Organic, Biodynamic & Natural. What do they all mean? Are they all the same thing?
Well, not quite. The distinction can be a bit murky, and the terms often describe overlapping but not interchangeable qualities. Let’s try and pin down some definitions:
Organic wine is any wine that is certified organic and approved as being so – official and legally defined in both the vineyard and cellar. For a wine to be classed as organic, it needs to meet certain criteria relating to how it’s grown and the ingredients in the wine. Certification rules may vary, however, and not everyone agrees with the boundaries; the US and EU differ over the level of additional sulfites ,for example. Broadly speaking, organic means no unpleasant herbicides or pesticides and sensitive, environmentally-friendly land management whilst permitting limited use of additives such as yeasts and finishing agents.
Unlike Organic winemaking, the distinction of biodynamic doesn’t change between countries. Started in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, this method of farming is based around a specific astronomic calendar and followers are instructed to use only certain fertilizing preparations (cow horns filled with compost). It also views the whole vineyard – from the vines to the soil, to the plants and animals around it – as an ecological whole. The result was an early adoption of a form of self-sustainable farming, which included ideas that helped increase soil fertility. So, there’s a good reason for organic and biodynamic wines being grouped together – by avoiding those pesticides and depending on compost rather than chemical fertilizers; they are very much organic in practice.
Legally, there are no laws regulating what can be labelled as “natural”. A commonly agreed definition is a wine that experiences low intervention in both the vineyard and winery. From natural fermentation with native yeasts to no filtration or fining (they often contain particulates or appear cloudy), they are largely unmanipulated and the result is a “living” bottle of wine. This extends to a bare minimum in terms of chemical or winemaker intervention; they contain trace amounts of added sulfites and are often not aged in oak. So, can a natural wine be certified organic? Yes, if the grape growing and winemaking adhere to organic standards. Can they also be biodynamic? Yes, if the winemaker employs biodynamic principles as well.