Organic, Biodynamic, Vegan or Natural? What’s the difference? What do we choose?5 min
The return to nature trend was born in the 1970s and also influenced the world of wine. After technology and chemistry advancements offered viticulturists new solutions for every step of the production process, a sudden 180 turn to traditional and natural is more than just a fashion.
It is the expression of a new life philosophy. It is also influenced by sustainability ideologies as well as nutritional or religious beliefs. In the past ten years, there is also an alignment of Romania with these standards, following international trends. The most active participants are foreign-owned wineries or those who hope to export their products.
Organic Wines (Bio, Eco)
Organic viticulture is guided by strict rules detailed in EU regulations (EC 834/2007, EC 889/2008) and explained in the EU Organic Production Rules. Restrictions are related to soil care, vineyard management, pest protection, the entire winemaking process, and the wine’s characteristics.
The organic viticulture begins with healthy soil with a structure as close as possible to the original typology of the terroir in the area, unaffected by mechanized work. Crop rotation ensures fertilization. The aim is to feed the soil, not the plant, which is only a result. All fertilizers must be natural, without any restriction if they are of animal, plant, compost, or mineral origin.
Local grape varieties are preferred because these adapt easily and do not need chemical interventions to resist pathogens and pests. Ties and pruning are permitted to encourage the harmonious development of the plant. Organic fungicides that include copper, sulfur or potassium solutions can only be used in extreme situations as they contaminate the soil for a long time.
Wine-making processes need to be carried out with minimal interventions. The EU recommends prevention instead of chemicals. Following the idea of minimal intervention, it is also preferable to use spontaneous yeasts, but it is not forbidden to use the selected yeasts. However, this should be a last resort.
Strict rules for organic wines
The biggest problem for wines to be classified as organic relates to the sulfur dioxide (SO2) content. All wines contain sulfites from the natural fermentation process. Restrictions refer to the addition of SO2. It is used as an antioxidant and against microorganisms after fermentation. The EU sets maximum permitted levels, which vary according to the type of wine between 150 mg / l and 400 mg / l. It also advocates a reduction of SO2 between 10% and 33% over the levels found in generic wines.
There is even a trend to produce wines without added sulfites, but most enologists believe it is a non-viable decision. Such wines are unstable and very easily perishable.
Another problem is related to color and tartaric acid deposits. They do not directly influence the taste of wine but may be enough reason for wine rejection on visual criteria. For organic wines, natural stabilization is preferred at low temperatures, although Arabic gum is also allowed.
External thermal treatments are not encouraged in organic viticulture because they move away from the idea of being natural and have high energy costs. They are allowed as a way of reducing SO2 and rapid pasteurization against bacteria, especially in sweet wines, to prevent re-fermentation.
It is allowed to use the gases to prevent the oxidation of both the freshly harvested grapes and the must, with carbon dioxide (naturally occurring after fermentation), nitrogen or argon.
Biodynamic agriculture is a manifest to return to nature that precedes the organic one by almost 20 years and has more strict rules. Born in the ’20s under the Austrian Rudolph Steiner, it is an attempt to look at viticulture in a holistic dimension, even getting some spiritual valences.
According to the biodynamic vision, the vine becomes a component of an integrated, self-sustaining system, perfectly intertwined with the rhythms of nature and those of the cosmos. All the work is done following a calendar of the lunar phases and dividing the days into four types: roots days (pruning), leaf days (irrigation), flower days and fruit days (ideal for harvesting). Although this practice can be regarded with a dose of skepticism, it overlaps with old agrarian traditions.
The fans of this philosophy even say that wines should be drunk in fruit days, especially red ones or in flower days, especially white ones.
To label a wine as a biodynamic, it is necessary to obtain a certification, of which the most well-known are Demeter and Biodyvin. However, the biodynamic accreditation does not include the organic one. Biodynamic vineyards replace fertilizers, herbicides and chemical pesticides with natural variants. The preparations numbered 500-507 follow strict prescriptions and must be kept, activated and used according to the monthly calendar to help the entire ecosystem thrive.
Although there are no 100% vegan wines, as yeasts are microorganisms, the accepted definition refers to the fact that no agents of animal origin are used in the fining processes. Traditionally, bull-blood was used, but this is no longer allowed in Europe. The substances still in use include gelatine (bone), casein (milk), albumin (egg) and isinglass (from fish). Alternatives accepted under PeTA include active carbon, bentonite or kaolin (clay types), limestone, vegan casein, and silica gel.
One of the certification bodies is the Vegan Association, but there are many more.
As can be seen from the definition, vegan wines are not necessarily organic and the other way around. The only common requirement refers to the ban on the use of genetically modified organisms.
Along with the previously discussed categories and for which there are recognized certifications, there is a growing demand for natural wine. Since there is no clear set of requirements for such wines, it all depends on the oenologist’s vision and the philosophy of the wine cellar. These wines borrow various elements from each of the regulated categories.
Generally, they are manually harvested from plots that have not been subjected to chemical treatments, where only natural fertilizers and pesticides have been used. Pressing, pumping or stamping processes are also done manually.
Many producers of natural wines believe that wild yeasts express the character of terroir in the best way possible. Therefore they reject selected yeasts. No additional must concentrate, enzymes or alcohol are added.
Others believe that filtering and fining agents make the wine over-engineered and leave their wines unfiltered. This is why sometimes these wines, especially white ones, can have a dirty, muddy look. Some are also slightly fizzy because they are still alive, sometimes re-fermenting a bit in the bottle. Others still have the lees in suspension.
Since it does not contain added sulfites, it is recommended to be consumed as soon as they have a minimal storage potential.
Back to the future and recommendations
We appreciate that these categories will see a significant increase in popularity in the years to come both Romania and the world. Some wine cellars have already aligned with this trend and invested in certifications. In conclusion, we offer a list, in alphabetical order, which remains open since not all wineries communicate these certifications transparently enough.
Certified as Organic
- Budureasca Organic
- Crama Frâncu
- Domeniile Adamclisi
- Domeniul Bogdan
- Domeniile Franco-Române
- La Sapata
- Petro Vaselo
- Senator Wine
- Terra Natura
- Vitis Metamorfosis
Alira Vinul (also kosher)
Natural & Biodynamic
- Agape artă & Natură- following biodynamic principles
- Catleya- following organic principles
- Domeniul Bogdan- following biodynamic principles
- Domeniile Franco-Române- following biodynamic principles
- Domeniile Panciu- they have announced a wine without sulfites
- Nachbil- natural wine