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What is the Difference Between Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Wine?

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

by Morgan Perry

These words are thrown around a lot in the wine industry. We KNOW we do not want to drink wines produced with a ton of pesticides or chemicals, so here are a few things to be aware of.

What is sustainable wine?

The Wine Institute defines sustainable winegrowing as a comprehensive set of practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable.  So—they're focusing on things like on energy and water conservation, the use of renewable resources, greenhouse gas emissions, pest management, their role in the community, and much more. Pretty cool, right? I recently visited the region of Alto Adige, in Northern Italy and almost every winery told is that they were using minimal chemicals

and trying their hardest to let the wines be made in the vineyard, and not in the winery. They also noted that they want to leave the vineyards in a better place for future generations. This is a simple way to think about sustainability.

Biodynamic winery in South Africa

There are several certification bodies for sustainable wine, and the criteria can vary between countries and states. A few to look out for are SIP (Sustainability in Practice) in California and LIVE Certified (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) which is in Oregon and Washington. New Zealand, Australia, and Chile all have certifications, as well as many other regions. It's also important to note that these certifications can be expensive and that many small, independent wineries may not be able to afford to get the certification, which is another reason to ask your sommelier or wine clerk, or to do a bit of research if you're interested in these kinds of wines.

In our Vino Vinyasa classes, we try to work with sustainably made wines when possible—though they are not necessarily certified sustainable—because we want to be sure we're bringing the best (but still accessible) wines we can to our students.

It's important to note the differences between sustainably produced wine and organic and biodynamic wines.

In a HUGE nutshell: organic wines are made from organic grapes (with no synthetic pesticides used) and in the U.S., organic wines cannot add sulfites. In Europe and many other countries, sulfites can be added—the most important thing they do is to increase the wine's shelf life. Because of the sulfite law in the U.S., many bottles just note that the wine is made with organically grown grapes.

To take it a step further, biodynamic vineyards focus on the entire estate as a living organism and even time farming practices with lunar cycles. It also includes special compost preparations that are stuffed into cow horns and buried in the soil. Biodynamic wines must also practice minimal intervention winemaking. I find this FASCINATING when I visited a biodynamic vineyard in South Africa (I loved all the wild animals running around, including a peacock!). Wine Folly has a pretty simple guide on biodynamic wines you can read if you want to learn more.

Peacock at biodynamic winery in South Africa

So where does that leave us? Ultimately, we like to know that steps are being taken to respect the earth, manage carbon footprints and keep unnecessary levels of chemicals out of our bodies, which is why more and more people are seeking sustainable wines or even wines produced with organically grown grapes.

Ah! That is a lot of information. What do I do? Easy. Rely on the professionals! Shop at reputable wine shops with knowledgeable staff & ask your sommelier when drinking wine out. Avoid wines with the names of animals, spiritual beings or television shows. Check out smaller regions and producers and I promise you won't be disappointed!


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