Wine Vocabulary

Organic, Biodynamic and Natural wine. What’s the difference?

To understand this concept and its various ramifications, it is necessary to keep something clear in mind: before the 20th century and the spreading of affordable synthetic fertilisers, all farming was organic. When the shift to the use of synthetics and pesticides happened, it became necessary to diversify traditional organic farming from the new modern farming. 

Organic certification was first legally defined in France in 1980, and the first European guidelines for organic agriculture were published in 1991. Simply put, organic farming forbids the use of synthetic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or genetically modified organisms.
These wines do possess the label according to their country of origin. The basic requirements are generally specific and engage the farmers not to use any chemical fertilisers and other synthetic products in the vineyard. It does not prevent the vintner from using the conventional winemaking process after harvesting. This point is probably the most contentious as, even though the grapes are organically grown, the wine making is not. It leads, unfortunately, to a lack of coherence in the ‘organic” approach and wines of variable quality.
Let’s take organic farming one step further: Biodynamic. The creator of this agricultural system is the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who developed the principles of biodynamics in a series of lectures given in 1924 in Germany. At that time, many farmers were concerned about the growing use of chemical fertilisers and their effects on crop quality. Steiner, with his writings and observations, was proposing a new, alternative system based on the holistic idea of the farm as a symbiotic entity, where Nature is at the centre and is considered as a whole with multiple interactions.
Here lies the foundation of true organic wines, with a strict limit in the use of additives, stringent requirements and at the end obtaining a biodynamic certification (Demeter, originally from Germany the oldest certification, and Biodyvin from France). Moreover, in the vineyard, the use of natural compost, preparation that is sprayed according to Nature rhythm, moon cycles and help not only the vines but primarily the soil in giving the best grapes, which are handpicked of course. Biodynamic's main objective is to heal, regenerate, respect the Earth, the landscapes and provide healthy foods to Man. Here Nature is considered as a whole with multiple interactions (Universe/Soils/Man).
The previous definitions are usually, and rightfully, associated with it, because most natural wine is also organic and/or biodynamic. But not vice versa!
Natural wine is wine in its purest form, simply described as nothing added, nothing taken away, just grapes fermented. No manipulation whatsoever, minimal intervention both in the vineyards and in the winery. Healthy grapes, natural yeast and natural fermentation, with no filtration nor fining. Sounds easy, right? However, making natural wine is unforgiving and it requires a bigger amount of work than conventional wine.
To this day, natural wine has no certification yet. Although certification is not a necessary condition. Many winemakers in-fact decide to opt out of the certifications mentioned above for a number of reasons.
The categorisation was born in the 1950’s by Jules Chauvet - winemaker and chemist, also known as the Godfather of natural wine. The need of this new wine category came from the general realisation that the use of chemicals, fertilisers and additives in wine was leading to tasteless, generic wines deprived of those unique characteristics and moreover harmful to health.