White, red, rosé, sparkling, fortified, dessert! With so many different types of wine out there, knowing what to go for can be tricky. With interest in organic, natural, and biodynamic wines now on the rise, it can be more confusing to understand what’s in the bottle and on the label than ever!
While all three variants sound similar – natural, biodynamic, and organic wines are not the same. So, let’s take a look at what these terms mean.
What is Organic Wine?
As you might have already guessed, organic wines are made using organically grown grapes. But the term ‘organic’ can be problematic as both the EU and the U.S. have different requirements for organic certification. However, the basic principles remain the same.
Organic Wine is produced much in the same way as you would expect any organic product and features no herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, or fungicides. For a wine to be organic, it cannot feature any added chemicals, such as sulphur dioxide, which is often used as a preservative during fermentation.
The only drawback? Some organic wines might contain sulphites. And while these are a naturally-occurring byproduct of the fermentation process, some winemakers might add more to ensure extra longevity.
There is a common misconception that organic wine is natural. However, this is not always the case. Organic wine has yeast added while fermenting, as opposed to natural wine. Organic winemakers also don’t always use the same minimalistic techniques.
It’s also important to note that there is a difference between wine from grapes grown on an organic farm and organic wine itself. Just because grapes are grown organically does not mean that the wine will be organic as chemicals and sulphites could have been added during the winemaking process.
What is Biodynamic Wine?
Developed by Austrian spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the biodynamic approach to farming is relatively new and began in the 1920s. He believed that vineyards as a whole should be viewed as their living organism and a self-sustainable ecological whole. That means that the soil and plants are organisms in their own right that grow interdependently.
Farmers who use the biodynamic approach to farming also don’t use any synthetic intervention and avoid chemical fertilisers and pesticides by growing plants other than grapes and using different techniques. These include fertilisation preparations such as filling cow horns with compost and burying them in the vineyards.
They also take spiritual forces of the cosmos into account by planting, harvesting, and pruning according to positions of the sun, planets, and lunar cycles to create the perfect yield for grapes. Each day revolves around one of the elements and is organised by grape harvesting (fruit days), watering (leaf days), pruning (root days), and days where the vineyard remains untouched (flower days).
So, if there is one thing you can be sure of, it is that meticulous care has gone into your glass or bottle of wine. Like organic, biodynamic wines are regulated, so you can rest easy knowing that you have bought what’s on the label.
What is natural wine?
Natural wine, also sometimes known as low-intervention wine, contains only trace amounts of added sulphites and is generally left unmanipulated to ferment spontaneously with its native yeast.
Low-intervention wines remain un-filtered, as the process requires using additional products such as egg whites and collagen, considered unacceptable for use. This often results in a wine that appears cloudy or has residue due to dissolved solids. However, there is a caveat for natural wine, and the practice remains unregulated as opposed to, for example, organic wine. This means that every winemaker will have their own process, which can differ from company to company.
While natural wine goes through the least amount of intervention in terms of added chemicals, it is often not aged in oak. Due to the lack of sulphites, filtering, and other non-interventionist factors, it has limited stability, often resulting in a much smaller production and fewer quantities.
There are also times when a natural wine can be certified organic if the used grapes comply with organic standards. In addition, natural wine can also be biodynamic, as long as the winemaker follows the biodynamic approach to farming utilising the calendar, lunar, and planting cycles into account.
In short, while organic, natural, and biodynamic wines share some similarities, it is important to distinguish their differences. Organic wines are strictly regulated, made using organically grown grapes, and feature no synthetic intervention, although some may contain natural sulphites.
Natural wines, in comparison, contain only trace amounts of added sulphites. While not regulated, they generally go through the least amount of intervention and filtering, resulting in a cloudy appearance and limited stability.
Biodynamic wine is made using the biodynamic approach to farming which looks at the bigger picture and believes vineyards are their own living organisms. Biodynamic winemakers also believe in the influence of the cosmos, planting, harvesting, and pruning in sync with the calendar, sun, planet, and lunar cycles.