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Differences between sustainable, biodynamic and natural winemaking

With increasing interest in sustainable lifestyles and production, new terms like ‘organic’, ‘ecological’ and ‘sustainable’ have popped up, which are also applied to winemaking. Do you know the difference? And which ones are truly about sustainability? At El Coto de Rioja, we want to help you understand what sustainable, biodynamic and natural winemaking really mean. It’s easier than you think!

Let’s get started!

Viticultura sostenible, orgánica y ecológica

1. Sustainable, organic and ecological winemaking

Let’s start with three concepts that are very popular but tend to cause confusion. What is the difference between sustainable, organic and ecological winemaking? Although they may all seem the same, only ecological and organic winemaking are synonyms. These mean the grapes are grown without any synthetic chemical products (with some exceptions). So, they mostly use natural products.

Sustainable winemaking, however, doesn’t only cover the products used, but how the vineyards are managed, too. Specifically, it is defined as seeking out and applying good practices in grape production and processing. They must be eco-friendly and not affect the quality of the crops.

This has three main goals:

  1. To protect the environment and conserve natural resources
  2. To be as economically sustainable as possible
  3. To keep people healthy, both consumers and those involved in producing the wine

Basically, it is a wine production system that complies with the Principle of Sustainability, protecting the final product, natural environment and resources, and people. To do so, winemakers optimise processes and try to keep waste to a minimum.

The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) adds that sustainable vitiviniculture also values “heritage, historical, cultural, ecological and landscape aspects”. Here is a link to the OIV guidelines for sustainable viticulture.

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2. Biodynamic winemaking

Let’s jump from innovation and precision to a more abstract and spiritual plane.

Biodynamic winemaking treats the land as a living organism and takes into account the phases of the moon and other astral bodies in growing the grapes and making the wine. Curious, isn’t it?

This type of winemaking is based on the theories of renowned Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy. In biodynamic winemaking, just as the moon has a huge influence over the sea and its tides, it also affects the land and its fruit. So, it is extremely important to synch up grape growing to astrological configurations. This is believed to bring out the innate properties of the plant, yielding a better wine. These, by the way, are called biodynamic wines.

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Another part of this type of winemaking is that no chemical products are used. By completely eschewing pesticides and other derivatives, like herbicides, the risk of losing the harvest is higher, as the plants may develop fertilisation issues or pests.

So, how can you care for the vines sustainably? By using natural biodynamic formulas. For example, horsetail is often used for pest control, as it has properties that protect against parasites and fungi.

Various techniques are also used to prepare the soil, such as burying cow horns full of manure or a combination of minerals. There are also natural fertilisers, made from Steiner’s six ingredients. These are yarrow blossoms, camomile, stinging nettle, dandelion and valerian flowers, which are mixed with other elements like animal hides, viscera and skulls.

Viticultura biodinámica
Viticultura natural

3. Natural winemaking

Are there natural and artificial wines? Not exactly. All wines are natural, given their origin. But when we talk about ‘natural’ wines, we are referring to a specific type that is mainly known for not containing added sulphites. This means no chemical compounds have been added during the winemaking process.

Natural winemaking aims to bring out the clearest, most faithful expression of the essence of the wine with as little intervention as possible, either from chemical products or human hands.

The basic techniques of natural winemaking are:

  • Avoiding chemicals
  • Ensuring ecological, sustainable use of land and resources
  • Moving away from process mechanisation and towards manual and artisan practices
  • Not adding commercial yeast, filtering or clarifying the wine

In this case, avoiding chemical compounds means greater risk in the winemaking process. So, this type of wine is more prone to issues with fermentation and in-bottle stability, among others.

And that’s it! As you can see, although they are similar, there are important differences that set them apart. There are so many words in the fascinating world of wine, terms to describe flavours, aromas and, even, how it’s made... So, if you want to learn them all, don’t miss out on our El Coto de Rioja Wine Dictionary. Why not give it a try? Click on one of these articles!

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