​The rundown on natural, biodynamic, organic and preservative-free wine

Posted by Carolyn on 19th Sep 2015

Although wine is a natural product, we all know manufacturing processes differ in both big branded wineries and smaller boutique vineyards as winemakers consider the cost or time to produce as well as the beliefs or attraction of the product to the consumer. Some of these winemaking principles cross over and this is where it can become confusing so I just wanted to outline these principles in more detail. Additionally, the cultivation, harvesting and processing of the grape is becoming more important to the consumer as awareness of environmental impact and the search for healthier products is increasing.

Biodynamic wines

Biodynamic practices are the emphasis of seeing the farm as a whole system with connectedness between all the elements. In wine producing, flowers such as chamomile and dandelion are fermented in soil or carcasses and applied to compost. The use of these natural resources increases the health of the vine whereas conventional farming focuses on eradicating pests and disease.

Biodynamic wine production principles:

Aim Standard but also allowed
Hand Harvesting Machine harvesting
Cellar machinery - maximum use of gravity Pumps that deliver centrifugal forces
Tanks are inclusive of natural materials Concrete, wooden barrels, porcelain, stoneware
Physical measurement forbidden Heating of red wine to maximum 35oC
No addition of sugar Addition of sugar to increase alcohol content by a maximum of 1.5%
SO2 mg/l reduced to absolute minimum at bottling < or > 5g/l residual sugar
No organic fining agents derived from animals Egg white from organic eggs, milk and milk products

Organic wines

Organic farming avoids the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Without the use of these substances, a challenge organic farmers face is nitrogen supply to the vines allowing growth and fruit ripening. Conventional farmers use synthetic fertilizers for this purpose but organic famers counteract this problem by generating a nutrient rich compost ‘tea’ of skins, seeds and stalks which is then delivered to the vines by drip irrigation.

Biodynamic vs Organic

Organic wine can still be produced by conventional practices such as mechanical harvesting or addition of sulphites, even though the grapes have been farmed organically.

Natural wines

Wines are not labelled as ‘natural’ - rather it is the idea that a wine has been produced with limited interference. A natural wine has been produced with organically grown grapes harvested by hand, fermented on wild yeasts and with as few sulphites as possible.

Preservative-free wines

While no wines are truly ‘preservative free’ as all wine naturally releases sulphites during fermentation, preservative-free wine means no preservatives have been added during the winemaking process. Sulphites are added during picking and crushing to slow fermentation process, killing unwanted yeast and bacteria. Also sulphur is added at time of bottling to prevent oxidation or any microbial action. The most common allergic reaction to sulphur is asthma – not headaches, surprisingly. Phenolics and histamines on grape skins, stems and pips are more likely to be the cause. Red wines contain fewer sulphites since they naturally contain higher tannins, reducing the need for additional sulphites to be added.