The NAW guide to organic, biodynamic and natural wine - what does it actually mean?

The NAW guide to organic, biodynamic and natural wine - what does it actually mean?

There are a lot of buzzwords, barriers to entry and other nonsense around the world of organic, biodynamic and natural wine.

The mentality of the producers we stock at NAW can be simplified as ‘low intervention’, and this can be broken down into three categories with quite a lot of overlap. Two refer to processes in the fields/vineyards, and one refers to actions taken in the cellar.

Organic

Organic is a farming philosophy, built around the practice of not using chemical based fertilizers, pesticides etc. Organic wine is wine made from grapes that have been farmed using organic principles. Some producers may also choose not to get an organic certification, even if they are adhering to all the principles. This can be because organic certification is an expensive process or because it limits flexibility to use a little chemicals in a difficult vintage.

Biodynamic

Biodynamic agriculture is, in some way, an extension of organic. Biodynamics are a set of principles set out by Austrian scientist/philosopher Rudolf Steiner. It can be described as a little mystical – with a lot of significance placed on the lunar cycle, and some seemingly bizarre actions such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest "cosmic forces in the soil. The vineyard is treated as a complete ecosystem which needs to be nurtured in a holistic way. A number of big, classic French houses have been converting to biodynamics, largely due to the fact that previously struggling vineyards (due to overuse of chemicals) have been brought back to flourishing life by biodynamics. There is an internationally recognised body – Demeter – which certifies biodynamic wines. However, a lot of our wines are farmed using biodynamic principles, maybe using 50-80% of the rules that Rudolf Steiner set out, and therefore can be considered biodynamic even though they are not certified.

Natural

Natural wine has become very trendy, but is undefined and hard to quantify. It is also important to disassociate the trendiness of the wines nowadays, with the mentally of the producers – who are farmers trying to reduce the amount of chemicals that end up in their product. Essentially natural wine refers to the work in the cellar, particularly the adding of sulphites into the wine at bottling. Natural wine can be described as a wine bottled without any sulphites added, however many cult ‘natural’ wine producers use a little bit of sulphur. Most natural wine exponents would consider a wine made with the addition of <10mg/l to be ‘natural’. Sulphur is also naturally occurring in the winemaking process and therefore notice bottles saying ‘no added sulphites’ rather than just ‘no sulphites’.

Of course, in the Venn diagram of wine - there is a large overlap between these three categories. Many of the wines here at NAW are a combination of organic and natural, and some are all three. Regardless of which classification each wine has, they are all bound by the care and attention given to each bottle.