We have to admit that it’s pretty cool when we see folks in the Verve community get excited about environmentally conscious winemaking. While mastering the unending slew of terms in this field is never necessary to your ultimate enjoyment of what comes out of the bottle, we find that getting a handle on some of the high level categories gives you more confidence when reaching for a bottle to pop open. To help you sort it through, we’re breaking down the four most common, sometimes overlapping, usually confused, but ultimately important categories for winemaking and the environment.
What Is Organic Wine?
Simple-- sort of. First and foremost, organic wine is always produced from organically farmed grapes, period. However, in the United States, these organically farmed grapes must be made into a wine with zero added sulfites to receive a USDA organic seal (although minimal amounts of naturally occurring sulfites that occur as a byproduct of fermentation will still be present.)
However, in Europe, wines are permitted to be labelled as organic and contain added sulfites. In the United States, wines made from organically farmed fruit and added sulfites will say ‘Made with Organic Grapes’ on the label, as opposed to ‘Organic Wine.’ However, these American ‘Made with Organic Grapes’ wines can be sold as ‘Organic Wine’ in Europe.
Piero of Chacra
What Is Biodynamic Wine?
Biodynamic wines are produced from grapes that are grown in vineyards farmed with biodynamic principles, where a holistic approach to viewing a vineyard as an ecosystem rather than a single entity is applied. In addition to not using chemicals and following all of the rules of organic certification, these principles are based on the writings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner and focus on maintaining balance and equilibrium throughout a vineyard. These principles include executing vineyard practices on certain days, following the lunar calendar, and creating special composts to generate soil fertility. Demeter is the largest organization worldwide for certified biodynamic farming.
What Is Sustainable Wine?
Sustainability is interesting because there is no uniform definition/certification for the word worldwide. Overall, sustainability incorporates using practices that are ecologically and environmentally friendly, as well as economically sensible for the winemakers involved. This means that winemakers have the flexibility to pick and choose which practices work best for their vineyard (think, incorporating some biodynamic principles or using mostly organic practices), while also allowing them the flexibility to make exceptions when needed.
What Is Natural Wine?
Defining ‘natural wine’ is the most difficult of them all, simply because there is no official definition for the term, and quite a lot of debate ensues. However, most natural wine enthusiasts agree that for a wine to be ‘natural,’ it must be made from organically farmed grapes, often with some form of biodynamic principles implemented, followed by native yeast fermentations, minimal intervention in the cellar, and no fining/filtering prior to bottling. Essentially, the idea of ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’ is key. The largest divide in the natural wine world is over the use of added sulfites, which some see as an unnecessary additive to the wine, while others argue are a much needed preservative.
Overall, viewing wine as an agricultural product, and not an industrialized good, helps put all of this into perspective. If we are conscious about the food we eat and where it comes from, then the way that we view wine shouldn’t be any different. Here’s to drinking responsibly and fueling our bodies with responsibly farmed products that taste delicious!