What's the Difference Between Natural, Organic, and Biodynamic Wine?
Raw, unfiltered, low-intervention, natural. These labels are popping up on wine store shelves more and more as a new wave of alternative wines goes mainstream. Or at least, mainstream-adjacent. While there are strict certifications for some labels, others are relatively too new to hold a universal definition. Is organic wine also raw? What's natural wine and why is it all over the internet? Luckily, we work with a slew of vintners who are growing and fermenting wine non-conventionally. We tapped them to break down how to distinguish between organic, biodynamic, and natural wine.
This simply means the grapes used to make the wine are grown according to the principles of organic farming. Among other standards, it means no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides were used to grow the grapes.
Once the grapes are harvested and processed, additives and processes (albeit still organically grown) interact with the wine, usually to produce a more stable, uniform wine (this is where organic wine differs from natural wine). Winemakers in the US are not allowed to add sulfite preservatives to organic wines, but that's not the case under European regulation.
Wines without sulfites have a much shorter shelf life, so pay attention to the bottling date on organic US-produced wines, especially whites.
Biodynamic wine takes the above one step further: in addition to following organic farming regulations, producers adhere to the principles of biodynamic farming to grow their grapes. Biodynamic farming prioritizes soil health by relying on a closed-loop agricultural system – byproducts from animals fertilize soil, that soil is used to grow crops, and the cycle continues.
This focus on maintaining and growing with healthy soil yields grapes with characteristics specific to their harvest site, and in turn, wines that reflect the land and place.
Spoiler alert: there is no true definition for natural wine. It's not a regulated term, and contested depending on who you talk to. But, there are a few unofficially official characteristics that define natural wine that are accepted by a majority of natural winemakers: the grapes are grown organically, the wine is made without intervention, and the true living nature of the wine is preserved.
Fermentation is not artificially started or halted – natural winemakers let nature do the work and bottle wines unfiltered and unrefined to showcase the uniqueness of each wine. You'll get slight variations from bottle to bottle, and the wine may taste a bit different depending on how long it's been open, or even the weather that day. Natural wines generally have lower alcohol content, so they're smooth and easy to drink (especially when chilled).