Contemporary Wine Terms Defined
CONTEMPORARY WINE TERMS DEFINED.
Vintners responding to customer requests, are using wine labels to state ethical promises to their consumers and to the planet with terms like “Organic”, “Vegan”, “Natural”, and “Biodynamic” more than ever before.
— But what do these terms really mean?
Each term implies a different farming and/or winemaking philosophy and is restricted by different legal regulations. Find out below: 4 minute read time
Two labels are used for organic wines, and they mean very different things:
“Certified organic wine” requires 100% of the grapes to be organic, and therefore there is zero tolerance for pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. These grapes are GMO-free.
“Made with organically grown grapes” on a label means the wine is made with a minimum of 70% organically grown grapes. These wines are typically made with the same equipment and winemaking techniques of conventional wine production.
Wait — The winemaker says it’s Organic, but it’s not on the label?
There are a lot of wines in British Columbia that are made with 100% organically grown grapes but do not have it written on the label. Some winemakers have practiced and believed in the quality of organic farming years prior to the consumer’s demand of the product. It would seem as though now the price of legal certification falls more accurately into the winery’s marketing budget as opposed to the actual viticultural costs of organic farming. Essentially, this means that some wineries would rather continue spending capital on growing quality organic grapes instead of investing in the organic certification for mere marketing purposes.
Did you know some of the best Organic grape vineyards (whether certified or not) are found in the Similkameen Valley? This is because of the low disease pressure of the area due to the windy and arid conditions during the growing season.
VEGAN WINE — Hold-up, isn’t all wine vegan?
Nope. Sorry, my dear hummus-toast-munching vegan friends, but depending on how seriously you practice your veganism, you may or may not be able to justify your next sip. This is because the solution used in the fining process (to clarify the wine before it is bottled) is often composed of an animal by-product. Traditional examples are casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein), and isinglass (fish bladder protein). However, there are vegan fining options like Bentonite (a clay-based agent) or activated charcoal. These solutions are animal-free and are used in order to meet vegan regulations.
Comfort for vegans seeking to justify their hedonistic wine affair:
Whether animal by-product based or not, fining proteins are NOT additives, so you’re not drinking them. Instead, they are precipitated out of the wine along with the unwanted hazy molecules naturally found in wine after fermentation.
Natural wines are made of organically or biodynamically farmed grapes without adding or removing anything during the winemaking process (like commercial yeasts), and with little or no sulfites. Natural wines often taste a little different than conventional wines — sourer and sometimes funky — and look cloudy if they are unfined and unfiltered. Due to the lack of sulfites used, these wines are best enjoyed in their youth and typically are not suitable for aging.
Instead of legal regulations, the term “Natural wine” only implies these different elements of its production. But one thing is for sure, natural winemakers are extremely devout and passionate about showcasing the wine’s naturally occurring microbiology with minimal intervention.
The labeling term “Biodynamic” is like natural wines in that it implies organic farming and zero tolerance of synthetic chemicals in the farming and winemaking process. However, Biodynamic wines take their viticulture one step further by incorporating ideas of the vineyard as an entire ecosystem; taking into account astrological influences and the lunar cycle.
Biodynamic farming is rooted in a strong commitment to creating a harmonious ecosystem between earth, stars, vine and man. In the vineyard, this means the lunar calendar directs which days are scheduled for different viticultural responsibilities such as harvesting, pruning, and watering.
Some biodynamic grape growers have claimed to have attained improvements in vineyard health and biodiversity since adhering to the biodynamic calendar. They report that it has significantly minimized the need for synthetic pest or fertility management techniques.
Whatever you value when buying wine, it’s useful to have an in depth understanding of what stands behind these trendy wine terms and what they truly mean.