You have seen the catchwords organic and natural wine popping up on wine labels all over the globe. But what do they actually mean? Are they just the new ‘Reserve’ labeling of the wine world jumping on the marketing train of the man bun, backpacking, I only eat kale trend? Yes and no. As with anything new, where gaining popularity is present, some companies attach the buzz words to their image. Luckily for us, most producers in the wine world care, if labeled, that their wine is authentically organic or natural. Let’s break down the terms so next time you pick up an organic or natural wine you know what you are holding.
Bear with me through this first part, we are in this together. Organic wine is made with grapes grown on an organic farm. However, there is wine that is certified organic wine made with organic grapes but not produced according to the standards set that vary from country to country. Thus “organic wine” can cover a multitude of winery processes and is important to note organic farming is not chemical-free. Organic chemicals are still present. It’s easy to forget that much more than just grapes goes into your glass. Yeast, sugars (naturally occurring or added), residual pesticides, added preservatives, coloring, animal byproducts, and mouth-feel agents can all be found in conventionally produced wine.
The goal of going organic is to produce the most natural and sustainable expression of both the grape and the terroir. The idea is that organic farming is beneficial to our bodies, those who work at the vineyards, as well as our environment. For example, organic vines tend to need less water applied, because soils are built up with compost and contain more organic matter, which holds water far better. Organic vines have been proven more resilient against increasing droughts and temperature spikes. By cutting out harmful and unnecessary irrigation practices organic wineries are protecting local ecosystems and preserving their surrounding flora and fauna. Organic wine grapes are much healthier and therefore produce heartier skins and higher concentrations of all of those good for you anthocyanins and antioxidants, including polyphenols and cardio-friendly resveratrol. Also, organic wines are free of residual traces of vineyard additives such as chemical-laced pesticides and herbicides. They also have less sugar on average and don’t contain potentially harmful cellar additives such as flavoring agents or caramel coloring. These additives plus higher sugar levels are what typically lead to headaches. So going organic may help prevent future brain pain. Give us all the hangover help we can get!
Wines that are made with minimal intervention in the vineyards and cellar are labeled natural wine. This is where sustainable labeling can become a bit tricky. All wine is technically “natural” since it comes from the ground; a wine claiming to be natural might mean just that, without any other steps taken to change the vineyard and cellar operations. A true natural wine is better labeled as a low or minimal intervention wine. That could mean anything from dry farming, implementing organic practices, to enlisting biodynamic treatments. is considered a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming. Low intervention wine typically comes from a smaller independent producer who handpicks their grapes and does not add any additional yeast nor any other additives for that matter.
Low intervention wine is considered the #nofilter version of what we are used to in our wine. It can be associated with earthy, funky, volatile, and even flawed characteristics. Some of those traits do not necessarily translate negatively in your glass, in fact, they can enhance the grape’s innate qualities. Unfortunately, on the flip side on that, some producers are using the term natural wine to excuse lazy or bad winemaking practices in which the wines can indeed be faulty yet passed off as ‘natural’.
Some producers boast their country’s own organic or low intervention seal of approval on their bottles. Some producers who are certified by their respective governing bodies chose not to state that fact on their bottles. Winemakers, especially in Europe, have been utilizing organic practices for years, yet do not have the time or the money to get certified, which is expensive and takes at least three years. Here in the States, there are many many guidelines a winemaker must follow to be considered organic. To achieve that status the vineyard and winery undergo intense scrutiny. If a producer starts as conventional and then converts to organic, the financial implication is immense and sometimes unfeasible for smaller wineries. Finding organic or low intervention wine can be a bit confusing because of this. The best way is to do some research on a producer’s vineyard practices or simply just ask one of your favorite Somms! You know, like us, here at Vinum 55, waiting to educate you all on how we can support those producers who are fighting to keep our favorite drink around for as long and sustainably as possible.