Organic, Biodynamic and Natural. What’s the difference?

There is a lot of discussion, and a little controversy, about Organic, Biodynamic and Naturalwines these days. So, what is the difference?

Organic wines don’t actually exist legally. What does exist are wines “made from organically grown grapes”. Put simply, organic grapes are grown with the minimum of intervention and using as few chemicals as possible. Pesticides are a no-no. Most growers would, however, use sulphur, but keep its use to a minimum. Without the stabilising effect of sulphur, wine spoils easily.

The difference between Organic and Biodynamic was best explained to me by Daniel Jimenez-Landi, maker of one of our most popular wines, Bajondillo, and such stellar wines as Pielago, Ataulfos and The End. Daniel explained that, during the first two weeks of the moon’s cycle, the sap in all plants rises and falls back during the second fortnight. So, you don’t prune the plants during the first two weeks. That’s Biodynamic. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously, and the moon plays a part in it all. Interestingly, Daniel (at the time I met him) is not part of any Organic or Biodynamic movement and his wines are not certified in these categories. He does not want to be part of these movements. I don’t think he likes having to obey anybody else’s rules when it comes to making wine.

So, to Natural wines. There’s no definition, no rules, no legal status. It seems to be based around the ethos of the least possible intervention at every stage of the process. Some natural winemakers don’t even use any sulphur and will only use natural, local yeasts. There is a lot of antagonism from some other winemakers towards the Natural Wine movement. It’s a bit like ‘are you saying my wines are unnatural?’ In some corners they are seen as self-appointed overseers of how wine should be made and resented accordingly.

Is one better than another? Is Biodynamic better than Organic, and Natural better than both? No is the answer to that, simply because there are good and bad winemakers in each category, just as there are in each country and in each region. If it shows that the winemaker cares throughout the whole winemaking process, then the wine in your glass is more likely to be very good and an excellent expression of the wine of the region concerned.

There’s a winery called Acon in the Ribera del Duero region in Spain. The owner, a man in his seventies, has installed a sound system in the cellar and, while the wines are maturing in barrel, he plays music to them for an hour a day. Does this improve the wine? I doubt it, but I do know that he shows the same level of care throughout the entire growing and winemaking process, and cares greatly for the land and the environment. Not surprisingly, his wines are superb, but they’re not organic, biodynamic or natural. Does it matter?