Throughout our web site, we try to designate a product as “organic”, “biodynamic”, “natural” or “sustainable” if we believe that the product falls into one of those categories. Here are the symbols we use:
Organic Biodynamic Natural Sustainable
These categories are very important for us. In our experience, the greatest wines in the world are generally made using one or more of these methods. Grapes grown through organic and biodynamic methods tend to be healthier. Wines made from healthy grapes and without unnecessary manipulations result in more delicious wine that more accurately reflects local terroir.
What do these categories mean?
“Organic” means that the grapes are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
“Biodynamic” refers both to how the grapes are grown and how they are made into wine. Biodynamic farming, a form of organic farming, is intended to encourage the development of the vineyard’s entire ecosystem. It features special organic treatments for vines and soil, and both growing and winemaking are guided by natural phenomena like the position of the moon and even the stars. For instance, barrels are racked (the wine is poured off its lees) when the cycle of the moon and the air pressure ensure maximum clarity in the wine. Some of these practices (like the racking) are traditional in much of the world. But others are more controversial.
“Sustainable” is a label we assign to a wine where the grapes are generally grown organically and the wine is made without undue manipulation, but where the winemaker refuses to adhere to a particular philosophy. This category is for wine-makers who believe it is important to keep their options open in case severe vintage conditions require an intervention that would not be permitted under the other categories.
“Natural” means that the grapes are grown organically (or biodynamically), the fermentation is with natural yeast, no additives are used in the wine-making process, and no manipulative practices (reverse osmosis, etc.) are used. There is an exception for certain traditional manipulations, such as ageing in oak barrels or racking.
We assign these categories to wines based on the best information we have. If a wine is certified organic or biodynamic, it’s easy. But many winemakers don’t go to the trouble and expense of obtaining certification. We generally then rely on information provided to us by the wine-maker or the local importer. These categories overlap: a biodynamic wine must be organic, and a natural wine must be organic (or biodynamic), for example. We simply choose the category that best fits our understanding of the wine-grower’s practices and self-identification.
Our judgments about these categories are not scientific, and they may change from time to time based on the information available to us. They are meant to serve as a general guide to our customers, not as a final judgment about the producers or their practices.
And, by the way, we are huge fans of many wines that do not comfortably fit into any of these categories, like Raveneau and Krug. It is obviously useful to have these categories both for consumers and producers. But they raise complicated issues (e.g. are organic treatments really better for the environment in all terroirs?) and are debated endlessly by wine people. We don’t think we know the answers — but we do know good wine when we taste it.