The only constant in life, Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with saying, is change.
That certainly applies to consumer behavior. One of the changes operators can expect to take hold in 2020 applies to wine.
Ronald Buyukliev, lead sommelier at Estiatorio Milos in Las Vegas, has likewise predicted that organic, natural and biodynamic wines will be a trend to watch and leverage next year, particularly among Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
So, what are organic wines, natural wines and biodynamic wines? Let’s take a look so you can choose the wines that will work with best your brand, beverage program, and guest desires.
What is Organic Wine?
Just like organic food, organic wine is produced using grapes that are grown according to organic farming principles. Great—so what’s organic farming?
The simplest way to describe it is farming using sustainable farming practices to produce safer food. Organic farms use organic fertilizers, crop rotation, and biological pest control, and reject (or severely limit) the use of synthetic substances to grow healthier items, including wine grapes.
To obtain the USDA’s organic certification, a wine must comply with the same requirements as other organic products. However, organic wine is also subject to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau scrutiny, including their requirement for sulfite labeling.
Check this out: Want to Boost Beer and Wine Sales? Target this Generation
It’s important for the sake of transparency and guest experience that you and your team know that organic wine isn’t necessarily free of additives. And because some of the additives permitted in organic wine production are animal-based, organic wines aren’t always vegan.
What is Natural Wine?
Unlike organic wine, there isn’t a certification for natural wine currently. And sure, perhaps an unscrupulous wine producer could use that to their advantage and claim a wine is “vin naturel” according to invented “guidelines.”
Luckily, natural wine producers take their craft seriously and it doesn’t appear that people are misusing the term to trick people into forking over their money. Also worthy of note, natural wine isn’t new—it can be traced back to 1960s France.
Natural wine is produced using organic grapes or grapes that were grown biodynamically. Nothing is added or removed in the cellar—no additives are used, only small amount of sulfites (sometimes no sulfites) are used, only natural yeast is used or organic yeast is added during fermentation, and interference in the natural fermentation process is minimal.
Similar to organic wine, not all natural wine is vegan. Some people in the wine world have pointed out, however, that a natural wine is more likely than an organic wine to be vegan. Your reps and some research will reveal which are vegan in case a guest asks.
What is Biodynamic Wine?
This wine is, you’ll be shocked to learn, produced biodynamically. You’re welcome.
Just kidding—that’s accurate but not much help to you. Biodynamic farming is a holistic approach to agriculture. Those who embrace biodynamics view their vineyard, in the case of wine, as its own self-sustaining ecosystem, its own entity, its own organism.
The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association defines biodynamic farming as “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.” Devotees view everyone and everything as connected, and therefore attempt to be as responsible, ethical, and sustainable as possible when farming. If you want to put a quick spin on biodynamics, I suppose you could consider it “good karma” or “organic-plus” farming.
If you think that sounds more like idealism than science, you’re not alone. A study conducted a decade ago found it was hard to prove every biodynamic method of farming was effective or scientifically sound, but also that more research is needed.
Biodynamic farming, like natural wine, isn’t new. In fact, it predates natural wine by several decades. There are also biodynamic certification bodies, Demeter International and Biodyvin, with the former being much larger than the latter.
Check this out: 'Tis the Season to Increase Wine Sales
So, biodynamic wine is wine produced from grapes grown and harvested using biodynamic methods. Artificial chemicals and additives are rejected, as is manipulation of the wine during the fermentation process. However, a biodynamic wine may contain up to 100 parts-per-million of sulfites. Also, just like its organic and natural counterparts, the perception that all biodynamic wines are vegan is incorrect.
How are These Different from Conventional Wine?
There’s nothing preventing the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on non-organic vineyards, save any legal prohibitions against specific chemicals. Likewise, additives that may be restricted from organic-certified wines can be used—once again, if they’re legal—in non-organic wines.
Today’s more socially and health-conscious guests aren’t just concerned with what they’re putting in their own bodies. Some consumers are switching to organic, natural and biodynamic wines because they care about sustainability, the health of the planet, and the lives of those who tend to and harvest the grapes on vineyards. A few years ago, Wine Folly looked into pesticide use in Napa and found that non-organic vineyards appeared to have issues with watershed toxicity and groundwater contamination. Workers at conventional vineyards that use pesticides, herbicides and fungicides may be at risk for health problems.
“Consumers are asking for organic wine and natural wine, and wise beverage directors should have at least a few offerings in this category,” says Buyukliev. Use this primer, pepper your reps with questions to make the best selections and store these wines properly, and request staff training to leverage this growing trend fully.