The majority of people are unaware that wine, although made from grapes, may have been made using animal-derived products. During the wine-making process, the liquid is filtered through substances called “fining agents.” This process is used to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavors and colorings, and other organic particles.
Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).
Thankfully, there are several common fining agents that are animal-friendly and used to make vegan wine. Carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques are all suitable alternatives.
“Natural wine” is more of a concept than a well-defined category with agreed-upon characteristics. Some prefer the phrase “low-intervention” wine, or “naked” wine, or “raw” wine. In its purest form, it is wine made from unadulterated fermented grape juice and nothing else.
The presence of sulfites doesn’t necessarily disqualify a bottle from the natural wine category, though. Small amounts of sulfites — around 10 to 35 parts per million — are in natural wine circles generally considered an acceptable amount of preservative to add in the bottling stage.
Although natural wine has recently become a signifier of bourgeois taste in certain social circles, it’s not new. People have been making fermented grape juice without additives for thousands of years.
Natural wines are known for their funkier, gamier, yeastier characteristics. They are often less fruity but much more yeasty in the aroma profile than a typical wine, smelling almost like yoghurt or German wheat beer in some cases!
There are a number of organic certifications and designations, with each country setting their own guidelines and requirements. Generally, a certified organic designation will include compliance with:
The answer is definitely yes. Just like all organic products, the less artificial products we put in our bodies, the better. But do not take the word organic as a testimony that it will be a better wine. There are still bad winemakers out there that choose not to use chemicals. Also keep in mind that there are countries such as Chile, with excellent climates that farm organically with ease, so they don’t feel the need to certify themselves.
When looking at the wine label, there are two criteria to look for when finding an organic wine. First, it will mention that the grapes are organically grown. More importantly, you must search for the seal of the certifying agency – the USDA for wines from the US, and EU Leaf Organic logo for wines from EU. Many wines are labeled as eco-friendly, green, and natural, but this does not mean that they are certified organic!
Biodynamic wines are similar to organic wines, except they’ve gone several steps further and created a whole fertile ecosystem around the vineyard. The vineyard itself is a biodynamic farm – self-sustainable by way of interactions in the bigger picture of an ecosystem between flora and fauna.
Both are similar in the sense that both incorporate practices without the use of chemicals. However, to keep it as simple as possible, organic wine is produced with organic grapes. Biodynamic farming takes other factors into account when farming, such as the lunar calendar and astrology. The farming is more about the entire lifeblood of a vineyard — other plants, insects, animals — not just the grapes.
Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner started the idea of biodynamic agriculture in the early 1920s, predating the organic movement by a long shot. This early 20th century philosopher and social reformer promulgated the use of agricultural practices based on the lunar calendar and astrological influences, which today are more controversial aspects of biodynamic farming.
This is certainly a subjective question. It is nearly impossible to blind taste a wine and deduce whether biodynamic practices were implemented or not. However, many winemakers who farm biodynamically also grow organic fruit, and between the combination of lack of pesticides and implementing farming practices in tune with nature (biodynamics), biodynamic wines have a higher-quality taste profile than other wines.
There are over 700 producers worldwide that craft biodynamic wine.
Like the term “organic,” “biodynamic” wines have earned certification by meeting specific requirements. The governing board that approves the label is the Demeter Association, a branch of an organization dating back to 1928 during Steiner’s efforts to bring societal awareness about biodynamics in agriculture.
The name is a bit of a misnomer because this wine isn’t made with oranges, but is a type of white wine made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, creating a deep orange-hued finished product.
The process of making orange wine is actually very old, but the reinvigoration of this ancient process has only resurfaced in the last 20 odd years. Many modern-day orange winemakers look as far back as 5000 years in Caucasus (modern-day Georgia) where wines were fermented in large subterranean vessels called Qvevri that were originally closed with stones and sealed with beeswax.
Orange wines are still very rare, but some countries have growing interest in this natural winemaking style. Other than Georgia, some of the more experimental producers in Itlay, Slovenia, France, Australia, United States are starting to make natural wines experimenting with the orange wine technique.
Orange winemaking is a very natural process that uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. Because of all this, they taste very different from regular white wines and have a sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation.