The conscious consumer: Breaking down Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wines (…and the sulphite issue) – PART 2
By Diego Flumian
In Part 1 of this article, we have touched upon the meaning of Organic and Biodynamic, and how they may refer to farming practices as well as to winemaking processes. In this part, we’ll take a closer look and hopefully shed some light on two other familiar terms, often used to mean the same thing: natural and low intervention.
WHAT IS NATURAL WINE
Unlike organic and biodynamic, they refer only to what happens during vinification, after the grapes have been (hand)picked. In essence, natural or low intervention wines are unadulterated fermented grape juice, made with minimal chemical or mechanical intervention. I should add here that wines made with biodynamically grown grapes and natural wines are often thought of as one and the same, as they both seek to limit or eliminate chemical and mechanical intervention altogether.
By and large, there is no legislation or official certificating body for natural wine. Only now we are starting to see some countries setting out official regulations leading to product certification (France seems to be ahead of the pack). In the absence of regulations, the wine-making community relies on a broad internal consensus to define what natural wine is or should be. These are the commonly accepted rules:
- Only Organic or Biodynamic grapes can be used;
- Only spontaneous fermentation is allowed -no added yeast;
- Synthetic chemical products are avoided;
- Heavy mechanical processing is avoided;
- No filtration
- No sugar, enzymes, and other additives are permitted;
- Sulphur dioxide may be added in a very limited amount to stabilise wine. This can be a contentious issue, but SO₂ can be vital as stabiliser and for transportation.
But what exactly do ‘natural’ and ‘low intervention’ mean? Think about it: wine itself is not a natural product, but rather the product of an unnatural and deliberate process, something that would not exist were it not for careful human intervention. It’s a thin line between vinegar and wine! The difference with conventional wines is in the amount of intervention. Minimalism here is the key: the less we interfere with the wine, the better. A downside of this philosophy is that the grape juice is more vulnerable: nature can be a friend or a foe to the winemaker, who needs to be particularly skilled in order to manage all the stages of vinification and avoid spoilage.
SULPHITES FREE WINE
One particular chemical is difficult to avoid completely: Sulphur dioxide, which stops oxidation in the bottle. While some producers may avoid adding SO₂ altogether (though some other different sulphites will naturally be present in the wine), most will use very low quantities (max 70 mg/l) to stop oxidation in the bottle and prevent the wine from turning into vinegar.
To many of us conscious consumers, natural wine is how wine should be made, and when we choose to buy natural or low intervention, we do so in the knowledge that we are making a good choice for our environment as well as for our taste buds. Cheers!!