Organic, natural, biodynamic wines, explained
We dream of purity in a world where progress has left its toxic imprint on our land and food supply. Answering the call for nature, the organic movement has infiltrated our food, fashion, lifestyle choices and our choice of tipple, too. Indeed, there is a growing backlash against lab-grown yeast, grapes drenched in pesticides, and unwarranted tinkering that alter the natural taste of wines.
From New York to Hong Kong, bars and restaurants offering organic, biodynamic and natural wines are flourishing – they fit the urban millennial mindset of a holistic, authentic and environmentally enriching lifestyle. But what makes a wine tick all the right responsibly produced boxes these days?
Organic wine is made from grapes grown and harvested without any kind of synthetic chemicals. This method allows nature to take its course and grapes to express their full flavour. Only indigenous yeast is used in fermentation, and there’s little to no preservatives.
Roughly 1,500 to 2,000 vintners adhere to organic practices. “According to industry research, consumption of organic wine will reach about one billion bottles by 2023,” says Matt Ayre, a wine advisor for Vivant, an interactive platform connecting responsible winemakers and imbibers. “That’s a huge jump from 400 million in 2013 – clearly, people want to know what’s in their glass.”
Biodynamic wines stem from a certified holistic and experiential approach to farming that pushes the natural expression of grapes and minimises manipulation in winemaking. Much attention is paid to elevating biodiversity, crop rotation, thoughtful cultivation, harvesting and fermentation according to the astrological calendar. The mystical nature of biodynamic winemaking may raise eyebrows, but it is believed these efforts translate into richer soil, healthier grapes, and full-bodied, truer, more earthy wines.
The back-to-basics movement in winemaking has been fermenting since the ’70s. Much like midwives, these vintners are minimally involved and watch from the fringes.
There is no dependence on modern machines or manipulation in natural wines. It is manually crushed, and fermentation occurs artlessly with ambient yeast. The wines are not filtered, so might appear cloudy, and in the absence of additives, stability can be an issue. Nothing is added to the fruit, and nothing is taken away; taste ranges from experimental, hideous to ethereal.
Lack of Transparency
Natural wine is a vague term without any universal guidelines in place. Some naturalists add a modest amount of sulphite at the bottling stage, others completely avoid it, but none puts a permissible number on it. The vagueness of the concept and the fact that ‘natural’ is both a lifestyle and a food category has allowed these wines to become hip in a way organic and biodynamic wines have not.
With no legal principles in place for labelling, a vintner’s faith is indispensable – the wine can taste authentically superior, acidic, oxidised or plain cider, all in the name of ‘natural’. For proponents of a more sustainable way of life, organic, biodynamic and natural are not just wine buzzwords – they are essentials in creating a responsible yet rad identity in a world full of cookie-cutter chardonnays.
(Text: Nikita Mishra)