The Wonderful World of Natural Wine: Exploring the Differences Between Biodynamic, Organic, Natural, and Vegan Wines
From vineyard practices to taste, here is a look at what sets these wines apart
When choosing the perfect wine for an occasion – whether it’s a special anniversary dinner that calls for a bottle of something truly memorable or a Friday evening in the company of friends – you will find yourself with many choices. Some of these choices are simple: white or red? sparkling? chilled? full-bodied or light and summery? Others are not so straightforward: natural, vegan, organic, and/or biodynamic?
At first glance, one may wonder if all of these words are describing the same thing. At their core, these distinctions all speak to a product made sustainably and with an emphasis on doing things naturally. However, if you go beyond the surface level, there’s much more nuance between these terms.
In this article, we will define these terms and the practices behind them, so that the next time you’re at the market, you’ll know what to select for your dinner party or night in for one. We will explore:
- Biodynamic wine
- Organic wine
- Natural wine
- Vegan wine
Biodynamic wine may sound like a new concept to those already familiar with vegan, organic, and natural products, but the practice has been around for quite some time. The official definition of biodynamic farming according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.”
So what does biodynamic actually mean?
Biodynamic farming is a naturally organic farming practice that pre-dates organic farming as it’s defined today. Biodynamics views the vineyard as one solid organism. It aims to preserve the ecology of the vineyard and create a self-sustaining system.
Biodynamic wines are made by farming the vineyard’s components as one entity, which eliminates the need for chemicals and uses natural materials and composts instead. It is unique because it uses a special calendar called the biodynamic calendar, which divides days into four categories: leaf, flower, root, and fruit. On leaf days, farmers water their crops. On flower days, farmers let plants thrive. On root days, farmers prune if necessary. And on fruit days, farmers harvest. The biodynamic practice does not use chemicals, but rather composting, which often includes elements such as yarrow blossoms, stinging nettle, chamomile, and cow’s horns, which signify abundance.
Biodynamic wines are certified by either Demeter International or Biodyvin Approval. The former may be familiar to those who study Greek mythology, as it gets its name from the Greek goddess of agriculture. Biodynamic wines generally do not taste different than conventional wines and may even have a higher-quality taste profile.
Similar to biodynamic wine, organic wine also employs a chemical-free process. However, organic wine’s main focus is on the grapes, which must be organic, as opposed to biodynamic practices, which are only practiced in the vineyard as a system and closed circuit.
Organic winemakers do not use artificial or synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, or any other dangerous chemicals on the vineyards. Organic farming practices include hand pulling weeds and other actions that allow the earth to keep its natural state. After the grapes are harvested and wine production begins, there is a continued emphasis on allowing the grapes to remain in their most natural state. This means no additional sulfites, stabilizers, preservatives, or other additives are introduced.
Consumers looking to try organic wine can find reassurance that the bottle they are choosing is truly organic by looking at the label. Organic wine is certified as such.
Because organic wine is made with grapes that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and chemicals, it’s also more nourishing and provides a more full-bodied expression of the grapes’ taste.
Unlike organic wine and biodynamic wine, natural wine is not beholden to any rigorous certification process. This is why consumers choosing natural wine must be scrupulous if a focus on environmental sustainability and wine free of additives is important. Like many products on the market labeled “natural,” savvy consumers have grown skeptical as the label can be seen as using the marketing practices of organic wine without the farming and production practices that go with it.
That being said, natural wine made correctly does exist. Natural wine typically refers to low or no intervention farming practices on the vineyard and production practices in the cellar. This can mean dry farming, which is non-irrigated crop production, as well no use of sulfurs or other additives.
Plant-based individuals may assume that wine is inherently vegan. After all, grapes are vegan. However, the truth can be surprising. Oftentimes, non-vegan products such as egg whites, gelatin, and fish bladder protein are used as fining agents. Fortunately, vegan wines have found workarounds for the fining process, including using everything from activated charcoal to bentonite.
With this in mind, vegan and vegetarian wine aficionados should make sure that the bottle they are buying is truly plant-based. Vegan wine will be labeled as such. It is also worth noting that vegan wine is not always organic, biodynamic, or natural, so if these labels are also important, it is important to ask about them.
Wines across the spectrum
Of course, some wines may fall into more than one of these categories, such as our Virgen line of wines which are USDA-certified organic and vegan. These no-sulfites-added wines include a cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and red blend, all of which showcase the deepest expression of our pristine, high-desert Tupungato Valley terroir in the Mendoza region of Argentina. Our local terroir, which is a mix of sandy/gravel soils that benefit from brilliant sunlight and 50⸰F temperature swings from day to night, leads to amazingly fresh, flavorful grapes.
Organic, vegan wine from the vineyards of Mendoza
Domaine Bousquet produces organic, vegan, fair trade, sustainable wine in beautiful Mendoza, Argentina. Our vineyard is backed by four generations of winemakers with a dedication to compassionate, environmentally-focused practices that result in delicious, intensely expressive wine. Browse our wonderful selection to see just what we have to offer.