SPLENDOR IN THE GLASS: Aren’t all wines ‘natural’? | Glade Sun

After last week’s discussion on canned wine, I was reading how ‘’natural wines’’ are the rage as well, that they were better for you and the environment. 

I got to thinking … aren’t all wines natural? Or they talking about “organic”? Or are they completely two different styles?

So this is what I learned. 

The organic food industry has skyrocketed in the past few years. Maybe you’ve been purchasing organic food when possible and decided that maybe you should extend to what’s in your glass, too. 

Consumption of organic wine has been increasing, nearly 10% yearly in the U.S. As much as the term “organic” is popular, organic foods make up less than 4% of US food sales! 

So what can you do to be more organic? 

Oddly enough, organic wine is not that popular in the U.S., and organic grapes only account for an estimated 5% of total vineyard acreage worldwide. But you’re still not sure where to start or are confused by the buzzwords surrounding this complicated category. 

Read on, fair wine lover.

By definition organic means, ‘’the way agricultural products are sustainably grown and processed.’’ Well, it seems reasonable that organic wines should be a great choice.

‘’Organic wine’’ is made with grapes grown on an organic farm. Some labels may say ‘’made with organic grapes,’’ or there will be a certification from the USDA, California Certified Organic Farmers or some other international governing body. Makes sense to me. 

It’s important to note that organic farming does not mean chemical-free. There are 20 pesticides that can be used by organic farmers. 

Growers use organic chemicals and treatments, but organic doesn’t imply that the wine doesn’t have additives. In fact, there is a whole slew of additives allowed.

Things like yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes (like rennet in cheese) are allowed in organic wines. 

Being organic doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is vegan, either. Perhaps you’ve seen a lot more European organic (called “bio”) wines and this is because Europe has their own definition of organic. “a wine made from organically grown grapes may contain added sulfites.” 

While an organic wine made in the U.S, cannot add sulfites, which in most scenarios greatly reduces a wine’s shelf life and, in some cases, can substantially change the flavor.

‘’Natural wine,’’ on the other hand, is another loose term that describes wines made with minimal intervention in the vineyards and in the cellar, but it, too, can be a bit misleading. 

The term “natural wine” currently has no legal definition. Any producer is free to label bottles and describe their wines as such. 

Natural winemakers aim to produce fermented grape juice that’s as close to nature as possible. (If this sounds vague and hard to quantify, that’s because it is.) They prioritize wines that display the character of the grapes and environment in which they were grown, two other decidedly subjective criteria. 

Many in the wine industry prefer the terms “minimum intervention,” “low intervention,” and “non-invasive” because they provide a more specific, technical description of the winemaking process. 

Cloudy looks and funky flavors are how many consumers describe and classify natural wines. Their cloudy appearances result from winemakers who don’t add fining agents or filter out impurities after fermentation. Meanwhile, “funky,” “sour,” and “barnyard” descriptors often attributed to the style come from the use of native yeasts and lack of preservatives.

Low intervention can mean many things in the vineyards: dry farming, practicing organics and/or enlisting biodynamic principles and treatments, each grower must choose what is possible for their specific vineyard. 

Low intervention in the cellar might mean choosing to limit sulfur use and filtration. These wines typically come from small, independent producers, and growers are often several generations deep into farming Low-intervention wines are made all over the world and vary greatly in style and flavor. So if the word ‘’natural’’ can mean nothing and everything, it may be better to think of natural wine as simply low- or minimal-intervention wine instead.

Some people associate a funky character with low intervention wines, but funk and flaws do not have to be the markers of natural wine. Laura Brennan Bissell, owner/winemaker at Inconnu, explains:

“There is a thought that volatile, musty, or otherwise ‘flawed’ wines are ‘natural,’ and a false sense of ‘organic-ness’ or ‘handmade’ is concluded. In reality these qualities have nothing to do with farming, and centuries of craft winemaking have sought to weed them out, or at least temper them. The term ‘natural wine’ for some has transitioned into an excuse for bad behavior in the cellar, a catalyst to lie about farming and more than anything a green-washing marketing slogan to sell more wine.” 

Hey, I never said this would be easy.

Wines made naturally, with minimal intervention, can show all the character of fine wine. They can be made cleanly, made to age and to enjoy. Much comes down to care in the vineyard and care in the cellar, or as Brennan Bissell puts it, “whether its organic, natural, biodynamic or low intervention, the thing that’s most important when I’m drinking wine is that it is really good wine … and wines that taste like real wine are crafted with care.” 

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

September was National Organic Awareness Month.

Now that I have you totally confused,

Happy Drinking,


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