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Organic. Biodynamic. Natural. Sustainable. What does it all mean?

organic vineyard with chickens

Anyone would be forgiven for being confused about the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural. They can overlap each other but they are not interchangeable. To try and reduce confusion, here are some of the basics behind these terms.

What is biodynamic wine?

The definition of Biodynamic winemaking, unlike organic winemaking, does not change between countries. (So that’s something!)

Biodynamics represent a method of farming based around a specific astronomic calendar. Each day coincides with one of the elements: earth, fire, air and water. Days are organized by fruit days (preferable for grape harvesting), root days (pruning), leaf days (watering) and flower days, where the vineyard should be untouched.

Biodynamic practices don’t go solely by this calendar. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner who started this method of farming also introduced fertilization preparations – such as burying cow horns filled with compost in the vineyards, to be dug up later.

You may have seen “biodynamic” and “organic” grouped together. This is because Biodynamic wines employ organic practices, as they avoid pesticides and depend on compost, rather than chemical fertilizer. The majority of these wines are, therefore, also organic in practice.

Certified biodynamic wines, however, are permitted to contain up to 100 parts per million of sulphites, far more than most countries standards for certified organic wines.

So, a wine that’s organic is not necessarily biodynamic, even if a wine that is biodynamic is often organic.

What is natural wine?

The commonly agreed definition of low-intervention or natural wine is one that is fermented spontaneously with native yeast. These wines are largely unmanipulated and contain only trace amounts of added sulphites.

Such wines are neither filtered nor fined, which means they may contain particulates or appear cloudy, since there may be dissolved solids that remain in suspension. The steps involved in filtering and fining require additional products like collagen and egg whites, which are not commonly accepted for use in natural wines.

Natural wine is meant to define wines that have gone through the bare minimum in terms of chemical or winemaker intervention. These wines are often not aged in oak. With their lack of sulphites and other non-interventionist factors, these wines may have limited stability and are typically produced in smaller quantities.

A natural wine can be certified organic, if the grape growing adheres to organic standards. They may also be biodynamic, as long as the winemaker employs biodynamic requirements, such as the calendar and composting.

It is worth noting that it’s more rigorous to have a wine labelled organic than natural, so many winemakers prefer to skip this regulatory distinction – and to add another level… some producers may say they wines are produced in an organic manner but they are not officially certified.

And Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable wines aim to have a winemaking process that protects the environment, supports social responsibility, maintains economic feasibility, and produces high quality wines. As grapes are grown, harvested, and made into wine, a multitude of environmental factors are prioritized. This includes everything from maintaining biodiversity on vineyards to ensure soil health, to implementing recycling measures that conserve water as grapes are growing, to utilizing renewable energy technology like solar, as wine is being produced.

When you grab a bottle of wine marked with a sustainability certification, you know that your wine was made with the environment, social responsibility, economic viability, and high quality in mind. Unless otherwise stated, your sustainable wine is likely not made with 100% organically grown ingredients and may very well have some additives, such as sulphites, to ensure a longer shelf life and more robust flavours that come with ageing.

At Ashby Wines we are always looking for great wines and that includes wines made in each of these manners. Our range will grow but you can find out more about what we stock:


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