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Our handy guide decodes these common wine terms so you can decide which one is best for you.

Lauren Wicks
February 04, 2019

If you’re buying conventional wine, chances are it contains sulfites, pesticides, and other weird additives (like bentonite clay and fish bladder proteins). Fortunately, you can now find a plethora of wines that boast better ingredients and production methods—like biodynamic, organic, and natural wines. But what exactly do all of these terms mean? Use this handy guide to learn the difference between conventional, biodynamic, organic, and natural wines so you can decide which one is the most worth your money.

Conventional Wine

Unlike food, alcoholic beverages aren’t covered by the Food and Drug Administration, and most ingredients aren’t required to be labeled on bottles. But aren’t the only ingredients in wine grapes and yeast? Not exactly.

It turns out, no matter how many variables you try to control, grapes have a mind of their own, which means there can be a difference in the flavors and colors of grapes from the same crop. As a result, conventional wines may contain pesticides, additives, and other chemicals to give each bottle the same recognizable flavor and color. Our government also allows dozens of artificial ingredients in alcoholic beverages, most of which aren’t required to be listed on labels, so there may be cause for concern when perusing the wine section of your supermarket on a Saturday night.

Sulfites are one concern for wine consumers since they're one of the few ingredients required to be labeled on bottles. While sulfites are naturally occurring to some extent, more are often added to conventional wines to preserve the color and shelf-life. While there are some lower-sulfite options out there, it is difficult to find one that is 100 percent sulfite-free. However, only one percent of the country is actually sulfite-intolerant, and a sulfite-free wine won’t exactly keep headaches at bay.

Biodynamic Wine

Biodynamic farming is all about limiting one’s negative impact on the environment by reusing farm waste, utilizing crop rotation, and excluding chemical fertilizers and soil additives. Biodynamic wine has to not only be produced organically to be labeled “biodynamic,” but it also has to receive a certification from the Demeter Association, an organization that certifies farms as biodynamic based on rigorous growing and processing standards. These biodynamic farms must be self-sustaining, have diversified crops, and also prioritize their impact on the ecosystem.

Organic Wine

The good thing about choosing an organic wine is that you know it has received a legitimate certification, promising the grapes in your wine were grown, harvested, and processed in a certain way. Organic wine should be made from grapes that were grown without any herbicides, pesticides or other non-organic soil treatments and shouldn’t have any genetically modified ingredients, such as yeast. Make sure you’re purchasing certified organic wine and not just wine made with organically grown grapes for a 100 percent organic bottle of vino.

The tricky thing here, however, is that the U.S. has different standards for organic wine than Europe and Canada. The U.S. doesn’t allow added sulfites in organic wine, while Europe and Canada do allow the addition of sulfites in small amounts.

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Natural Wine

Natural or clean wines are different from organic and biodynamic options, because they currently do not have to undergo any official certification process. Labeling a wine as “clean” is pretty new to the wine industry, as Thrive Market was one of the first companies to launch a major clean wine collection in the fall of 2018. However, Thrive Market has pretty strict standards for which wines make the cut.

According to Thrive Market, their clean wine collection consists of not only organic, biodynamic options, but these wines have other specific processing and farming standards, such as being sourced from small to mid-sized producers and minimal fining and filtration processes. While this collection makes a great option for those looking for truly clean wines, beware of others labeled as such without first doing some research on the brand’s farming and production practices.

The bottom line: If you’re looking to keep wine headaches at bay, choosing an organic, biodynamic, or clean wine won’t necessarily keep you headache-free, although they're free of toxic chemicals. However, if you are looking for a wine to go with your organic, grass-fed ingredients, non-conventional options may be best for those looking to avoid chemicals and practice sustainability in all areas of their lives.

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