With interest in natural, organic and biodynamic wine on the rise, it can be confusing to know what means what and how to understand what's on a label. Let's take a quick look at the most common terms.
What is Natural Wine?
Natural wine is grown and made with minimal to no additives or processing, using pesticides-free grapes. It is also bottled using minimal processing, with nothing added or removed in the process. There are no additives in the wine and intervening in the natural fermentation process is minimal; the result is a “living” bottle of wine.
While there is no official definition or regulation of what natural wine is, Wine Folly outlines the basic principles. In general, natural wine is typically made from grapes grown on organic, sustainable, or biodynamic farms, and hand-harvested by small scale or independent producers. As stated above, natural wine is produced without adding or taking anything away. This production method means, in general, that the wine naturally ferments with no yeast or other additives such as yeast nutrients or sulfites.
How does natural wine taste compared to other wines?
Since natural wine is not tampered with during fermentation and is grown on organic or biodynamic farms, it will generally taste different than a typical bottle of wine. Because of the way natural wine is produced, it may come out tasting like kombucha or a bitter beer. Not adding any yeast to the wine during fermentation will also significantly affect the taste, according to a study conducted by Thomas Henick-Kling, Ph.D.
Are natural and organic wine the same thing?
Natural wine will always be organic and sometimes biodynamic, however biodynamic and organic wines are not always natural. The main thing that differentiates natural wines from others is that the production of natural wine uses as little technological manipulation as possible. Organic and natural are the same in that they are farmed without using pesticides and other chemicals, however organic has additives such as yeast and use technological manipulation during the fermentation process.
What is Organic Wine?
Organic wine is produced the same way any organic produce is- no pesticides, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or fungicides. There also cannot be any added chemicals, mainly sulfur dioxide, used as a preservative during the fermentation process. As stated above, natural wine will always be organic, while organic wine may not always be natural. You may be wondering—how is this possible? Firstly, organic wine does have yeast added into it during fermentation, while natural wine does not. Secondly, organic wine does not necessarily utilize the same minimalistic processing technique as natural wine.
There’s also a difference between organic wine and wine made from grapes that are grown on an organic farm or winery. Bottles labeled "organic" are the wines outlined above. The wines labeled "made from organic grapes" means that the wine produced organically; however it may still have added sulfites. Under the USDA National Organic Program, organic wines cannot have any added sulfites and cannot use their "organic" seal if they do.
How does organic wine taste compared to other wines?
A study published in the American Association of Wine Economics, titled "Does Organic Wine Taste Better? An Analysis of Experts’ Ratings," it was proven that organic wine tastes better than conventional wine. Wine experts taste-tested different wines and consistently marked organic wines better. On average, organic wines rated 4.1 points higher than non-organic wine.
There are a few theories as to why this is true. First, organically-grown vineyards tend to yield fewer bunches of grapes, therefore having a more concentrated flavor in the grapes. Secondly, the lack of chemicals on the grapes also improves the taste. Lastly, when there are no chemicals to protect the vines from harmful things, farmers must take better care of the vines. The leading theory comes from this "labor of love"— organic wines are made much more carefully. These are only some of the theories as to why organic wines were marked as equal, if not better, quality than conventional wine.
What is Biodynamic Wine?
The biodynamic approach to farming was developed by an Austrian spiritual philosopher named Rudolf Steiner in the 1920’s. Steiner believed that we should view a vineyard—from the vines to the soil, to the other plants and animals around it—as an ecological whole, its own living organism. While his practices were unconventional, Steiner encouraged self-sustainable farming and had ideas that helped increase soil fertility. Today, farmers utilize biodynamic farming practices to avoid pesticides or chemical fertilizers. They do this by growing different types of plants, not just grapes, as well as plant, harvest, and prune based on a precise calendar that takes into account lunar cycles and the position of the sun and planets.
How does biodynamic wine taste compared to other wines?
Biodynamic wine has a similar taste to organic wine as it is produced very similarly. The quality of taste between organic and biodynamic wines may vary from bottle to bottle, but in the end, the two are very similar, and the choice comes down to personal preference. Compared to other wine, as stated above, organically grown wine has been proven to taste better than conventionally produced wine.
The Problem With Natural Wine
Legally, there are no laws regulating what wines can be labeled "natural". This means that any company could call their wine natural without regard for the process. To make sure that your wine was indeed produced naturally, try to purchase bottles that are also labeled as organic or biodynamic. There are specific laws regarding what makes a product organic. This labeling allows you to know more about the ingredients and increases the chance that the natural label means what you think it should!
Whether you're buying a wine labeled natural, organic, biodynamic, or all three, don't forget to sign-up for Grand Reserve Rewards and earn points on every purchase made at any winery, wine shop, or wine club.