Is natural wine organic? Often, yes. Is it also biodynamic? Sometimes. But it is almost always made with minimal intervention. Here are a few helpful definitions:
Organic: In organic winemaking, grapes are typically grown without pesticides or other chemicals. Beyond that, it gets complicated. Many small wineries operate in the spirit of organic agriculture, without being legally certified as organic. Even the precise definition of “organic” varies, between, say, Europe and the United States.
Biodynamic: Biodynamic farming — developed and promoted by the controversial Austrian Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), also considered the intellectual father of the Waldorf educational philosophy — typically incorporates organic practices. According to Steiner, everything is connected, from the grape to the soil, which is itself considered a living organism. Biodynamic winemakers often use special herbal sprays and composts, and time their harvests to the lunar calendar.
Minimal intervention: At its most basic, wine is what you get when the wild (or indigenous) yeast on the skin of grapes converts the sugar inside the fruit to alcohol. That’s it. Minimal intervention is a relatively radical winemaking approach that tries to do as little as possible beyond that. In much of the winemaking world today, there are nearly 200 commonly used — and entirely legal — additives: sugar to increase alcohol content; inoculated (or commercially cultured) yeast to kick-start fermentation; sulfites as a preservative; gelatin for texture; colorants; antimicrobial agents; and other ingredients.
Sulfites: Sulfur dioxide compounds, or sulfites, occur naturally in the winemaking process. But adding even more of the stuff as a preservative — a process known as sulfuring — is a topic of some debate in the natural wine community. Some natural vintners adhere to a zero-added-sulfite policy, while others add only a tiny amount. Any wine containing more than 10 parts per million of sulfur dioxide must include “contains sulfites” on the label. Sulfites, in some people, can cause asthmalike symptoms and congestion.