These three types of wines have "the wind in their sails". But what are the real differences between these three methods? Rather than buying a logo without understanding it and ignoring how it changes your bottle, here are some tips to remember to drink these wines with full knowledge of the facts!
Today, one wine out of three sold is a wine from organic farming. Sales of natural and biodynamic wines remain lower than that of organic wine. We also note that more and more vineyards are taking an interest in these production techniques and are beginning to convert them.
It must be understood that these methods have developed in opposition to the race for productivity and agro-chemistry. These movements began to emerge and become popular in the 1960s for the most part. Today, many non-certified winegrowers are not all in a mass production logic either, and this is where we talk about sustainable agriculture.
The most popular: organic wine
The first references to "organic farming" in France date back only to 1972. It should be remembered that it is not the wine itself that is organic but the viticulture on which it depends.
Claude Aubert, one of the pioneers of organic farming, defines it as follows:
“ agriculture based on observation and the laws of life, and which does not consist in directly feeding plants with soluble fertilizers, but rather the living beings in the soil that develop and provide plants with all the elements they need.”
In 2017, there were 5,835 organic winegrowers in France, which represents about 10% of the French vineyard. (in 2005, only 2% was organic). To have the privilege of holding the famous AB (Organic Agriculture) label and the European Organic Wine label, you must respect a few very precise indications.
Since 1991, European regulations have been in place to identify the practices that lead to organic certification. The organic winegrower is not allowed to use chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides. On the other hand, it can use natural fertilizers such as manure, Bordeaux mixture (fungicide used against the downy mildew fungus) or sulphur in the form of sprays but in small quantities. Although sulphur is toxic, it is allowed because no alternative has yet been found. Harvesting is done manually with pruning shears, mechanical ones are normally prohibited.
Organic farming focuses mainly on cultivation and not vinification as such, which remains similar to conventional vineyards. The only exception is the prohibition of theSorbic acid (an acid that acts as a stabilizer and prevents thes refermentation problems) and techniques such as cryoconcentration (the process used to make ice wines).
The most "esoteric": biodynamics.
Biodynamics is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner (the founder of the eponymous schools). For Steiner, the earth is part of a living whole, and agriculture is a stimulation of the forces that affect nature. Biodynamic cultivation uses organic practices and also includes a philosophical and cosmological dimension. Biodynamics considers the vineyard as an element linked to the Earth, the Moon, the air and the different planets. The agricultural domain is seen as an almost self-sufficient ecological entity.
The winegrowers who have adopted this mode of production modify their viticultural practices by respecting the position of the stars, the planets and the Moon. Preparations and remedies, called "preparations" are used to treat, fertilize or repel pests. These often consist of horns and cow dung or plants. These different preparations require a very high degree of precision in their preparation and application. The aim is to stimulate soil life, promote balance and self-defense of the plant. These are not healing potions. Biodynamics is not an agriculture that would protect nature but rather an agriculture that stimulates and participates in the evolution of nature.
Biodynamic practices spread through the creation of a cooperative in 1929, which is now a registered trademark and official certification: Demeter
Demeter has become the most well known certification. The specifications are very detailed with a special calendar for the treatment and care of the vine according to the Moon, the Sun and the planets.
There is also the Biodyvin label, created by the International Union of Winegrowers in Biodynamic Culture. These two labels meet the requirements of European organic farming but also the specifications of Biodynamics.
For the production of wine, fining (removal of floating particles) and filtration, chaptalization (addition of sugar) are allowed only for sparkling wines, but the use of lower doses of sulphur than organic wines is allowed. The only yeasts allowed are indigenous yeasts (yeasts naturally present on grape berries).
Now, let's talk about natural wine
It is often defined as a living wine. It comes from ancient times, it was already talked about 8000 years ago in Georgia. Natural wines do not have a legal existence and are not recognized by any label.
On the other hand, there are associations on this subject, the most famous of which is the Association des Vins Naturels (AVN) which, has brought together some sixty winegrowers, producers, retailers and consumers since 2005, who have defined standards that must be respected. Pierre Overnoy, a winegrower from the Jura region, participated in the creation of the Association des Vins Natures (AVN) and tells us that defining rules has been very complicated. Indeed, switching to sulphur-free requires time, experience and equipment. Thus, the entry into the association is done by sponsorship, a winegrower who still uses a little bit of sulphur for his transition can be accepted because he goes in the "direction" of natural wine.
As with other types of agriculture, sulphur has not yet been replaced to control mildew. The aim is therefore to use minute quantities. By not applying fertilizer and leaving the grass around, the goal is to harden the leaf.
The investment to be a natural winegrower is significant since the list of inputs is very small. The tanks are cooled so that bacteria do not develop. However, not all bacteria must be eliminated since they will allow the transformation of sugars into alcohol. To help with this transition, the PH must be powerful. To obtain this powerful PH, the soils must not be chemically weeded. As Pierre Overnoy says "to make a natural wine you need a good PH and a good yeast population".
To sum up, natural wine is the result of organic or biodynamic cultivation, with theuse of indigenous yeasts for fermentation, no "brutal" techniques for wine (reverse osmosis, flash pasteurisation...), no oenological inputs during vinification except, not or little, sulphur (sulphite). A maximum amount of sulphite of 30 mg/L in reds and effervescents, see 40mg/L for whites. European standards allow up to 400 mg/L for comparison. It should also be noted that for some natural wines, no sulphite is added.
It is important to know that other winegrowers, than those present in this association, have the same approach.
It is possible that some winegrowers may be downgraded from AOC due to the excessive typicity of their wines. The AOC wine standard is made with traditional wines and natural wines that do not obey the same rules are sometimes too original or do not respect all the rules in terms of grape varieties and blending.
After reading this information, we can have a more accurate view of these three types of wines. You can drink good wine while respecting the vines and their environment. These wines also have their critics who claim that this is more of a fashion than a real authentic approach. Whatever the case, what matters is that there will no longer be any hesitation about their differences and that it is not insignificant to encourage wine-growing impulses that protect our terroirs.
So, to your drinks, toast!