In recent years, there has been a lot of talk among wine drinkers, environmentalists, and health nuts about natural, organic, biodynamic, sustainable, and otherwise “clean” wines. There are restaurants that exclusively sell natural wines such as 8arm in Poncey Highlands, multi-level marketing wine clubs that are dedicated to offering only “clean” wines (a very gimmicky way to say chemical-free), and wine retailers that focus on all of the above such as our shops, Vinoteca and 3 Parks Wine Shop.
But the question is, why? What does all this wine jargon mean? Admittedly, it can be complicated.
This may come as a surprise to our readers, but there is quite a bit that goes into making conventional wine. And we don’t mean the amount of work it takes to make the wine, we mean the contents that can be added to wine. In fact, there are over 60 approved “materials authorized for the treatment of wine and juice.” That’s 60+ manufactured materials that are acceptable to use in filtering, clarifying and purifying the wine. YIKES!
We would be remiss if we did not explain this further; hopefully providing a general understanding of what you may or may not be drinking when consuming wine.
Natural wine – we prefer to call it wine with minimal intervention – is wine in its purest form; essentially from grape to bottle. Think organic farming and almost no intervention in the winemaking process. These wines are usually unfiltered which leads to cloudiness and sediment. Natural wine can even be described as funky or wild.
You can also find minimal intervention wines at Perrine’s Wine Shop, Miller Union, Ticonderoga, and Lucian Books & Wine.
The winemaker and harvest team avoid pesticides and herbicides and even pick the grapes by hand. They produce the wine without additives, chemicals, sugar, laboratory yeast, processing aids and preservatives like sulfites. Many natural winemakers strive for “Zero/Zero,” meaning nothing’s added and nothing’s removed.
Let’s break this down a bit more and look deeper into organic wines. A wine labeled as organic comes from vineyards that have not been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemicals. Hooray, no Roundup! We wish this requirement were the bare minimum in wine production in the United States, but regrettably, it’s not.
Keep in mind, there is no guarantee that you will be able to identify an organic wine by simply perusing the wine aisles in your grocery store of choice, especially if the wine has not been certified organic. If the wine is certified, there are a number of symbols or indicators on the label such as USDA, LEED, LIVE, and Demeter, just to name a few.
Since getting certified is expensive, many small producers use organic farming practices, but don’t pay for the formal certification. Ask your local wine retailer about the producers’ farming practices to discover some real gems. POE Wines, one of our favorite producers in California, is farming organically with minimal intervention, zero additives in the winemaking process, and a minimal amount of sulphur used only for stabilization. If you turn over a bottle of winemaker Samantha Sheehan’s Pinot Noir, you won’t find any stamps notating an organic product but there is no denying that her wine is organic.
And then there’s biodynamic. Developed a century ago by Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture is the holistic approach to treating the land and the earth as one unit.
To some, this may seem a touch witchy, but to many farmers, this is the only way. The winemaker tends to the land using nine different biodynamic compost preparations – an organic mixture composed of plants, minerals, and cow manure. The winemaker respects the land and uses these organic materials, “preparations” to enhance the soil and stimulate plant growth. The winemaker also relies on the lunar calendar, similar to the Farmer’s Almanac, for instructions on when to plant, use preparations, work the land, and harvest their crops. Dictated by the moon phases and astrological signs (Earth, Fire, Air, Water) this calendar is essentially the ultimate guide for optimum grape growing results. In the U.S., Oregon is leading the way on biodynamic wines.
According to the Wine Industry Network Advisor, in 2020 Oregon accounted for more than half of the biodynamic vineyards. Just like organic properties, many wineries farm biodynamically, but have not been certified because of the arduous process and cost.
Our dear friends at Maysara Winery have been leading the way in biodynamic agriculture for decades. Proudly stated on their website, “Though using chemicals would have been faster and more economical while building infrastructure and reclaiming the land, not a single drop has or will be used throughout our estate,”
Finally, sustainable. A word that gets tossed around like Tupperware but has had the most impact on the wine world to date. According to the Wine Institute, “sustainable winegrowing is a comprehensive set of practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable. These sustainable vineyard and winery practices conserve water and energy, maintain healthy soil, protect air and water quality, enhance relations with employees and communities, preserve local ecosystems and wildlife habitat, and improve the economic vitality of vineyards and wineries.”
Sustainable winegrowing is organic, holistic, but most importantly, it’s mindful. Not only is the environment at the forefront of sustainable winemaking, but social impact and responsibility carry the same level of importance. Sustainability ensures there is a focus on employee relationship, wellness, and promoting a thriving community.
As purveyors of wine, we are committed to selling quality wines that have minimal impact on the environment and our bodies.
By drinking wine in its purest form, you are eliminating many of the bad elements in winemaking, but you are still having amazing wine. People frequently ask us if they are going to get hungover from minimal intervention wines and each time, we respond the same way, “if you drink enough of anything, you’re not going to feel good!” But you will know that you’re only drinking the good stuff and none of the bad.
Katie’s Wine Pick: 2020 Anima Mundi ‘Cami dels Xops’ Ancestral Macebeo / Xarel-lo
Anima Mundi translates to ‘soul of the earth.’ This Penedes, Spain winery is a side project of Agusti Torello Roca, who is winemaker for his family’s estate, AT Roca. For this wine Agusti uses organic traditional cava grapes and minimal intervention. The wine is aged in clay anfora, concrete and old French oak barrels for fermentation and aging. Ancestral fermentation is an ancient technique but a risky way to make sparkling in which fermentation starts in the tank and is halted through temperature reduction. The partially fermented wine is bottled, and a secondary fermentation takes place where the yeast eats the remaining sugar and produces CO2 which is trapped in the bottle – and there you have bubbles.