences between viticulture methods in terms of biogenic amine levels.
• There were no significant differences between viticulture methods in terms of total polyphenol levels.
• Total anthocyanins were significantly higher in Sangiovese grapes compared with Pignoletto grapes (as expected).
• Total anthocyanin levels were highest using conventional viticulture methods, followed by biodynamic methods and finally organic methods.
• Catechins and stilbenes were significantly different between the Sangiovese and Pignoletto grape varieties (lower in Pignoletto grapes); however there were no significant differences between the two groups in regards to viticulture practice treatment.
• Resveratrol and trans-resveratrol were found in all samples, though cis-piceid and trans-resveratroloside were only found in Sangiovese grapes.
• Piceatannol was 2 times higher in Pignoletto grapes compared to Sangiovese grapes.
• Sangiovese grapes had 3 times greater antioxidant capacity than Pignoletto grapes.


• Biogenic amines were 3.6 times higher in Pignoletto wines compared with Sangiovese wines.
• There were no differences in biogenic amine levels between the different winemaking practices.
• Total polyphenols were 6.5 times higher in Sangiovese wines compared with Pignoletto wines.
• Sangiovese wines had the highest levels of anthocyanins and stilbenes compared with Pignoletto wines.
• Sangiovese wines had greater antioxidant capacities than Pignoletto wines.


The results of this study indicated that there were no significant differences in the chemical profile of Sangiovese and Pignoletto wines when treated with conventional, organic, or biodynamic viticulture and winemaking practices. The clear differences found in this study were in terms of grape variety (red versus white), and not viticulture or winemaking method, which was confirmed using Principle Components Analysis. Sangiovese grapes were found to have higher levels of biogenic amines, though none of the levels were high enough to cause a threat to human health. Conversely, after the winemaking process, it was found that Pignoletto wine had higher levels of biogenic amines compared with Sangiovese, which is likely due to winemaking technique and the interactions with the compounds present in the white must.

It seems as though reducing the levels of biogenic amines in wines may be difficult, as there are a number of factors that could be contributing to their

Biodynamic Composting.  Photo credit: By Mark Smith [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Biodynamic Composting. Photo credit: By Mark Smith [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

levels (i.e. grape variety, winemaking technique, geographical growing area, etc), though this study shows that using biodynamic or organic viticulture or winemaking methods as opposed to conventional methods will not affect biogenic amine levels.

Of course, there are many environmental benefits of using biodynamic and organic viticulture and winemaking practices, so these results are certainly not meant to deter anyone from adopting these methods. It’s simply a matter of determining what viticulture or winemaking technique will help lower biogenic amine levels in wine, and it’s clear from the results that choosing biodynamic or organic methods over conventional methods will not help in this case. I encourage biodynamic and organic agriculture and production methods, though again if one is seeking to change practices just to lower biogenic amine levels, switching to either of these won’t make a difference (but it will make a difference in other areas!).

I’d love to hear what you all think of this topic! Feel free to share comments or stories with everyone!

Source: Tassoni, A., Tango, N., and Ferri, M. 2013. Comparison of biogenic amines and polyphenol profiles of grape berries and wines obtained following conventional, organic and biodynamic agricultural and oenological practices. Food Chemistry 139: 405-413.

4 comments for “Comparing Biogenic Amines and Polyphenols of Grapes and Wine After Conventional, Biodynamic, and Organic Practices: Which Method is Best?

  1. Lisa Wicker
    April 15, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Excellent. An article I can share with my consulting clients, certainly not oversimplified…but clearest explanation for non-science types I have ever read. Really enjoy your work.

    • Becca
      April 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for your kind comments, Lisa! I love doing what I do and am so glad it is so well received in the industry!

  2. Dave
    April 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Becca, were there any replications compared and statistical analysis done to take vineyard sample location into account? The results that you have noted could be due to various components such as: soil variation between the sample plots, sun exposure, relative vigor between the sample sites, etc. Were all the rootstocks, irrigation, and trellising the same between the different areas within each variety? How long had each sample site been farmed under the different systems? Why not pick each sample site at it’s optimal ripeness rather than doing it all on the same day? Common practice is to pick for ripeness, and that can certainly vary based upon site. Similarly, this study should be replicated over 3 growing seasons to provide definitive evidence.

    • Becca
      April 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      Hi Dave! Thanks for your comments and many questions! Unfortunately, I can’t really answer them because it was not clear in the paper how exactly they did all the things you asked about (if they did them at all). The methods section was relatively vague in regards to that type of information, so sadly I can’t really say anything other than “I don’t know”.

      All of your questions are completely called for and certainly ones where I would have hoped the authors took into account. However, since I don’t know for sure, you’re right in that there could be other variation that was not taken into account that could be muddling with the results. Certainly repeating the study over multiple growing season would be a lot more definitive than one single season—maybe that one season was just an odd season for one reason or another. I’ve certainly seen multi-season studied where one season was just a little “goofy” compared with all the rest, and it is possible we could be seeing that here.

      Thank you so much for your great questions and insight!

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