Trending Wines

Our In-House Sommelier, Ben Moechtar, answers some questions on organic, natural and biodynamic wines, breaking down the differences and musing on the myths and realities of the burgeoning industry.


Organic and natural wines seem to be on every wine list at the moment. How are they made and how’s it different to ordinary wine?

When you look at modern wine lists you’ll see lots of messaging and icons indicating sustainability, organics, bio-dynamics and ‘natural’ wines. They are really, really hot at the moment. The movement is growing at about 5-10% per year globally, so it’s pretty significant. But there are lots of subtle distinctions between the different labels and styles in this niche industry.

Let’s take them one at a time. What’s an organic wine?

When you go to buy your fruit and veg at the grocery store, you can choose organic options. Simple enough, organic wines follow the same principles – it’s all about caring for the vine, the soil, and ultimately for ourselves and those around us. It’s about restricting chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) in the process, those elements that introduce toxins over time, and kill the micro-flora. 

Organic techniques make the vines stronger, protect the mico-flora, and are more environmentally sustainable. It’s all regulated by bodies (such as ACO Certification Ltd.) and it’s a process that can take years and be very difficult. Interestingly enough, it’s particularly difficult to get certified if you have neighbours that are not – chemicals can easily blow from one vineyard or farm to another! Smaller, remote vineyard sites, or organic farms that are stacked together, have an easier time.

Tell us about biodynamic wines.

With this type of wine, philosophy is more holistic. There are calendars based on lunar and other celestial cycles that contribute to what is done -and when - in the vineyard and winery. Even tasting wine is better on certain days – there are “leaf days”, “root days” and “fruit days” for instance. This type of viticulture is more belief based, but still restricts the use of pesticides and herbicides. In many ways, it goes further than organics and there are some very reputable names who adhere to biodynamic philosophies and practices. Certification comes through names like Demeter. The biggest proponent was Rudolf Steiner. 

What about natural wines?

They’re also called “orange” wines or “skin contact” wines, and they’re made more traditionally, with a hands-on approach and techniques that are a little less ‘clean’ and unsanitised.   There’s   minimal intervention  in  the  process  of fermentation  from  grape  juice to wine, and the minimal use of things like sulphur (the stuff that keeps wine fresh, bright and free from oxidisation). The wines are typically unfined and unfiltered.

Overall this difference in process means the wines are often dull and cloudy. In reality many ‘natural wines’ are technically faulty and would not pass in a wine show – they can have mousy aromas, smell heavily of nail polish remover, vinegar, cabbage or eggs. Sound delicious? It’s a booming industry, and your local hipster bar is guaranteed to have a few on the wine list. 

You’re not exactly selling natural wines, are you Ben?

Many are not faulty and they’re actually incredibly tasty! Without getting too heavy on the science, white wines are separated from their skins early on, and the clarified juice is turned into white. But with natural wines there’s lots of ‘skin contact’ – it helps stabilise the wine without having sulphur – this gives the wines more texture, which some people really love. It also means many of the wines are turned orange or pinkish in colour (instead of being traditional ‘white’ wines).

Are we looking at a fad or something that’s here to stay?

Time will tell, but the quality of great organic and biodynamic wines of the world suggests they’re going to stick around. For a long time I thought natural wines in particular would come and go – eventually I had to embrace it! New Zealand was the first country to have all of their vineyards declared ‘sustainable’ - a set of practices that are ecologically sound, as well as economically viable and socially responsible. This growing phenomenon of going ‘back-to-basics’ and looking inwards at processes is not going to stop, and it’s not something anyone can afford to ignore. The winner in all of this is the consumer, who has more choice.


Are brands doing this for the right reason?

Interestingly, some of the greatest vineyards and wines from Europe have been committed to biodynamics and organics for years, but they’re not interested in certification, so they can’t technically claim it. Obviously you can infer from that that these brands are doing this because they believe in the process, not because they want the fancy label or for commercial gain. They believe in caring for the soil, the vines and the drinker, and they think there’s a relationship to quality.

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    Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2018
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