What is a natural or Biodynamic wine ?
What is natural wine?
First, we’ll start with a simple definition, then we’ll move on to a more complex one.
What we call natural wines are wines made with no use of chemicals, additives and overly technological procedures. That includes chemicals in the field, such as pesticides, as well as things like sulfur or any of the almost 70 allowed additives that are legally permitted in wine. Additives and pesticides that you find in all the conventionals wines (supermarket or standard wine retailers). In a traditional bottle of wine you can find "a cocktail of 10, 11, 12 pesticides", some of them are banned in France, from the table wine to grand cru, made from grapes treated with pesticides, winemakers add up to 70 additives, at the time of vinification, chemical inputs. And it includes many technological manipulations of wine that we think erase the individuality of the product and the place it comes from the terroir.
For those of you that enjoy drinking wine but get bored with dissections of winemaking processes, the previous definition is probably enough for you. If you want to look under the hood a bit more, so to speak, continue reading.
There are a lot of ways one can get to a wine we would consider natural. They include organic and biodynamic grape growing. But grape growing is just that: what is done in the fields. For a wine to really be natural for us, the same philosophies must continue into the winery up until bottling occurs.
Organic grape growing means that no pesticides or chemicals are used in the vineyard. Ironically, however, often when organic is stated on a wine label, the wine is often less natural according to our definition. The complicated thing with organics is that there are many people really growing in the spirit of organics, who are not legally certified. That is because it costs money to become certified, and many of the winemakers we work with are very small operations that do not care to pay these fees. If they wish to certify, they must first pay a fee in France.
Organic grape growing for us is essential at minimum. But that alone is not enough, because one can grow grapes organically, but remain free to add anything one wants to add during winemaking, and manipulate with technology as much as one wants, yet still retain the organic certification on the label. In fact, it is often the larger companies that can afford to pay for the certifications, rather than the small artisanal producers that make up our selection, so one can not trust that organic on a label means that a wine was made naturally. That is why our winemakers are selected carefully.
Biodynamic grape growing is a type of organic viticulture that uses special preparations of herbal sprays and composts, and time their applications according to the lunar calendar. Biodynamicists look at their land as a complete living ecosystem, as a living being that needs biodiversity in order to be healthy. Biodynamic winemakers often also live and work in a farm, with wheat fields, animals, fruit trees, woods, and vines striving to be self-sufficient. The soil is not seen as the surface for production but rather is considered an organism in its own right, and preparations are used to enhance the micro-life in the soil. The soil is part of the context of lunar and cosmic rhythms.
While some of the techniques of biodynamics often sound hokey and strangely spiritual to us, they in fact date way back to the ancient ways of our ancestors, to a time before many technological manipulations existed. Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, is often credited with having laid out the basic tenets of biodynamics in a series of talks he gave in the early 20th century. Steiner gathered together the oral traditions passed down by simple farmers for thousands of years. Many of these ideas were based on the work of monks such as the Cluny sect in France that spent countless years tinkering with various mixtures and timing of preparations to find what worked best, in a trial and error basis.
Many organic vineyards use some biodynamic tools, so there is often no clear-cut line between organic and biodynamic. Biodynamic certification also costs money, so just as with organics many biodynamically prepared wines do not say so on the label.
So what is natural wine again?
For a wine to be considered natural, it must also be vinified as naturally as possible. This means that after it has been cultivated organically or biodynamically, there must do not use additives and technological manipulations. Examples of additives include sugar, acidifiers, and powdered tannins. Manipulations can include the use of spinning cones to remove alcohol, micro-oxygenation to accelerate aging, and the use of laboratory cultivated yeast.
Link to a French video to understand in 2min it's here