Sustainable wine may be having a moment, but the low-interventionist philosophy that underpins natural, biodynamic and organic winemaking stretches back thousands of years. Ultimately, these styles are about getting back to basics, rejecting industrialized, mechanized farming methods that involve chemical and technological manipulation in favor of a more holistic, good-for-the-earth approach. The result? Wines that are not only better for the planet, but also better-tasting (and better for you). Science even says so. A recent study found that critics in blind tastings scored wines with eco-labels an average of 4.1 points higher than those without certification.
Here’s everything you need to know about natural, biodynamic and organic wine, plus how to choose the best bottles for your palate.
What is Natural, Biodynamic and Organic Wine?
While the definition is nebulous, a natural wine—which might also be labeled as “low-intervention,” “raw,” “lo-fi,” or ”zero/zero”– is considered to be one with nothing added and nothing taken away. It’s more of a general approach than a rigid category, with the exception of natural wines made in France, which recently imposed stricter regulations. These wines are free from sulfites, additives and chemical yeasts, and generally have a cloudy appearance, the result of being unfiltered. So how do they taste? It depends. Some natural wines are yeasty, resembling sour beer, while others are tart and funky, similar to kombucha. The unpredictability is part of what makes it so exciting.
An “organic” certification or reference indicates a wine that is made using organically grown grapes, meaning no pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals are added in the farming or winemaking process. It’s important to note that the certification standards in this category vary from region to region. For example, in the United States, all agricultural ingredients used in the winemaking process (i.e., the grapes, fining agents, and any applicable yeasts) must be certified organic per USDA standards. Synthetic chemicals, GMOs, and sulfites are banned. In Europe, the governing body that confers organic certification prohibits the use of GMOs, hormones, and antibiotics, but accepts up to 100 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur dioxide for red wines and 150 ppm for whites and rosés.
Biodynamic winemaking embraces a holistic, almost spiritual approach that sees the vineyard as one singular self-sustaining ecosystem. This philosophy is inherently sustainable—one of the main goals of biodynamics is to honor the land and leave it better than it was found (or at least as good). Biodynamic farmers embrace an agricultural framework conceptualized by the 20th-century Austro-Hungarian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Planting, fertilizing, and harvesting is done in accordance with the lunar cycle, and the health of the soil is paramount.
The most major biodynamic certification, Demeter, is a “comprehensive organic farming method that requires the creation and management of a closed system minimally dependent on imported materials.” Demeter’s standards and criteria are rigorous and necessitate adherence to organic farming practices, water conservation measures, animal integration, and a commitment to biodiversity (a minimum of 10% of the acreage must be dedicated to this cause). Farms can achieve the Demeter certification after a three-year period of compliance, and annual renewal is required to maintain status. Read more about the major eco labels in the wine world here.
Natural Wines and Where to Find Them
Biodynamic and organic wine is increasingly ubiquitous, but the certification can be costly, which makes labeling somewhat exclusive to the producers who can afford it. Also, there are organic and biodynamic wines and then there are “wines made from organic/biodynamic grapes,” with more lax production standards. So next time you wander into your neighborhood wine store, read the fine print. Or shop VIVANT’s expertly curated selection—we’ve identified the best biodynamic and organic wines out there, so all that’s left for you to do is uncork a bottle.