You may have been hearing more about natural wine in recent years, but what exactly is it? And what’s the difference between natural wine and organic wine? How does biodynamic wine fit it?
There’s no uniform definition of natural wines, but in general natural wine refers to a “low-intervention” or “minimal interference” philosophy of winemaking in the vineyard and winemaking process, with no added chemicals and additives.
Natural wine is a consumer-led trend that emerged a few decades ago but has yet to form its own defined category, says Nenad Trifunovic, the in-house wine expert at Wine&More, a retailer of Croatian and Balkan wines.
Organic wine is made with grapes grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals. Organic grapes must be grown and processed according to standards set by certifying organizations that also prohibit the use of certain additives such as artificial preservatives, colors and flavors.
Biodynamic wine takes organic wine a bit further, with farming methods that use a holistic and ecological approach to agriculture. Techniques include planting according to lunar and celestial rhythms, adding composts and medicinal and botanical plant matter to enrich the soil, and avoiding chemicals and other interventions as much as possible.
Organic and biodynamic farming have become more important to both sommeliers and consumers, according to sommelier and wine writer Nadine Brown. Cabernet franc from France’s Loire Valley is a frequent leader in these discussions, she says, thanks to the high amount of organic and biodynamic winemakers in the region—as well as those who have been making natural wine far before the style was fashionable.
Indeed, natural wine is considered to have started in rural France back in the 1990s, says Trifunovic. But natural wine has recently gained more attention and popularity among consumers, especially with the rise of environmentalism and wellness culture, he notes.
Restaurants go au naturel
The natural wine scene has flourished in major metro areas, but restaurants in other markets have taken notice and upped their offerings. For instance, Bethany Heinze, beverage director/co-owner at Vern’s in Charleston, SC, has curated a beverage program that complements the seasonally driven menu while partnering with sustainable producers.
Heinze discovered her love of natural wine while working in the beverage world. She immersed herself in learning the environmental benefits of prioritizing organic practices in vineyards, which empowers nature to do all the work without adding chemicals to interrupt the process. Vern’s wine list offers 75 rotating selections from vineyards around the world that are committed to organic farming.
Table, a New American restaurant in Asheville, NC, has a natural wine list curated by Chef Jacob Sessoms and wine director Brett Watson. They seek out exciting and compelling wines from all over the world that are produced with heart and focus on the land. The wine program at Table is considered “Old World Natural,” with a focus on small producers and family farms making wines with native yeast and spontaneous fermentation.
Cala Scottsdale, a Mediterranean restaurant in the Arizona city, launched a new summer wine menu in partnership with Los Angeles-based Felipe P., a natural wine connoisseur. Cala was the first to bring three natural, biodynamic wines from different regions of California to the Scottsdale dining scene.
Felipe P. has been serving natural wine at his supper club, Pretty Boy Plates, since 2019. He started an educational wine series called Summer Tastings in 2022 and has been teaching guests about low-intervention winemaking and the difference between natural wine and biodynamic wine.
For consumers seeking a selection of natural wines, a new ecommerce and editorial platform called The Waves champions diversity, transparency, and responsible production in wine. The Waves selects organically farmed, small-production bottles that are free of the 70-plus chemical additives currently allowed without disclosure in the U.S. It delivers the wines via subscription.
“While there is still discussion about what exactly makes a wine natural, and whether it is more of a marketing gimmick, it looks like this category will continue to draw even more attention over the next couple of years,” says Wine&More’s Trifunovic.