Know nothing about organic, biodynamic, and natural wines? We'll help you tell fact from fiction.
Powerful marketing has created a lot of interest for these new styles of wine in the past few years. But how many people really understand the differences between these wine styles? We need to dig deeper and understand the philosophies behind organic, biodynamic and natural wines to find out what they're really all about.
Generally, these three styles use traditional winemaking methods that predate modern technology to make wine that gets the most out of nature.
Producers of these wine styles have at least two things in common:
- They believe in sustainable agriculture and respecting the land and nature.
- They believe that wines made with minimal intervention tells a story and truly reflects their terroir, which includes climate, soil and vintage.
The passion of these artisans can certainly be tasted in the wines they love to make. Read on to get a glimpse into their world.
In the past few years "Organic" became a very popular buzzword in the food industry, and it is now gaining popularity in the wine industry.
Running an organic vineyard requires great attention and care to all that takes place in it. The requirements and certifications vary from country to country, but they all share some important characteristics.
Organic grapes cannot be grown using synthetic pesticides or additives such as:
- Chemical or artificial fertilizers
- Growth hormones
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
If a vineyard wants to become organic, it must undergo a degree of cleansing to get rid of old material that would disqualify the vineyard from being labeled organic. Generally, getting an official certification takes at least three years and is an expensive process!
Organic wines are difficult to make because it takes a lot of work to follow all the regulations
In Europe before 2012, organic winemaking only meant that the grapes were grown organically (organic viticulture). So back then, winemakers could add non-organic materials to the wine after the grapes were harvested and still label their wines as organic.
Since 2012, a European winemaker must ensure his entire winemaking process, from grape growing to bottling, follows the regulations in order to label his wine as organic. Organizations like the European Organic Label or Nature & Progrès are dedicated to enforcing these regulations.
In the United States there are a couple organic certifications a winemaker can get from the USDA. If the wine's grapes were grown organically, it can be labeled with “organically grown grapes". If no preservatives and chemicals were added to a wine at any stage of its production, it can be labeled "organic".
While many vineyards can label their wines as made from organically grown grapes, few wines are certified as organic.
Based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the concept of “biodynamic” goes beyond organic farming. Although biodynamic farming incorporates elements of organic farming, it also sees the vineyard as only a part of a larger ecosystem. Biodynamic farming even takes into consideration astrological factors and lunar cycles (without fortune-telling or black magic). Perhaps it even goes beyond science.
The challenge of biodynamic farming is to create a balanced ecosystem and harmony between the soil, plants, animals, and other environmental factors in order to obtain a high-quality wine. A biodynamic wine is made in a minimal-intervention style without additives or commercial yeasts.
Growing grapes using biodynamics involves making sure every living thing on the vineyard is healthy and contributes to a perfectly balanced ecosystem
Although biodynamic farming might seem archaic or too mystic, some of the most prestigious vineyards on the planet have chosen to convert entirely to biodynamic farming. They will tell you that the taste of the terroir is expressed much better in a glass of biodynamic wine.
Tips from the TFW team: Trust the labels Biodyvin and Demeter and taste the wines!
This is a tricky category which is very controversial and confusing. Aren’t all wines "natural" since they are made from grapes?
There is no official or legal certification for natural wines, which makes it hard to define them. Different associations have their own definition for them, which really means that there are no real specifications and everyone does what they want.
Some Natural wine producers operate on a philosophy of minimal intervention in the vineyard and in the winemaking process. Natural wine can be made from grapes from organic or biodynamic agriculture and harvested by hand.
A wine called "natural" sometimes means it was vinified without chemical additives and with a minimal amount of sulfites added to it (wine naturally contains sulfites which help to stabilize it).
A fun fact from us on identifying natural wines: Natural wines tend to be very lightly filtered or left unfiltered to preserve their “true nature”, so they can sometimes be identified by their slightly cloudy colour.