The increase in awareness and demand for organic, biodynamic and natural wines in the last few years is nothing short of astounding.
Whilst the perception amongst many drinkers that organic/biodynamic/natural wines are of a faddish nature, the principle behind all wines is to create something that tastes good. With organic, biodynamic and natural wines, the end result differs only slightly: wine that tastes good, that is derived from good grapes that are grown in good soil and achieved by returning to more traditional methods and working close to nature.
Tsk Tsk and turn up your nose at the hipsters who seem to have mainstreamed these varieties, but we're all the more delighted by it, and so is our cellar.
So what's the difference? Why the criticism?
Besides the perception amongst many drinkers that organic wines are of a faddish nature, Organic winemaking can be considered to be the oldest (and most natural) method in the book. At its core, organic wine is wine that is made from the best grapes possibly grown in vineyards, that exclude the use of synthetic chemicals - fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides - in the manufacture of the wine.
To break this down further, we refer to an article by Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn.
"The idea is that the best grapes possible are used in the manufacture of the wine. The soil is respected and biodiversity of the environment is encouraged. Vines grow in soil rich in worms, insects, and bacteria. Cover crops of mineral-rich leguminous plants, herbs, and flowers are grown. This results in a soil that is full of nutrients and trace elements that the vines can take up. The vines are also stronger, healthier and more resistant to disease. Natural predators are added to the vineyard: such as ladybirds to tackle aphid problems, and chickens, emerging from mobile chicken coops placed around the vineyard, to eat grubs and vine weevils from the ground."
For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic the vine-grower must follow the organic criteria plus some or all of the philosophies as described in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner - an Austrian philosopher, social reformer and scientist who's theory practices a holistic, homeopathic manner of farming that, of course, also includes viticulture.
All the various tasks, from planting, pruning, to harvesting, are regulated by a special biodynamic calendar, and each biodynamic calendar day coincides with one of the four classical elements of Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. No chemicals or ‘manufactured’ additions (like commercial yeasts) are allowed in biodynamic wine.
Although there are bizarre elements to the biodynamic philosophy, most advocates do not know why or how some of these preparations work; but admit they do. It's a controversial wine, but a quality bottle of biodynamic wine holds a special place in our heart.
The trickiest, most confusing and most controversial of all three, natural wine can be a hard one to define as there are no official set of standards or operating procedures. Very much a philosophy, natural wines have been touted as "one of the major scams being foisted on the wine public". We, in turn, view natural wines as a conversation starter, and a new opportunity to educate ourselves with different tastes and textures in our glass. Natural wines are produced to let grapes that are full life and character shine in an unadulterated and unadorned manner. The production of Natural wines falls under the umbrella of organic and biodynamic in that they are created with a few additions as possible: spontaneous wild-yeast fermentation, no acid or tannins added, and very little (or none at all for the purist) sulfur-dioxide preservative at bottling.
Whatever your impressions of natural, organic or biodynamic wines, they've certainly created a new generation of wine drinkers who are keen to have a conversation whilst experiencing something new in their glass. And at the end of the day, isn't that what justifies a good drop?