Over the past two years, I’ve become a huge proponent of organic produce, pastured meat, and wild fish. However, it was only recently that I discovered natural, organic, and biodynamic wines! Initially, I was drawn to these wines because they’re made from cleaner, more sustainable crops. After all, if I’m supporting organic produce to take a stance against the use of harmful pesticides and soil-destroying processes in my everyday fruits and vegetables, it only makes sense that my wine-purchasing tendencies should mirror my produce-purchasing ones!
What’s the Difference?
Conventional vs. Organic vs. Biodynamic vs. Natural Wines
Thank you, EatingWell.com for this handy infographic:
So, natural > biodynamic > organic > conventional. Many restaurants and stores sell organic wines, but not biodynamic or natural. Still, it’s good to know that in buying a glass or bottle of organic you’re a step above the conventional types.
In the Eating Well article, Julia Clancy further explains the differences among the wines. Here are the highlights:
- May contain dozens of chemical additives and preservatives, which wine makers are not required to list on the label. “The list of allowed substances in U.S. winemaking is about two pages long. These additives and treating materials, marked by the FDA shorthand ‘GRAS’ for ‘Generally Recognized As Safe,’ are not listed on the back of the wine bottle. They might include added preservatives; engineered yeast strains; or super-concentrates, like Mega Purple, used to correct a wine’s color, mouthfeel and flavor. Wines made in the U.S. and other countries may also include foaming agents, coloring agents, acidifiers, deacidifiers, casein, pepsin, trypsin, dimethyl dicarbonate, ammonium phosphate, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, potato protein isolate, acetaldehyde and isinglass (the dried swim bladders of fish, used for wine clarification).” Gross!
- More likely to cause a post-consumption headache. I cannot prove this with any hard evidence, but my N of 1 trial the past couple have months has proven this hypothesis to be true. When I’ve had conventional wines out at dinners, I’ve always gotten a headache the next morning. When I’ve had glasses of natural wine purchased from my favorite all-natural neighborhood wine store Wine Therapy…ZERO day-after headache! (Aside: If you live in NYC, you must check out Wine Therapy! They have a frequent buyer program and exclusively sell unconventional organic, biodynamic, and natural varieties!)
- Made with grapes that have been certified “organic” by a third-party organization. In order to earn this label, the crops must adhere to rigorous standards.
- No addition of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and/or pesticides. Because of this, crops are grown in vineyards that rely on robust soil health, which means they must practice crop rotation.
- No extra sulfur dioxide, aka “sulfites.” Sulfites are a naturally occurring preservatives in most wines, but winemakers can add more to preserve the lifespan of their products. If the winemaker grows organic grapes but adds sulfites, it cannot label the bottle “organic.” However, they can label the bottle as “wine made from organic grapes,” so be sure you look for and are able to identify the difference.
- Note: Regulations allow for bottles produced in Europe and Canada to contain small amounts of added sulfites.
- Must adhere to all of the organic practices (listed above).
- Biodynamic vineyards operate as a series of interactions, which means they do not participate in monoculture (production of just one crop) and instead are diversified and self-sustainable. “Planting, harvesting and pruning practices are determined by a specific calendar, taking into account both lunar cycles and the position of the sun and planets.”
- Will be labeled “biodynamic” if they meet all of the required specifications.
- As I mentioned, I’ve found these to be the least headache-inducing in my own personal research. (Naturally–pun intended!–biodynamic and organic would also be less likely to cause the dreaded headache caused from consumption of conventional wines, but nothing is as pure and great as natural!)
- This is the first and oldest method of growing wine.
- Because wine growers and makers use minimal technology and modern chemical interventions, this wine is the most pure. It’s essentially just fermented grape juice–that’s it!
- Soil fertility and diversity are essential. All natural wines are unadulterated, but different natural wine growers and makers employ different strategies to keep their crops safe and their bottles long-lasting.
- All natural wines are organic and possibly biodynamic, but all organic and biodynamic wines are not natural.
- “Though natural wine is among the strictest and most self-imposed versions of winemaking, there’s no legal classification or regulated standard to define the actual process. Unlike biodynamic winemaking, the natural wine movement is not attributed to a single individual. That said, there are established organizations, like VinNatur, that aid in defining and regulating those who make natural bottles.”
So, the bottom line is this: Avoid headaches and support sustainable, pesticide-free agriculture by purchasing organic, biodynamic, and/or natural wines! The taste is on par–if not better–with the more conventional, popular versions. In fact, more and more restaurants, wine stores, and companies are devoting themselves to the natural wine cause. If you enjoy subscription services, check out Dry Farm Wines. If you’re interested in finding a local restaurant or wine store that vends natural wines, Google will be your best friend! Yesterday, I Googled “natural wines restaurants New York City” and returned an extensive list of results. I can’t wait to check them out!
One final thought: If you’re worried about natural wines costing more, don’t! The natural wines I’ve found in restaurants and stores are about the same price point as the conventional brands I used to buy. Also, the more demand we (yes, we!) create for natural, sustainable wines, the cheaper and more ubiquitous they will be. (My high school econ teacher would be so proud of that supply-demand knowledge I just dropped right there!)
Cheers to you as you (hopefully!) embark on a new natural wine adventure! Both our planet and your body will thank you!
Will you switch from conventional to organic, biodynamic, and natural wines? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments!
In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!
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