According to the USDA, produce can be considered organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. With organic wines, the U.S. and the E.U. have different requirements for organic certification. Similarly, in other wine-growing regions, whether Argentina or New Zealand, wines can obtain organic certification from local certifying bodies. In the U.S., to acquire the USDA organic seal, wineries must grow grapes without synthetic fertilizers, forgo added sulfites, and ensure all ingredients going into the wines, including yeast, are certified organic.
In Europe, the most notable difference is the amount of added sulfites permitted in the final product. E.U.-certified organic wines can contain up to 100 mg/L total sulfites for red wines and up to 150 mg/L total sulfites for whites and rosé. USDA-certified organic wines, on the other hand, must skip added sulfites.
What about a wine that is made with “made with organic grapes”? This means that additional ingredients used in the process, like yeast, need not be organic (even though the wine still can’t be produced with the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers). While these wines can state they are made with organic grapes, they still can’t use the USDA organic certification. So even an E.U.-certified organic wine might only be considered “made with organic grapes” over in the States, in part because of the allowing of added sulfites. Under the “made with organic grapes” label, the USDA allows 100 mg/L of added sulfites.
Unlike with organic wines, classifying a wine as biodynamic is not a distinction that changes across continents. The practices behind biodynamic winemaking started in the 1920s with Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who believed in a method of farming based around a specific astronomic calendar. The official definition of biodynamic farming, according to the Biodynamic Association, is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production, and nutrition.” To Steiner, the method was a way to create a sustainable winemaking system, one that sees the vineyard as its own organism.
Biodynamic farming also instructs followers to use certain fertilization practices. One of particular interest is filling cow horns with compost, burying them in the vineyard, and digging them up later. Because most biodynamic farmers also employ organic practices like avoiding pesticides, and depend on compost rather than chemical fertilizer, many biodynamic wines are also organic in practice.
But not all biodynamic wines are organic, and not all can be considered natural, as they can contain up to 100 mg/L of added sulfites. On the flip side, the question of whether natural or organic wines can be biodynamic entirely depends on the practices that the winemaker employs, like the calendar and compostings. If they follow these requirements, natural and organic wines can also be biodynamic.
You won’t necessarily taste a difference in a biodynamic wine versus a non-biodynamic one, but you’ll know that a lot of care went into its creation. In World of Wine, sommelier André Mack points to a helpful indication of whether a wine is biodynamic: the Demeter logo on the bottle. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to biodynamic practices in farming and sets forth standards for biodynamic certification of wines.
You’d think that all wines are vegan given wine is made of grapes and yeast, but this isn’t always the case. Recently, more wines have begun to market themselves as vegan-friendly, in response to the growing number of people interested in eliminating animal products from their diets.