In popular winemaking, it has become more of a necessity than a desire to implement conservation winemaking techniques rather than those of tradition. However, there is a plethora of terms to describe this shift in winemaking and just as many certifications to go with them.
So, when you see bottles labelled with various terms like "sustainable", "natural", "biodynamic", and/or "organic" you must be wondering what all this fancy jargon is about. Are they one in the same? Are there differences? Does it really matter? Consider this your cheat sheet to all things wine made by your favorite tree-huggin’ winemakers.
Sustainable: conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
Let’s consider sustainable the parent term with all of its children being natural, biodynamic, and organic. All three children help the parent out in terms of achieving its goals (i.e., conserving ecological balance) and function well on their own, but it’s only when they all come together is there holistically an earth conscious winemaking approach.
Sustainable certifications include:
Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)
Sustainability in Practice (SIP)
Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) Certified
Natural: existing in or caused by nature: not made or caused by humankind.
Au natural winemaking is massively exciting. Little to no additives are involved and natural yeasts found in the vineyard are allowed to flourish during fermentation instead of being beat out by their stronger rival often added post-crush: Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
The chemistry involved in natural winemaking is interesting because the process needs to remain very clean in order to avoid contaminants, allowing for little to no sulfur additions. Sulfur is wine’s ultimate protector and increases its lifespan, but is mostly avoided in natural winemaking, so winemakers must be diligent in protecting their wine in other ways. However, some winemakers have made natural wines notorious for their ‘funk.’ This ‘funk’ comes from bacteria and yeasts that traditional winemakers tend to avoid but, in this case, they add a unique spin to natural wines. This ‘funk’ is truly hit or miss, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stand it.
Right now, this style of winemaking is not regulated in the US and therefore, there are no certifications available.
Biodynamic: a method of organic farming involving such factors as the observation of lunar phases and planetary cycles and the use of incantations and ritual substances.
Wait, wait, don’t laugh. I know how it sounds, but, boy, does working harmoniously in nature surprise you. This method of winemaking uses a biodynamic calendar, also known as the lunar calendar, to determine vineyard best practices, as biodynamic winemaking really takes place in the fields rather than in the cellar. This calendar uses all four elements unlike iconic 70s band Earth, Wind & Fire. They forgot water! A key ingredient in winemaking.
Poor niche rock jokes aside, the biodynamic calendar has four types of days that provide instruction for care: fruit days (harvest), root days (pruning), flower days (vineyard self-care days), and leaf days (watering). In the end, it’s pretty practical as Earth/root days, Wind/flower days, Fire/fruit days, and Water/leaf days all equate to the four seasons: winter, summer, fall, and spring (respectively). Which let’s be honest, most winemakers are hopefully already abiding by. Who’s laughing now?!
Organic: relating to or derived from living matter.
Organic winemaking is pretty straightforward and has a lot of overlap with all other ‘sustainable’ winemaking categories. No chemicals in the vineyards. No sulfites in the wine. Bam, boom, done.
However, if some winemakers want to opt for additives, but still don’t use chemicals in the vineyards, then they can place a ‘made with organic grapes’ label on their wines. Nifty!
Certified organic (USDA)
Now, let’s leave the wine for a little bit and talk about the people. Currently, many people across the United States are fighting for living wages. As more and more people are looking to support businesses that properly take care of their communities, they should also be looking for a B Corps certification. This certification accounts for how a business treats their employees, its environment, and the community.
In the wine industry, field workers (i.e., the people picking the grapes and taking care of the vineyards) can often go overlooked. So, check out your favorite wineries and if they don’t have a B Corps certification hold them accountable and ask why. Keep in mind, just because a business doesn’t have one, though, doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t doing the work to treat their employees with respect and care. Do your research, folks!
With your newfound knowledge of sustainability in winemaking, go crazy over GMWC’s Garagiste Wine Club. Cheers!
Author Bio: Samantha is a recent graduate of University of California, Davis with a BS in Viticulture and Enology. She is experienced in the laboratory and technical sides of winemaking and loves writing about wine when she’s not working a harvest. She is passionate about traveling the world and sharing her experiences with others!