Organic Wine 101 + Three Bottles to Try

These days it’s uncommon for a health-conscious shopper to not purchase organic produce. As our society becomes more and more discerning about what we eat and drink, organic foods have become the standard. Should these principles apply to wine as well?

Organic wines are a burgeoning niche within a global industry. Wine is deeply rooted in old-school traditions, but there are massive innovations underway. As you explore the advancements in this ancient beverage, here are three key terms to help you navigate the world of natural wine.

 

What is “sustainable farming”?

“Sustainable” is a natural wine buzzword. The sustainable winemaking practices feed into the organic winemaking process—but while organic wine falls under the jurisdiction of a governing body, the “sustainable” category does not. It can best be defined as the farming and vinification processes a winemaker chooses in order to make his or her vineyard entirely self-sustainable.

So then, what does “organic wine” mean?

The organic certification is given by organizations such as the USDA. For a wine to receive this certification it must use organically grown grapes, meaning they are farmed with zero chemicals or additives, and refrain from adding sulfites during the winemaking process.

You have probably seen and consumed many non-certified organic wines without knowing it. The process a winemaker must undergo to certify a wine as organic is costly and complicated, so many opt simply to practice organic winemaking for environmental reasons without certifying their wines as such.

What about “biodynamic wines”?

Based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics views the winemaking process as a holistic whole - combining spiritual, astrological, and environmental concerns. Farming takes place according to the lunar cycle, and the entire system encourages biodiversity in the vineyard. For a winery or vineyard to call itself biodynamic, it must be certified by Demeter (the world’s only biodynamic certifier). But as with organic winemaking, many producers choose to practice biodynamic techniques without putting themselves through the arduous and expensive certification process.

 

__Our Three Favorite Organic Wines__

The best way to learn more about organic wines is to try some. Here are our three favorite bottles (at the moment!):

  1. 2015 Greensmith White Blend. We made this wine in collaboration with our naturalistic winemaker partners Chris Condos and Suzanne Hagins. They’re an incredible husband-and-wife team who employ a minimal-intervention philosophy in every part of their winemaking—and this certified-organic blend really showcases what a hands-off approach can create. They made this new vintage in Napa Valley with hand-harvested Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc and utilized some cool techniques in the process (the juices co-fermented in tank, and Chris and Suzanne stirred the lees afterward to add complexity and texture).
  2. Sébastien Riffault's Sancerre Blanc “Les Quarterons.” Sébastien’s wines are certified organic and biodynamic. This one in particular was made using full malolactic fermentation and lees aging, resulting in a very unique wine—unusual, but delicious.
  3. Calera Mt. Harlan de Villiers Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard is certified organic. I love Calera Pinot Noir in general, but this one is quite different from their other two (from Reed Vineyard and Ryan Vineyard). This one has way more luscious berry fruits and a touch more body.

Red red wine

Photo credit: iStock and drawing by Julia Taylor Brown