Two Often Confused Wine Terminologies, Let's Explore The Differences
In this article we’re looking at wine. More specifically, the differences between biodynamic and natural wines. Whether you’re a wine drinker who only pays attention to the colour of wine - white, red, or rose, or maybe you’re the kind of drinker who likes to go a bit deeper, familiarising yourself with the different grape variants for each wine or even how these vary by region, however you like to enjoy your wine, we feel knowing a bit about it helps to enjoy it just that little bit more.
Now, with vineyards looking at becoming more environmentally conscious and sustainable, there are even more variables to consider as wine-making itself evolves. Fear not, though, in this article we’ll be taking you through the brave new world of wine so you can feel confident in what you’re buying.
What is biodynamic wine?
The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association’s definition of biodynamic is 'a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition'. But what does this mean?
Biodynamic wine is made in accordance to 'Biodynamic Principles'. These state that wine-making processes should be divided up across the calendar year in relation to Lunar patterns. This dates back to the early 20th Century and was an approach developed by Austrian Rudolf Steiner. He believed that Lunar activity impacted the growth of plants and other organisms and therefore vines should be planted and grapes should be harvested at set times based on Lunar activity.
Another key characteristic of biodynamic wine is it’s superior taste compared to more commercial wine-making processes. Steiner believed that the best results in wine-making came from vineyards that were built into the natural environment. Rather than stripping fields bare in order to plant as many vines as possible for large yields, Steiner believed vines should be planted amongst other plants. Biodynamic vineyards often plant fewer vines in order to make room to plant other trees and plant-life. This rich, bio-diverse habitat helps fertilise the soil. Whilst biodynamic wine yields are often less, the grapes taste much better as they are grown in a much healthier environment.
Are biodynamc wines and organic wines the same?
Now, this is where it can get a bit confusing! Biodynamic principles are seen as somewhat organic in nature but you’ll often find biodynamic wine and organic wine listed separately amongst the many buzzwords surrounding wine.
Both biodynamic wine and organic wine-making processes prohibit the use of pesticides and herbicides in the production of their grapes, however, organic wine will often include sulphates and yeast compounds. Yeast is added during the fermentation process to improve the taste and it’s not uncommon for acids to be added to, again, improve the taste. There are European Regulations in place that set out the quantities of sulphates that can be added in order for the wine to still be labelled as organic. For red wine, that’s 100 milligrams of sulphates per litre and for white wine and rosè it’s 150 milligrams per litre.
The resurgence in popularity of biodynamic farming and production has partly come about in attempt to better these organic wine-making practices. Biodynamic wine is free from sulphates and yeast as principles state that the wine should be free of synthetic agents. This is why biodynamic wine is often seen as being organic but isn’t actually organic by definition.
What is Natural wine?
Natural wine has grown in popularity over the last decade, however, natural wine is not a particularly well defined category in the grand scheme of wine-making. Unlike organic wine, there is no legal regulation surrounding natural wine and therefore there are no set requirements as to what can and can’t be used in its production. This makes it hard to define, so let’s instead look at the generally accepted characteristics.
One of the key widely agreed requirements amongst the natural wine makers is that the grapes must be organic. Not to be confused with organic wine, all natural wine is organic but not all organic wine is natural. In the production of organic wine, there is no requirement to state the grapes themselves must be organic.
Much like biodynamic and organic wine, natural wine is free of pesticides and herbicides. It is commonly accepted that one of the defining characteristics of natural wine is its low intervention. Grapes are often handpicked rather than machined, and, if used, the yeast used during fermentation is naturally occurring rather than man-made or compounded.
We say ‘if used’ because yeast and sulphates which are used as flavour enhancers should not ideally be used in natural wine. Take sulphates for example, legislation states that there is an agreeable quantity that can be used in organic wine but there is no set rule for natural wines. Therefore, natural wine manufacturers adopt the approach that no sulphates should be used, and if they are used, quantities should be considerably lower than legislation dictates for organic wine.
So, is Natural wine more of a trend?
Strictly speaking, natural wine is a concept that has a much beloved following. Those who are fanatical about artisanal wine often favour natural wines as there are no questions that it is wine in its purest form. The considered, organic, conscious approach to wine-making is very ‘of the times’. Not to mention, it tastes great so it’s no surprise it’s so popular.
The lack of legislation and regulation does make it more difficult to define, however. Practices vary but we do see commonality amongst certain practices. Regardless, natural wines are a great product and are well worth considering. There’s definitely a reason they’ve grown in popularity.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.