Organic, Sustainable + Biodynamic Wine: What's the Difference?
A lesson in eco-friendly wines, just in time for Earth Day.
We've heard all the buzz words: organic, natural, sustainable, environmentally-friendly. But what do these terms actually mean? And how do you know you're choosing the right "green" product? Let's break it all down in relation to wine and winemaking. After all, Earth Day should be a reminder that our planet is precious. And the simplest way to take care of it is to be responsible, conscientious consumers.
Organic: Organic wine simply means that the grapes and all other ingredients used to make the wine (like yeast) must be certified organic. In other words, no synthetic pesticides or chemical herbicides may be used on the vines. In the U.S., organic wines also cannot contain added sulfites. Since sulfites occur naturally in wine (they're in grapes' skins), it's impossible for a bottle to contain no sulfites. However, other countries allow a small amount of added sulfites, so check the label before purchasing. Organic certification requirements vary from state to state, too. Organic wines are the only wines that can receive a legal certification from the USDA.
Biodynamic: This farming process holds the highest respect for the land and all living things within the vineyard's borders. It respects nature and the grapes as a complete ecosystem where all living things serve as integral parts of the winemaking process. Growers don't use synthetic chemicals, herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides or growth stimulants. Biodynamic vineyards also take into account lunar cycles and astrological events. Biodynamic wines don't contain added yeast or acidity adjustments. Biodynamic vintning is the most holistic approach to wine production.
Sustainable: Wines labeled as "sustainably-grown" are made on vineyards where sustainable farming practices are used. Sustainable wines are not necessarily organic and some pesticides may still be used. The vineyard itself, however, follows sustainable practices that, for example, reduce waste, use solar power, encourage biodiversity and manage run-off. Sustainable vineyards are not regulated by government agencies. However, there are independent organizations that offer certifications and promote sustainable practices.
Natural: Don't put much stock in wine or other food products labeled as "natural," as this term is not regulated. Natural basically means the product was handled and processed as minimally as possible, not organically, sustainably or biodynamically grown.
Because certification is costly and time-consuming, many winemakers don't complete the certification process. Other vintners have simply been growing grapes organically or biodynamically for so long that they don't feel a certification is necessary. Check winery's websites for detailed growing and harvesting information. Or, talk to your local liquor store's wine consultant about trusted vineyards with environmentally-friendly practices.
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This small, family-owned venture grows organic wines and sources grapes from other family-owned vineyards. The Albarino, sourced from a vineyard situated north of Yosemite National Park, is delightful with crisp, stone fruit flavors and refreshing acidity. Gallica's Petite Syrah is harvested and grown on-site and is certified organic.
Well-known for its unfiltered wine varietals, Newton prides itself on using sustainable farming practices that maintain the integrity of the grapes and the land. The 2017 Chardonnay is an excellent option from their unfiltered offerings. With an oaky, vanilla aroma, this well-rounded, unfiltered Chardonnay displays fantastic flavors of butterscotch and white peach with depth and subtle acidity.
Onward sources from vineyards that are certified organic and follow biodynamic farming practices. The Malvasia Bianca Petillant Naturel bursts with effervescent apricot, peach and lemongrass aromas. It's a great spring wine that's quite dry with crisp, pleasant tartness and green apple and citrus flavors.
Bonterra is committed to organic and biodynamic farming. They use biodynamic techniques on three separate ranches, certified by Demeter. The McNabb captures the terroir of its namesake ranch, boasting soft tannins, hints of cedar and vanilla with flavors of raspberry and plum.