What is organic wine, and how do organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines differ?

Date posted:
March 6, 2012


The loosest definition of organic wine, though there is no single legal definition, is wine produced with organic grapes, writes Gregory Dal Piaz. This of course turns a blind eye to all the tricks that can occur in the cellar.


Wine made from organic grapes should be applauded: it means less damage was done to the ecosystem where the grapes were grown, but it conveys absolutely nothing about the wine itself.

You might see the term “Made from Organic Grapes” more frequently on wine labels, but these are not actually organic wines in the legal sense. In order to be labeled as completely organic, wines in both Europe and the U.S. need to be produced with no added sulfites. Sulfites are added to help preserve wines and reduce spoilage, therefore adding no sulfites is a tricky proposition. Wines are living things, add a little heat and you’ll get all sort of things happening in a bottle. So, winemakers continue to add sulfites to wine, and because of this, you’ll see “Made from Organic Grapes” more and more frequently.

Organic Grapes

Organic farming eschews the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Regardless of this farming, not all grapes are certified as organic. These certification processes require submission and review by a higher body, and tend to be regulated by government entities, which are not exactly famed for their user-friendliness. It’s not surprising that many producers simply do not bother with certification




Biodynamic agriculture takes organic farming one step further. The biodynamic view is that a farm is a closed circuit. For example, water used for agricultural purposes should be reclaimed and re-used. Farm animals should consume the cover crops left between vines and their waste should then be placed between those vines to rebuild the soil.

It’s an appealing philosophy that also includes homeopathic treatments, various fermented and steeped brews replacing chemical applications. It also includes a scheduling philosophy that involves the movement of the planets as a way to identify peak times for various farm and cellar activities.

While there is tremendous anecdotal evidence that biodynamics have a profound impact on farming and winemaking, some statements by the movement’s main philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, have opened the philosophy up to ridicule. Exhibit A: Steiner taught that because disease may be caused by bad karma, interfering with the path of an illness may cause a patient to have to compensate for any effects in a future life. 


Natural Wine


Natural wine is more of a movement that is defined by a simplified, minimal intervention style of winemaking. There is no guarantee that organic or biodynamic grapes will be used in a natural wine. A movement in France called “lute raisonnee” reflects a mindset that is becoming rather mainstream around the globe. Simply put, it refers to grapes that are grown with the least intervention possible. It is thought that this will allow for a more positive economic outcome.

Above: Organically grown grapes. Can you spot the difference?


Natural wine refers to a winemaking style that uses naturally occurring yeasts, does not allow for the additions (tannins, colors, enzymes) that are responsible for the homogenization of wine and tries to limit sulfur additions. In addition, many, if not most, are neither fined nor filtered. The results are wines that tend to more expressive of a vineyards respective terroir. Though sometimes the wines can be fatally flawed, the collaborative quality of the natural wine movement tends to spread the lessons learned by each producer through the industry at a rapid pace




Sustainable farming quite literally means farming in a way that will allow for continued farming throughout the ages. It employs techniques on many levels to allow for the reduction or elimination of many common vineyard treatments, though it has nothing to do with organic farming.

Sustainable practices include composting, promoting natural predation in place of chemical sprays and any additional practices that help farmers minimize the consumption of water, chemical additions to the land and turning of the soil. Hopes are that the lands can be returned to a healthy, living, nutrient rich state


(Source: SNOOTH)



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