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Over the past several years, I’ve become a proponent of organic produce, pastured meat, and wild-caught fish. However, it was only recently that I discovered organic wine! If I’m buying organic produce to take a stance against the use of harmful pesticides and soil-destroying processes, it only makes sense that my wine-purchasing tendencies mirror my produce-purchasing ones!
Conventional vs. Organic Wine
According to Wine Folly:
Non-Organic wines can use chemicals like herbicides and fungicides in the vineyards and other additives (like sulfur or Mega Purple) in a wine. You’ll find most of the bizarre chemicals in non-organic wines are used in the vineyard. It is common to see pesticides and fungicides used in areas that are calm (low wind) and have more moisture in the air to cause fungal infections (perhaps close to a river, pond or lake). You’ll find many fungicides and pesticides being employed to kill invasive species.
Thus, conventional, non-organic wines = possibly containing herbicides, fungicides, and sulfur. No thanks!
Organic wine is clearly the best choice, but biodynammic and natural wines are even “healthier”! (Yes, unfortunately “healthy” must be in quotation marks because no amount of alcohol consumption can considered healthy. Have you heard red wine is “good” for you? That’s because it contains polyphenols, which you can also get from foods like berries and dark chocolate.)
Let’s take a look at these next-level “healthy” wine varieties…
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 wine but not biodynamic or natural. Still, it’s good to know that a glass or bottle of organic wine = a step above the traditional vino.
In an 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. Clancy writes, “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!
- 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, they cannot label the bottle “organic.” However, they can label the bottle as “wine made from organic grapes.” Be sure you look closely at the label to determine whether the wine is truly organic.
- Note: Regulations allow for organic 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 do not participate in monoculture (production of just one crop) and instead are diversified and self-sustainable.
- Will only be labeled “biodynamic” if they meet rigorous specifications.
- 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 purest. It’s 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 unique strategies to keep their crops safe and their bottles shelf-stable.
- 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,” explains Clancy.
- Bonus: When I drink natural wines, I never get that dreaded day-after headache! I can’t prove this with any hard evidence, but others have experienced this same miracle!
Fortunately, more and more restaurants, wine stores, and companies are devoting themselves to the organic/biodynamic/natural wine cause. There’s an entire organic wine store called Wine Therapy in my neighborhood, so there may be one near you, as well! If you enjoy subscription services, check out Dry Farm Wines.
When attempting to locate organic wine sellers near you, Google will be your best friend! Yesterday, I Googled “natural wine restaurants New York City” and received an extensive list of results. I can’t wait to check them out!
If you’re worried about organic wine costing more…don’t! The organic, biodynamic, and 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 organic, sustainable wines, the cheaper and more available they’ll become!
Bottom line: Avoid headaches and support sustainable, pesticide-free agriculture by purchasing organic, biodynamic, and/or natural wines. In my opinion, their taste is on par—if not better—than the more conventional, popular versions. Cheers to you as you (hopefully!) embark on a new wine adventure!
Have any thoughts or questions? Please share them below!
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