The term “natural” as a wine descriptor has occurred more frequently in recent years. So, what is difference between “natural wine” and “organic wine” and “organically grown wine?” The answer is nuanced, but we’ll break it down as best we can.
Essentially, there are 4 tiers of “Organic Wine” available in the U.S. today. Here’s what you can expect to find in the Organic Wine section at the store:
- “Wines made with Organic grapes” also known as “Organically Grown Wines”: These are made with Certified Organic grapes and with carefully regulated added sulfites. These account for the bulk of wines loosely called “Organic.” This does, however, only apply to wines in the United States. In the EU and all other countries, such wines are simply called “Organic Wines.”
Note: Certified Organic grapes = no pesticides/ herbicides/ chemical fertilizers applied
- “Organic Wines”: Wines labeled organic, i.e. made with Certified Organic grapes and without added sulfites. This is only the definition in the US, in every other country in the world an organic wine may contain carefully monitored added sulfites to maintain stability and quality.
A quick word on sulfites: If a product contains more than 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide, the product’s label will read “Contains Sulfites.” Though sulfites have been blamed for things like wine-associated headaches, there is no real science to back up these claims. The only reason to avoid sulfites is if you are an asthmatic or have been diagnosed by a doctor as sulfite intolerant. In this case, we have section in our store just for you. Shop our no added sulfites section here. These wines may carry the USDA seal.
- “Biodynamic Wines”: Wines produced in accordance with and certified by Demeter Institute standards which requires Certified Organic grapes coupled with a planting and harvesting schedule dictated by moon cycles and a biodiverse environment (essentially turning the vineyard into its own thriving ecosystem). These wines can then receive certification from either Demeter or Biodyvin. Notably, biodynamic certification permits the addition of regulated SO2 levels in biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wines, though typically pricier than Certified Organic wines, take their attentiveness to our environment and care of all animal species a step further (See our previous blog post and store section).
- “Natural Wines” also called “Stainable/Eco-friendly”: These wines are presented as being made in a more “conscious” way than conventionally made wine, cleaner and with fewer chemicals and regulated SO2. However, there are no official standards or regulating 3rd party agency, which makes these wines very hard to define and assess.
In contrast to “ Natural wines,” the USDA has created rigorous guidelines in order to label products as either “organic” or “made with organic (grapes).” In order to qualify to use either term in the United States, the product has to meet a very thorough list of requirements. For instance, there can be no synthetic or manufactured materials present and the grapes being clear of any non-organic materials for at least three years before certification can be considered.
Producers of “natural wines” on the other hand label themselves as such because they claim to produce their wines with minimal intervention. They assert themselves as being more responsible, more “conscious,” and more environmentally protective than their conventional counterpart. While that may well be true, we have no way to ascertain this for a fact in the absence of official standards and regulatory organizations, which is why we chose not to carry “natural wines,” at least for now.
As far as the environment goes, organic winemaking is the way of the future, if we’re determined to have one. Because it is produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizers and chemical fertilizers, it is the only way forward to sustain our collective wine thirst.
The recent “natural wine” movement has done great things for the mainstream visibility of more “naturally” produced wines. We do believe that these producers make a concerted effort to be less chemically processed (however we can’t be sure, therefore we don’t carry any) until there are standards and a 3rd party certification process and more clearly defined restrictions of the term natural.
In our opinion, based on 40 years worth of experience, drinking wines made with Certified Organic grapes is still the best, safest, and most enjoyable way to go. Because these are 3rd party regulated, you can be confident knowing what’s gone into your wine (or hasn’t). You can learn more about how to identify the logos of certifying agencies displayed on the back label of wines here.
We hope that you now know a little bit more about the differences between the various winemaking styles that live under the term “organic wine.” You can go forth and select your next wine with confidence from your local wine shop or from our online store, open 24/7. Happy sipping!
Lamour, J. (2021, February 22). Organic Wine Is Not All Hype, Apparently. Mic. https://www.mic.com/p/organic-wine-is-not-all-hype-apparently-60048198
Link, R. (2019, September 9). What Are Sulfites In Wine? Everything You Need To Know. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sulfites-in-wine#sulfites