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What’s the Buzz with Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wines?

Mar. 17, 2020

Consumers are making conscientious choices when it comes to their drinking habits. Whether is it spirit-free mocktails, health-conscious cocktails or better for you beverages, people are more mindful than ever about what’s in their glass.

Wine drinkers, in particular, are uniquely interested lately in sustainability practices.

Words like organic, biodynamic —and more recently, natural — aren’t necessarily new in the wine industry. They’ve appeared on wine labels to varying degrees for close to two decades. What is new is the buzz around these terms is getting louder.

“We love the opportunity to talk about organic and biodynamic wines and getting our customers more aware of them,” said Nick Gurniewicz, Breakthru Beverage Wisconsin’s Fine Wine Manager. “The whole sustainability and taking care of the land movement is not just a story to our team. We believe organic farming practices produce better grapes, which in turn makes better wines. These wines are also much better for the environment in terms of sustainability, so we really enjoy educating our customers about them.”

With the increased interest in organic, biodynamic and natural wines comes a greater need for education as to what these three terms actually mean. There is a lot of misinformation out there that can be confusing to consumers and customers alike. Thankfully, Gurniewicz is here to cut through the clutter and help us all understand how these three categories can impact your wine business.

 

Organic Wines

Organic wines are the most straightforward of the three, but even this category isn’t without some nuance. The U.S. and European Union have different rules and requirements for a wine to be certified organic. 

In the U.S., a wine can only be certified organic if it is made without the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides. The use of sulfides is also not allowed in certified organic wines. Sulfides are often added to wine as a preservative and to keep it stable on its journey from winery to restaurant to glass. Despite being used in wine for decades, its addition is not allowed in organic wines. Only naturally occurring sulfides, which can be found on grape skins, can be found in organic wines. 

There are a handful of organic certification agencies in the U.S., including the USDA, COOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) and smaller agencies in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. 
“It is important to find a way to highlight organic wines on your menus and on your shelves,” Gurniewicz said. “There is a good chance your customers will be open to trying a new wine simply because it is organic or sustainable.”

A Selection of Our Organic Wine Offerings

 Organic Wines

1.) Far Niente Chardonnay, 2.) Grgich Hills Chardonnay Napa, 3.) Bonterra Chardonnay, 4.) Eppa Superfruit Red Sangria

 

Biodynamic Wines

There is a misconception out there that biodynamic is organic taken to the extreme. According to Gurniewicz, however, that’s not the case.

“There are a few biodynamic rituals that aren’t necessarily the most sustainable practices, such as spraying your fields with a copper fungicide,” he said. “There are plenty of organic farmers who would disagree with that practice.”

Biodynamic winemaking dates back almost a century. It was started by philosopher Rudilf Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner believed that in order to grow the best grapes possible, winemakers needed to view the vineyard as a complete ecosystem in which everything —grapes, soil, plants and animals —are all one interconnected organism. 

His farming practices were incredibly detailed and spiritual in nature and included everything from harvesting to burying a cow horn filled with manure in a corner of the vineyard and then digging it up and fertilizing with it come spring. 

It is also important to note that just because a winery practices biodynamic farming, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s certified biodynamic. Demeter Association, Inc is the only agency in the world that can certify a wine as biodynamic and it charges wineries an assortment of registration fees, annual licensing fees and a percentage of the winery’s gross profits just to remain certified. For many wineries the cost to become officially certified is too much.

Still, consumers are intrigued by biodynamic offerings and are often willing to pay a premium for all that extra work.  

“Biodynamic farming is very mystical,” Gurniewicz said. “People are gravitating to biodynamic wines because they believe that if a winemaker is going to go through the full, meticulous process to grow biodynamic grapes, then that winemaker must be incredibly passionate about the quality of their wine.”

A Selection of Our Biodynamic Wine Offerings

 

Biodynamic Wines
1.) King Estate Pinot Gris, 2.) King Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, 3.) King Estate Pinot Noir, 4.) Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir

 

Natural Wines

It would be nice if we could just say that natural wines are simply that: natural, unaltered wines that are free from chemicals, made without sulfites and fermented using only natural yeasts. 
The production of natural wine, however, is actually rather complicated.

“Natural wine is a love-hate topic right now with sommeliers and wine enthusiasts,” Gurniewicz said. 

The issue concerning natural wine is that there is no set definition for natural winemaking. There are some generalities, such as you cannot add sulfites and you can only use natural yeast for fermentation, but aside from those rules, there are no boundaries. 

At its very core, natural wine is supposed to be about producing wine the way it was originally meant to be made, which means consuming it while its young, fresh and full of vibrant character. 
“We see a lot of people interested in natural wine because of the romance of it,” Gurniewicz said. “Drinking wine completely unaltered, flaws and all, the way it should be. You could argue that natural wines taste more like the places where they come from.”

The problem with natural wine is that it completely ignores all the scientific advancements that have come with hundreds of years of wine making. As a result, there is a lot of bottle variation with natural wines. 

There is also the risk for contamination, which fans of the style don’t necessarily see as a bad thing. In natural wines, funky and barn yard like flavors that are not scientifically correct are instead perceived as complexities and interesting nuances of the wine’s fermentation. This is similar to how craft beer brewers have used wild yeasts and bacteria like Brettanomyces to produce off flavors in their sour ales.

Gurniewicz concluded, “Natural wine is controversial, but also very much on trend. It is important for our customers to know enough about this topic so that they can speak with consumers and answer any questions they might have.”  

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