Taking the Confusion out of Natural, Organic, and Biodynamic Labelled Wines
There is a lot of confusion these days surrounding wine with labels containing the words ‘Certified Organic’, ‘Biodynamic’, and ‘Natural’. There are a few governing bodies to ensure these practices in wine making – but not always. However, in an ever-growing eco-conscious economy where sustainability is important to us, we need to know what the wine makers are telling us when they use these terms on their labels. I’m going to try to explain what these all mean, along with their differences, in simple terms for you.
Let’s have a look at each of the terms above and see how they both differ, and overlap.
There can be both organic wines and wines made with organic grapes. In order to become Certified Organic, the winery has to meet certain strict guidelines (as well as pay for the certification) including growing the grapes without synthetic fertilizers, using all certified organic ingredients in the wine (including added yeasts), and only allowing naturally occurring sulfites (no added sulfites).
Wine 'made with' organically grown grapes use certified organic grapes without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, but they don’t need to include all organic ingredients in the wine. Sulfites must be limited to certain acceptable levels, for example, less than 100 parts per million (ppm).
In Canada, a wine labelled ‘100% Organic’ must be produced using certified organic grapes and contain zero added sulphites. A wine can also be labelled ‘Organic’ if at least 95% of the grapes used are certified organic and the wine contains low levels of sulphites. Finally, a label that states ‘Made with Organic Grapes’ must contain at least 70% certified organic grapes, but they have unregulated levels of added sulfites.
In summary, Organic wines have little to no added sulfites and most or all of the grapes are grown without the use of chemicals. This is good for many reasons; chemicals that are sprayed on the grapes often end up in your finished bottle of wine that you consume. It is also good for our insects, bees, and groundwater when these chemicals are not used.
Organic wines may or may not be biodynamic or natural since its just the grapes and added ingredients that are certified organic. They can still be grown using conventional farming methods, just without the use of chemicals.
Biodynamic winemaking is a practice that has been around for nearly a century and the term doesn’t really vary across the world (whereas certified organic standards differ by country). Biodynamic is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition. It is the most sustainable and regenerative form of agriculture in the world and we, at ABX, are huge supporters of the practice.
The Biodynamic Federation Demeter is a not-for-profit organization that is the worldwide label for certified products from biodynamic farming. They ensure producers deliver on the high-quality practices. In short, producers are recognized for striving for health and resilience on their farms; they nourish their soils, protect the environment, respect the well-being of their animals, and produce nutrient-dense food.
Farming sustainably the biodynamic way means we nurture our soils to ensure they can sequester carbon (which helps incredibly with climate change) and ensures the soils stay healthy for future generations as well as ensures the food we eat (and drink) contains all the nutrients that we need to stay healthy.
When you enjoy a biodynamic wine, you are avoiding all chemical residues from fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides because these wineries use nutrient-dense compost from farm animals (fed a healthy natural diet) to feed the soil and natural means to ward off pests through biodiversity.
Biodynamic wines are naturally organic, although the winery may not always be ‘Certified Organic’ by an organization. They are not always natural because the finished wine could be made using added yeasts or other ingredients to manipulate the finished product. The focus is more on the growing conditions.
Although not an official term, many people agree to define ‘natural wine’ as having low-intervention and is fermented spontaneously with native yeast that occur naturally in the vineyard. These wines are largely unmanipulated and contain only trace amounts of added sulfites. They are not filtered or fined so they appear cloudy with sediment in the bottle. Because animal products are used in the filtering or fining process, natural wines are also usually vegan.
Another key characteristic of natural wines is that they are often not aged in oak as this would be considered a manipulation tactic and natural wines must have little to no intervention so that the natural flavours of the grapes and yeasts are highlighted.
Natural wines are typically organic and biodynamic and are the cleanest of all the wines. They contain only one ingredient: just naturally fermented grapes and nothing else. No added yeasts, sugars, or other ingredients to alter the flavour or sustain the shelf life of a wine. No chemicals are used on the grapes but there may be trace amounts of sulfites added to the wine to stabilize it.
I hope this helps you the next time you’re shopping for wine. We have examples of all of these wine styles in store for you to explore.
To your health!