Browsing the seemingly endless wine shelf at the supermarket, and you might start to think more in-depth about the contents of the bottle beside fermented grape juice. These days, we as consumers are much savvier when it comes to knowing where our food comes from and how it has been produced - but we usually can’t say the same for that glass of vino we enjoy.
The truth is, wine production methods are as varied as different food production methods; some wines are more natural or “cleaner” than others. To begin to understand and appreciate the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural wines it helps to have some background.
Wine is the end product of two different processes; wine growing and winemaking. Wine growing encompasses planting, farming and harvesting the grapes in the vineyard. Winemaking includes the crushing, transforming and bottling these grapes into the stuff you like to sip of an evening. Though the intricacies of a good glass are all held in the bottle, variations between wines aren’t always transparent. Aside from the easy decision, red or white? - there are now more qualifications to consider; organic, biodynamic or natural?
The legal definition of organically grown wine varies from country to country, but the basics are that organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown according to the government-regulated principles of organic farming.
The use of an ‘organic’ label means that the wine has been certified as organic by a licensed third-party organisation. The grapes have been grown, harvested, processed and packaged in line with rigorous standards.
- No Synthetic Fertilisers, Herbicides or Pesticides
Organic grapes are cultivated in vineyards that have banned the use of artificial inputs, including synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. In an organic vineyard, a plentiful growing year relies on maintaining strict standards for soil health - for example, upping biodiversity through crop rotation.
- No Added Sulphites
In the fermenting and bottling phase of winemaking, organic wines cannot contain added sulphites. Sulphites are a naturally occurring preservative in most wines and an inherent by-product of alcoholic fermentation. They can be manually added by the winemaker to up the sulphite level in their bottle of vino, which will increase the lifespan of the wine. If a winemaker opts to add in extra sulphites, but otherwise follows the organic farming methods, the wines cannot be labelled as ‘organic’, however they can be classified as wine, ‘made from organic grapes’.
Biodynamic wine adheres to all the criteria set out for organic wine, and goes a step further - viewing the vineyard as an ecological entity from the soil up.
- Organic - with Extras
At the basic level, this means increasing soil fertility by barring the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Biodynamics is just organic wine taken a step or two further - whilst many vineyards are monocultures, a biodynamic farm must be diversified and self-sustaining, resisting monoculture through interactions between a larger ecosystem of plants and animals. Planting, pruning practices and harvesting are determined by a specific calendar, taking into consideration the lunar cycles and the positions of the sun and the planets.
Natural winemaking, despite its more recent rise in popularity is technically the first and oldest method of growing wine. However, natural wine is tricky to pinpoint into a singular definition; all natural wines follow a similar ethos, but winemakers might slightly vary in their personal codes of conduct.
- Cleanest Wine Option
Natural wine, from growing, to fermenting to bottling and cellaring is made entirely without chemical intervention and with the absolute bare minimum of technological manipulation or interference. It is as natural as wine can get, with little to nothing added or subtracted in the vine to vat process. It is fermented grape juice and little else.
- No Regulated Standard for Natural Wine
Although natural wine is amongst the strictest and most self-imposed versions of winemaking, there isn’t actually any legal classification or regulated standard to define the actual process. Unlike its biodynamic winemaking counterpart, the natural wine movement is not attributed to a single individual.