What’s the Difference between Organic, Biodynamic, Natural and Vegan Wine?

drips of water on vine

Let’s face it, a lot more people in general, are becoming more conscious about what they are consuming. Wine is no exception. We all have heard of somebody that has turned vegetarian or vegan for health reasons.

Because of this trend, organic and natural food and drink is a growing retail segment. As more people are enquiring about organic, natural and vegan wines – it is probably opportune for me to clear up some misconceptions about the differences.

Read on and I’ll explain some definitions which hopefully will go some way to helping you understand these wines more.

What is Organic Wine?

The term is a little tricky when it comes to wine as there are different requirements for certification on different continents e.g. the USA and Europe. Using ‘organic’ on a label means that the wine has been certified by a licensed 3rd-party.

The main thing to understand though is that the vineyard is farmed using organic practices: no pesticides, no herbicides, and no chemical fertilizers. In particular organic wines cannot contain added sulphites (sulfites) in the USA.

However, in Europe and Canada organic wine standards allow small amounts of added sulphites, as long as the total quantity doesn’t exceed 100 parts per million (ppm) for reds and 150 ppm for whites.

What is Biodynamic Wine?

The spiritual philosopher Rudolph Steiner (late 20’s) wrote about the vineyard being an organism in its own right. His doctrine was one of grapevines, the soil, flora and fauna in the area all growing together interdependently.

Someone once described it as the synthesis of science and spirituality. However, it has similar regulations to the organic practice of banning chemicals and fertilizers, and the labelling is regulated.

Biodynamics differ from organics in its belief that the farming can be aligned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos. As such it can link harvest to the phases of the moon or burying a cow’s horn filled with manure in the soil over the winter.

What is Natural Wine?

I’ll be talking about Vegan Wines later, but the hot topic right now in the ‘general’ wine world is the concept of natural wine. In truth, natural wine making is not new, it simply hadn’t been commercialised before.

In fact, these wines have long been produced by rural families for their own personal consumption, much in the same way as they would have made their own cheese, cured meats and grown fruits and vegetables. But, it’s crucial to note that “nonchemical intervention” doesn’t mean an absence of intervention entirely.

The difference today is that trained winemakers are the ones doing it to make a living. My only caveat for the uninitiated is to be prepared for the unpredictability.

Natural wine has no legal definition but broadly refers to wines made without adding or subtracting anything in the cellar—no additives, no chemicals, no sulphur, no oak character from barrels, no filtering, no cultured yeasts, – as such, less manipulated.

Keep that in mind: a natural wine is organic and sometimes biodynamic, though organic and biodynamic wines are not always natural.

What is Vegan Wine?

What makes a drink made from fermented grapes not vegan? Where does the animal become involved in the wine making process?

Making wine involves fining, a process that removes heavy tannins with ingredients derived from fish bladders (isinglass), milk protein (casein), or eggs (gelatine, and albumen). All young wines contain tiny murky particles, all natural such as tannin, tartrates and phenols and over time the wine will self-clear, however winemakers like to speed the process up and do so by fining the wine.

The result is a clearer wine, though removed in the final product, their temporary presence makes the wines non-vegan. Vegan wines replace these with clay or charcoal-based alternatives.

Fining with casein and albumen is normally acceptable to vegetarians but all four are a no, no for vegans What complicates the issue further is there is no requirement for the wine maker to state on the label what fining agent was used.

The fining agents are not additives to the wine as they are filtered out, however tiny traces of the fining agent maybe absorbed into the wine during the fining process.

In Defense of Sulphites

The most common myth about conventional wines are the damaging effect of sulphites in wine. It should be noted that they are present in all wines because during a wine’s fermentation process, they are produced naturally. So, no wine is sulphite free even if the winemaker has not added them.

In fact, sulphites are widely used in the food and beverage industry, as a preservative for dried fruits, soft drinks, pre-washed salads and processed meats.

Warning labels are important, allergies or sensitivity related to sulphites is reported in a small percentage of the population, although that percentage may rise if you suffer from asthma.

However, it is now widely believed that sulphites are not the cause of hangovers, and the importance of enjoying wine with food, consuming moderately and drinking plenty of water cannot be overstated.

Whatever your preference in the list of wines styles described above, at the end of the day we owe it to ourselves, and our planet to work with quality focused producers who are trying to make the very best wine they can.

This should be as naturally as possible, whilst showing maximum environmental respect, in that given year.

Enjoy the wine you’re with. And if you would like to discuss any of the above mentioned styled wines just pop in here to Green Acres or email me at donal@greenacres.ie.

One last thing – did you know that we launched the Green Acres mobile app recently? Now you can bring us home in your pocket. Book tables, browse wines, learn of special offers, check events, connect with us, earn loyalty rewards and much more.  We would really appreciate if you would click on either of the tabs below to download for free.

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Talk to you soon, Donal.

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