top of page

Natural? Organic ? Biodynamic ? Confused.....

In an environment where we are now more readily conscious and better versed in what is best for preserving the planet (especially in no little part to the likes of the Sir David Attenborough programmes and in my past life, ESG/sustainable bond deals, plus visible signs of decay like in the Brazilian rainforests but not an exhaustive list). The wine world has been slow in many senses of the word to react....If you listened to 'The Andy and Olly Show' (small plug - see the website or Spotify et al. for more information) where we spoke to Artelium Vineyard, as an example, they were using recycled glass for some of the bottles - a great example of reusability and how we can adapt our methods to better suit the environment in winemaking. Another is the weight of glass used, can we start to use thinner bottles or even replace bottles altogether without altering the contents of course!


However, one debate continues to carry on which I will attempt to make clearer to you here The age old question: What is defined as a natural wine or what does the wine have to be to be considered organic? And what on earth does biodynamic mean? If you are confused by any of this, then fear not, you are not alone......


We commonly in wine circles will talk about terroir and if you came to one of my hostings (shameless plug once more for The Devon Wine Guy services), you know that I would be keen to impress the impact of different terroirs in different climates and countries that can change the same grape variety into something tasting completely different. However, the impact of farming is maybe a secondary conversation and has been a hot topic of interest now for some time - until now.....


Consumers are now looking at where and who produces their food and where that comes from, moreover, the carbon footprint and this is also now true of wine. In fact so much so, that the International Organisation of Vine and Wine predicts that 1bn bottles of organic wine will be sold this year globally. Proof that the 'vine to glass' concept is gaining momentum throughout the world.


Ok so here is where it gets a tad complicated.... all natural wines are organic wines, but not all organic wines are natural wines - the rationale behind that being organic rulings can accept certain additives and fining agents which would not be conceived as a natural wine! Still with me?


What is a Natural Wine?

Other names for Natural wines....minimal intervention wines, typically non-filtered and fined. This can lead natural wines to be cloudy from the dissolved solids still floating around inside the bottle and ultimately in your glass. The point of them is that they have barely been touched from the outside world, it is a unique wine, never to be scripted or created as the same again. However, caution that this does not necessarily mean the quality is better and indeed as there is no regulated definition of a natural wine, an identification of each individual vineyard and what they have done to create the wine is well worth knowing from a consumer perspective.


Ok so how is an Organic Wine different?

Well, as mentioned earlier, all natural wines are organic wines. If we reference the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) they define organic as produce (includes grape juice), organic certified if it has been grown on soils that have had no prohibited substances added to it in the three years prior to harvest. Under the USDA, vineyards can gain organic certification if grapes are grown without additional sulphites, ensuring that all ingredients including the yeast going into the wines are certified as organic and no synthetic fertilisers are used on the vineyard.


However, that really isn't the end of the story, as with most global requirements, there are differences amongst certifications across the globe. Localised certifications relative to the vineyard in question need to be applied and therefore there are different definitions and requirements for organic certification for example in Europe. In Europe, organic wines can contain upto 100mg per litre of sulphites for red wine and 150mg per litre in white and rose wine production versus the USDA requirements which allow zero sulphites to be added.


In the U.K. the organic certification comes from the Soil Association. I have read the standards required which are indeed vigorous as you would expect and require at least one check per year to ensure standards are being kept and maintained. (For those interested, here is the link to see these standards applied to organic wine: https://www.soilassociation.org/media/23374/sa-gb-food_drink-standards.pdf) . As a result, typically organic wines are elevated in cost given the farming is done without the use of chemicals.


Ok so we have Natural and Organic. What is Biodynamic?

Well biodynamic farming takes it one stage further than organic and has largely been proven to give more consistent wine production over a longer period of time (my view). It all stems from the works and findings of Rudolf Steiner - who is largely recognised as the founder of biodynamic agriculture. Ultimately a very clever individual who also effectively in his philosophical manner, foresaw the end of civilisation through taking all resources from the planet (sound sadly very familiar?). Back in 1924, Steiner held effectively an 'Agriculture Course' in what was Germany back then but now is in a small village in Poland which consisted of eight lectures and five discussions that formed the book entitled 'Agriculture' (at least it was to the point!) and has led the way in biodynamic farming.


These methods that originated from Steiner have now been incorporated across the globe as the way in which to lead biodynamic farming, whereby the conceptualisation is of recognising the importance of healthy interplay between 'cosmic and earthly influences'. Put another way, finding a harmony within the ecosystem to ensure equilibrium. Bringing this back to winemaking, it means utilising the timings of the moon phases to promote biodiversity and crop rotation to give soil optimum health and thus producing the very best grapes possible from the land.


You may have seen such practices on social media and visual displays around the world or maybe you have seen them first hand, such practices as burying cow horns filled with manure or ground quartz or maybe you have heard about specific sprays, some of which are made from specialist formats of tea strains. Obviously you may have been thinking, well surely some organic wines then must be biodynamic wines too - yes correct, but not all biodynamic wines are organic. As biodynamic wines could have some sulphites added to them upto the allowed amount.


With certainty we can say that biodynamic wines require an awful lot of time and additional effort going into the processes and practices. For those looking for biodynamic wines, look out for the Demeter logo, which is a non-profit organisation that certifies wines as such and obviously to vineyard owners, this does not come without additional cost too.


My personal view, is that biodynamic wines thus far have proven to be largely more consistent than those of organic over a period of time, however, one thing is for sure, this market is only growing and consumers are far more interested in the individual narratives of the vineyard and their operational processes than ever before, so this is only set to continue in the coming months and years.


I hope in some way, this has added the definition of natural, organic and biodynamic wines, for all feedback and questions or further clarification, feel free to reach out and ask The Devon Wine Guy.





6 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page