Organic/Biodynamic and Natural Wines
Like knowing your eggs are free range, or your meat is organic and grass fed; wine can be sourced in the same way if you are eating or thinking this way.
With all this comes a greater sense of interest in where wine comes from; process and provenance of wine should be equally important for all food products grown and taken home. Wine labeled as organic relates to the way it is grown; only. Organic certification doesn’t include winemaking practices. Organic wine farmers use no chemicals in the grape growing process in their vineyards, other than ‘naturally occurring’ substances. Organic farming, when or if it can be done successfully, is generally seen as a big step in the right direction.
Organic farming and biodynamic farming are separated by a system of beliefs and practices found in biodynamics. Biodynamics is organics with a set of rules laid over the top. Founded by Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics relies not only on organic farming, but on an holistic approach to an entire farm’s existence, with a correlation between all facets of the farm. Biodynamics also relies on lunar cycles and astronomy for when to action practices on a farm. It includes specific, essentially homeopathic, application of various biodynamic ‘preparations’, as well as extensive use of composts and fertilizing teas. As with organic farming, biodynamics is farming without chemical intervention.
All natural wines use either organic- or biodynamically-grown fruit, but not all organic wine is natural.
‘Natural wine’ is an umbrella term generally referring to unadorned wines grown on organic – or more particularly, biodynamic – vineyards, then made with minimal intervention and little or no sulphur.
Natural wine emerged from French producers, primarily in the wine region of Beaujolais, who were interested in returning to more traditional winemaking, free of the chemical farming and additives used as general practice in their local (and further afield) winemaking community. Less oak, less manipulation for ‘consistency’ and a philosophy that encourages more sustainable growing-and-making of wine headlines ‘natural wine’ producers’ modus operandi. Natural wine tenets include: organic or biodynamic viticulture, hand-picking of grapes, no heavy machinery in winery, low new oak usage (if at all), natural fermentation (that is, natural yeast rather than added/cultured yeast), no chemical or winemaking product additions, and minimal sulphur use.
While nothing new, per se, this ‘natural’ movement has generated world-wide interest in wines that eschew some of the more science-based practices that have emerged in recent generations of winemaking. Many wine producers throughout Europe have made wine in this way for generations anyway, but the ‘natural wine’ community has increased the profile for many of these producers, celebrating what they see as more pure expressions of wine.
From this attention, natural wine has become a bit of a line in the sand for some winemakers. Natural wine has often been accused as an excuse for faulty wine, which is occasionally true but also equally true for all wine – the idea of natural wine is to bring winemaking and wine growing closer to nature, with less steps between growing grapes and what becomes the wine in the bottle.
Sulphur in itself isn’t necessarily bad, and probably gets a worse rap than it deserves. But ‘too much’ sulphur can obscure fruit character and cause ‘reductive’ characters in which aroma and flavour are scalped or depressed in the wine. Some sulphur used in wine making however does help stop wine from becoming vinegar, and can help form a part of a wine’s perceived complexity.
Sulphur-free wines, though, can be very beautiful when made skillfully. In most wines made with minimal sulphur, there is less sulphur than a single piece of dried fruit. In natural wines, sulphur tends to be lower than more conventionally-made wine.
Orange wines, in essence, are white wines made like red wines. In conventional winemaking, most white grapes are brought into a winery and pressed immediately, and the skins of the grapes are discarded so the clear juice can ferment on its own. With red wines, the skins are left in contact with the juice to extract pigment, tannin and other compounds that lend character to a wine.
Orange wines are white wines that use extended skin contact through fermentation to extract the natural pigment of the grape skin, along with tannin and other compounds, resulting in wines that can range from golden to orange to amber and even light purple hues. They are usually very textural with light to firm chalky tannins, exotic perfumes and bright acidity. They can be very compelling wines, when done well, driven by extracting all the ‘terroir’ information from grapes, and are particularly versatile with a breadth of foods.
© The Wine Front 2014.