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What Are Natural, Organic and Biodynamic Wines, and Are They Healthier?

The “go green” movement has been gaining momentum in some unexpected industries, as consumers have begun paying more attention to where their products come from and how they’re made. One great example is the wine industry, which has shifted some operations away from traditional growing techniques to embrace a more natural approach.

Vineyards across the country and around the world are producing natural, organic, and biodynamic wines. What exactly are these wines, and are they actually any healthier to drink?

Photo credit: Revol Web via Flickr

Organic Wines

Of these three designations, organic wines are the only ones regulated by the U.S. government. These are wines that are made from grapes that have not been grown with chemical pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, or herbicides. Also, no chemicals were used in the bottling or stabilizing processes.

Wines that are certified organic can still contain sulfites, however, as long as they have 10 parts per million or less of them. Some organic wines achieve a separate and additional designation of being sulfite-free.

Biodynamic Wines

Biodynamic growing involves a very specific production process that takes a sustainable and holistic approach to winemaking. This approach was inspired by Rudolf Steiner, who established farming principles to explain the interconnected relationship between all organisms on a farm. Biodynamic vineyards aim to create an unmodified expression of grapes that are naturally resistant to environmental conditions.

There are certain days on the biodynamic calendar that coincide with the elements of nature, which means some days are better than others for various grape processes. Natural composts and animal manure are often used in biodynamic vineyards to embrace a no-waste style of farming.

Natural Wines

Unfortunately, the word “natural” gets thrown around a lot and has lost much of its meaning. There are wines that are marketed as natural, but there is no formal certification tied to that term.

As a general rule, natural wines tend to have a more authentic taste, are unfiltered, unrefined, and are free of additives. But their actual composition could vary greatly. If keeping chemicals out of your wine is important to you, opt for ones that are labeled as 100% certified organic.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Health Factor

There was a French study conducted a few years ago and published in Decanter that found over 90 percent of wines tested contained pesticides or fungicides. Most of the chemicals found were ones applied late in the growing season to fight rot. Certain pesticides can pose health risks, so you may be able to reduce your risk by buying wine that doesn’t contain unnatural chemicals.

Another component to consider in this comparison is sulfites. Some sulfites are found naturally in wine grapes, but additional sulfites are often added to wine to inhibit the yeasts and bacteria from grape skins and preserve the wine’s taste. Sulfites can be problematic for asthma sufferers because they have shown to constrict airways. Some people are more sensitive to sulfites than others. To steer clear of chemicals in your wine, look for the statement, “made from 100% certified organically grown grapes,” on the label.

It seems that a new study about the healthy and harmful effects of red wine comes out every few months, which presents a confusing message to consumers. As “alternative wines” gain more popularity in society, additional studies comparing the health benefits organically grown grapes and traditional ones will likely add to the existing body of research.

But ultimately, the healthiest way to enjoy a glass from time to time is to stick to true organic wines and always sip in moderation. Organic Authority has a list of recommended organic wines to help guide your buying decisions.

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