What are the differences between natural, organic and biodynamic wines?
Let’s start with the easiest to define… Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown without artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides although the laws of whether preservatives are allowed in the wine-making process varies from country to country.
However, there are no strict rules to define what natural wine is. So the first rule of natural wine is that there are no rules, if you like. Yes, it can be confusing. An early advocate of natural wine was Jules Chauvet, who lived in France’s Beaujolais wine country in the 1950s. Chauvet railed against the mass production of French wine to quench the world’s insatiable thirst for it, which meant using artificial fertilisers for the vines and putting additives in the wine. He argued that this created tasteless, generic wine that carried no sense of where it was made, and might even be harmful to the drinker’s health.
Put loosely, natural wine is made of organically grown grapes, and is allowed as much as possible to make itself, with minimum intervention by the winemaker. So no artificial yeast is used to ferment it, and no sugar, acid or new oak is added. The permissibility of sulphur dioxide, or sulphites, is debated. Sulphites inhibit or kill undesirable yeasts and bacteria, and protect wine from oxidation. Some natural wine enthusiasts say minimal amounts may be used,but purists say none should be allowed. Making natural wine requires an enormous amount of work in the vineyards for a disproportionately small reward. A consumer is not necessarily aware that a given wine is a natural wine and so may be disinclined to pay more for it. This is because there is no universally accepted definition of what a natural wine is, so what the label on the bottle says is unhelpful to the consumer.
For enthusiasts that wish to venture beyond the nebulous boundaries of natural wine, there is biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is the product of meticulous viticulture, which is subject to strict regulation, and must pass gruelling tests to be certified as such. The world has more than 600 certified biodynamic viticulturists. They range from classic Burgundy domaines and Champagne houses to tiny, rustic New Zealand and Australian wine estates that employ sheep or kangaroos to do the weeding among the vines.
In essence, biodynamic viticulture uses the principles of organic farming, so no synthetic pesticides or fertilisers are allowed. But biodynamic viticulture goes further, mandating practices such as planting and harvesting crops according to the solar and lunar cycles. It regards soil as a living thing that should be treated as such, in the belief that healthy soil devoid of unnatural chemicals will produce the best wine.