What is Real?
What is the deal with all these types?
What do all of these terms mean?
Natural, biodynamic, organic, low intervention, low sulfite, and vegan…
We will break it down so you know what you need to choose the right wine for you.
WHAT IS ORGANIC WINE?
When a producer is referred to as organic, it means that the viticulture, or wine growing and harvesting practices, do not rely on industrial synthesized products, such as fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and anything GMO. Producers that work this way often use compost and cover crops to help keep the vines and soil healthy and prevent them from becoming diseased. The “Bordeaux mixture” of sulfur and copper sulfate spray is used against disease, and is an approved organic practice, and manual labor is usually used instead of machines to harvest. Organic agriculture is overseen in Europe by the European Union, and their distinctive leaf-shaped seal is its proof that the product within adheres to EU organic rules. Some of our producers work with organic practices but have not sought official certification.
WHAT IS BIODYNAMIC WINE?
A biodynamic vineyard is one that uses a form of alternative farming that is very similar to organic practices and is based on theories by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. First developed in 1924, it was the first organic agriculture movement. Growers who practice biodynamic farming believe that the vineyard should be a self-sustaining organism treated with various herb and mineral based preparations, and that vineyard tasks such as planting, pruning, and picking should be done during earthly and celestial rhythms such as the cycles of the moon. Typically, biodynamic vineyards have greater microbial life and deeper vine roots than conventionally farmed vineyards. The use of livestock in vineyards is common. Stricter winemaking guidelines are followed than with organic farming and a reduced use of energy intensive practices is encouraged. Biodynamic certification is offered through the Demeter organization, though many practicing producers have chosen not to pursue the official seal.
WHAT IS LOW INTERVENTION WINE?
Not an official term, low-intervention is used to describe producers who might not be certified organic or biodynamic, but are working within the context of these practices. It is also a catch-all term that covers the embrace of any/all of the other classifications on this page, and is reflective of how there are many different perspectives in the world of natural wine. Low-intervention winemakers are usually not fans of regulation or bureaucracy. These producers work with the land to let the vines thrive on their own, usually utilize all natural yeasts and spontaneous fermentation and avoid additives. On occasion they might use non-organic vineyard management if a threat to the crop is predicted. With the producers that we work with, this is considered to be an extreme measure.
WHAT IS VEGAN WINE?
Historically, animal-based enzymes have been used in the fining of wines, usually in the form of egg whites, milk protein, or isinglass, a protein derived from fish. A wine labeled as vegan will not make use of any of these products. Fining is the process of coagulating solid material in the wine into larger particles to make them easier to filter out, if filtration is to be used. Many low intervention and natural winemakers do not filter or fine their wines. It is very important to note that even when not certified as vegan, the use of animal based enzymes in fining is very rarely used in modern day winemaking, and you are unlikely to encounter the use of these products in any of the wines that we sell. Many producers simply don’t want to deal with the time and hassle of being certified as vegan when they are content to know that in practice, their wines already are vegan. Wherever possible, and when we are certain it is the case, we will call out wines that are certified as vegan. If you want to know if a wine is vegan, feel free to send us a message.
WHAT IS NATURAL WINE?
This classification includes terroir driven wines and these wines are usually made without adding or taking anything away. Winemakers introduce minimal to zero levels of sulfur outside of what naturally occurs during fermentation, the wines are not fined, and any filtration is very light. This style of winemaking does not support the use of pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides that deplete the land of its natural minerals or that leave residue or traces in wine. For pest control, copper and sulfur may be used in the vineyards. It is commonly said that natural wines are nothing but juice, and even if it means a fault or two is present, it is usually seen as something that adds to the character of the wine. The natural wine movement is more based in concept than as a category with specific definitions, and our producers are representative of the complicated spectrum that defines "natural".
WHAT IS LOW SULFITE WINE?
Sulfur naturally occurs in the fermentation process, and when people talk about “low sulfur” of "low sulfite" wines, they usually mean added sulfur, and not the sulfur that occurs naturally. Without serious and damaging manipulation to remove natural sulfur, there really is no such thing as a sulfite free wine. In winemaking, sulfur is used as an anti-oxidant and preservative. A long time ago, sulfur in the several hundreds of milligrams per liter was common. These days, limits for added sulfur, even in conventional wines, have been reduced to much lower amounts. The question is: what level of added sulfur is acceptable to be considered low intervention or natural wine? This answer depends on who is answering; generally, added sulfur in the range of 50-60mg/liter or lower is considered an acceptable amount. Of course there are those who feel that anything over 20mg/liter or even zero milligrams (!) is unacceptable manipulation. Our best advice is to taste a lot and make your own decisions. But do understand, sulfur is a natural part of winemaking, and not an evil poison always to be regarded with disdain! Sometimes, sulfur isn't the culprit, but the histamines that come from tannins that are the result of skin contact and barrel aging processes.