We all know that drinking wine is good for you, but did you know that there are also so-called natural wines that are even better for your health? The natural wine movement (wine produced with minimal mankind’s intervention or any whatsoever) has been around for a while now. Since the 50s to be exact. Over the years, natural wines have managed to captivate more and more wine enthusiasts, who are in awe of their unique (and very different) taste.
And with all the different types and varieties available as well as different chemical compounds used in winemaking, from phenols, sulphites and organic acids to pH readings, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. But knowledge is golden, hence learning more about different terms used by merchants to describe wine usually listed on a bottle label can make or break your experience.
Organic Wine Explained
Organic wine is wine made from 100% organically grown grapes. To be certified organic, the vineyard must not only be free of any synthetic pesticides and fertilizers but also any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and growth hormones. Organic wines may only be made using traditional methods, and organic growers are required to adopt organic-approved viticultural practices. The winemaker also has to comply with the rules of his or her country.
The reason behind organic wine production is simple – it’s a way to combat the excess use of chemicals in vineyards. Organic wines are also better for your health simply because they are packed with more phytonutrients, which help neutralize cell-damaging free radicals that trigger chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer. Some studies prove organic wines are healthier than non-organic wines.
The rules for organic winemaking vary according to the country in which it is produced. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, the wine must be certified by an accredited certifying body such as Bio-Gro or Ecocert; in the U.S., it must be certified by either the USDA or an approved state inspection program. The rules of Europe are stricter than those of other countries because most European countries have integrated their wine laws into the European Union’s market regulations. Organic wine producers in Europe must comply with “EU Wine Regulations.”
What Is Preservative-Free Wine?
Preservative-free wines are quite different from organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines. They are made without any additives or chemicals, whereas organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines may or may not contain preservatives.
For instance, the preservative free red wines on the market are made without the addition of any sulphites, which have the potential to cause allergic reactions and also inhibit the maturation process. They’re made with organic grapes where possible and produced sustainably. These wines are becoming more popular as people become increasingly conscious of their health and wellbeing, looking for natural alternatives to eating habits and lifestyle choices that aren’t in keeping with their values. They’re also concerned about the environmental impact of growing grapes organically, producing wine organically and the labelling of organic products.
Naturally occurring sulphites occur both in the grapes and in the winemaking process. When grapes are crushed, naturally occurring sulphites are released from the skin. They can be removed from white by a gentle pressing but preservative free red wines require a more rigorous pressing which releases more sulphite from within the grapes.
Consumed in small amounts, these naturally occurring sulphites can be good for you but when consumed in large quantities they can cause headaches, migraines, stomach upsets and asthma attacks in susceptible people. This is where preservative free wine comes into its own; it’s made without added sulphites so there’s none detectable in the finished product.
So How Does the Preservative-free Wine Taste?
It tastes like wine. In fact, it tastes a bit better than most wines. It has no added sulphites, which some people are sensitive to. And because it doesn’t have any stabilizers or preservatives, it’s more likely to taste what it’s made of: grape juice and yeast.
Because it’s not clear, there’s no sediment left at the bottom of the bottle. But depending on the winemaker, the wine may be slightly cloudy. If you swirl the bottle and examine the wine in different lights, you might see particles floating around — yeast cells or tiny bits of grape skin that didn’t get strained out during production. They can add a pleasing complexity to the flavour.
What Makes Wine Sustainable?
Sustainable wine is produced with an eye to the future, respecting not only the earth’s resources but also the health of producers, their families and the communities in which they live. Sustainable wine is made by farmers who farm organically, or with minimal use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Sustainable wine is not just the result of good farming. It’s also the result of a philosophy that says it’s better to lose control on purpose than to maintain control by doing things you don’t believe in. That’s what sustainable means: making choices that make you uncomfortable, so your children can have a future.
The way sustainable farming methods work is through diversity: you plant a lot of different kinds of plants and fungi because each does best in its own particular conditions. You don’t rely on one kind of insect or one kind of grasshopper or one kind of tree frog, because then if something happens to that one thing you have a problem.
This works in wine too. Since you can’t control the weather, if you want to be sustainable, you can’t rely on anyone year’s grapes being any good. The way to do it is to get different grapes from different places with different climates. This makes the wine more interesting too: instead of just tasting like grapes, it tastes like a place.
Picking grapes at the right time and getting them home are tricky things, which takes us back to biodynamic wine because what’s involved there is more complicated than regular organic farming but less complicated than space travel.
Ever Heard of Bio-Dynamic Wine?
Bio-dynamic wines are produced with little or no intervention from the winemaker. These wines are made in harmony with nature and the laws of physics. There are a few main principle examples of biodynamic viticulture:
- The farm should be considered a self-contained organism. Everything on the farm, including the vineyard, must be in balance for optimum health, growth and productivity to occur.
- Special preparations, mostly of herbs and minerals, are used as compost preparations to stimulate soil fertility and growth stimulation. Special preparations also promote root development, fight disease and strengthen plant resistance to stress conditions that occur during the growing season. One example of special preparation is called “Horn silica”, which is made from quartz with special addition of iron silicate. This formula is used on vineyards in Europe at certain times of the year to stimulate root growth and increase resistance to fungus diseases.
- Trap fertilization is another example. Trap fertilization consists of spreading liquid manure on the soil around grapevines in early fall, after the grapes have been harvested and before the buds begin to grow for the next year’s crop. The idea is that, like a fly trap, the manure will attract pests from the surrounding area and hold them there until they die and their decomposition releases nutrients that will be taken up by the grapevines. This method is particularly popular in areas with large numbers of deer, which are a common pest in vineyards.
To Sum Up
If you haven’t yet considered this alcohol alternative, then now is the time to do so. You will likely be amazed at how different these wines actually are from conventional ones. So by all means, do your research, try a few different natural wine varieties, and see for yourself if you don’t agree with us that this is the drink of choice for forward-thinking people.