Natural, Organic and Biodynamic wine explained
These three mysterious terms often spark a little bit of confusion in regular wine drinkers and it’s really no wonder, since they all represent the same philosophies of sustainability and transparency. When you drink a wine labelled with one of these terms, you are drinking a ‘low-intervention’ wine. This is the umbrella term for all three which suggests the wine in your glass has been produced with as little alterations as possible whilst looking after the land the grapes we grown on.
Natural wine = No certification, made from organically grown grapes, no additives allowed in winemaking, sulphites unregulated
Organic wine = Must be certified as organic to advertise on the bottle, made from organically grown grapes, permits the use of additives including yeast and winemaking aids like fining agents, minimum amount of sulphites allowed to be added
Biodynamic wine = Certified organically grown grapes, no additives in winery, no added sulphites, spiritual philosophy of connecting all elements of earth as one
As nature intended…
Natural wines are exactly that, allowing the grapes do their thing the way nature intended with minimal human intervention. You could say that It’s basically wine making for the lazy…not so fast, vine management is very important due to the lack of chemicals used to protect the vines. Harmful bugs and fungus’ could stop a vine from producing grapes and therefore, other techniques need to be adopted to protect the vine. In some areas this is easier than others, for example, warm and dry regions would be less prone to fungus, making it easier and cheaper for a vingeron to produce their wines as ‘natural’.
You might be thinking, hang on, if even yeast isn’t added then how do the sugars make alcohol? Well the answer is that grapes and all other fruits have a natural ‘wild’ yeast which forms on their skins. This is often enough to get the process rolling all by itself, but they can often cause some wild and funky flavours that can’t be found in regular wine with added cultured yeast.
As a result of minimal intervention both in the vineyard and winery, natural wines can often appear cloudy/hazy and often slightly odd colours…This is something that can put you off taking that first sip but once you do, you’ll be greeted by a much fresher and more natural (sometimes weird) fruit flavour compared to your regular, crystal clear glass of wine.
Certified to be safe
To be certified as organic, there are strict regulations that need to be followed, which are both costly and time consuming. This is perhaps why only 2% of EU vineyards are certified as organic. Here are the regulations that must be followed for organic wine production:
- Wine must be made from organically grown grapes
- No desulphurisation
- Sorbic acid prohibited
- Max sulphite of 100mg/l and 150mg/l for whites and roses
- Max sulphite levels of 30mg/l below the relevant non-organic maximum for wine whose residual sugar is above 2g/l
Since some regions are better suited to organic wine production such as the Canary Isalnds and Sicily due to their hot and windy/dry climate making it harder for fungus’ to grow. When the climate makes it easier for winemakers, less money needs to be spent on sourcing alternative methods for protecting the vines and therefore, wines from regions like these can often found to be cheaper.
For example this organic Sicilian Chardonnay/Inzolia blend is only £7.99 and tastes delicious!
Bio is beautiful
The word ‘Biodynamic’ may also be found on a wine label or wine list, just to add to the confusion…This is taking the organic practices from the vineyard into the winery, just like in natural winemaking. The other difference being that Bio wines have a deep rooted philosophy of ‘connecting scientific understanding with a recognition of spirit in nature’. This is since the founder of biodynamy, Rudolf Steiner recognised the impact of mechanisation on agriculture since, pesticides and fungicides were being developed to protect our crops which inevitably lead to the destruction of our land. This is why Steiner believed in taking a more natural and spiritual approach to agriculture by treating the earth as one, including our solar system, which can be used to our advantage. To give an example of these techniques in use, some winemakers may chose to follow the lunar cycle or look upon other astrological influences to decide on the best time for harvesting their grapes.
So biodynamic wines are a little bit of what I call ‘hippy’ wines, but hey, along with the other low-intervention wine categories, they’re a great deal better for our planet, let alone better for our bodies. If putting better things into your body this year has been a new year’s resolution then there’s one great excuse for trying out low-intervention wines…just don’t be fazed by the haze!