We’ve given you the abridged version on what makes wine organic, vegan, and biodynamic; and now you can buy fruity, funky pét-nats from home.
Let us all hold hands and pray, to our lord, Bacchus, granter of the earth’s most glorious gift: wine. For all you lushes out there, you may be all too familiar with the difference between organic, natural, and biodynamic wine, but for us more casual imbibers, here’s a little breakdown. It doesn’t help that wine descriptions can be purposefully jargon-y and many bottles don’t offer much practical info; a lot of people end up picking their wine purely by how enticing a label is—which, in the case of natural wine, has been co-opted into a positive. The natural wine world is known for its clever, off-the-wall branding, and many smaller vineyards and producers commission graphics from artists to help entice shoppers.
Even if you’re an oenophile, it can be hard to stay on top of all the coolest, newest and best biodynamic wines on the shelves. An excellent way to familiarize yourself with the world of orange wines, pét nats, and beyond is with an online starter-pack or monthly wine club. You’ll get to try new things that might not be available in your area, and most subscription services provide you with all the juicy details of how each wine is made and where. We’ve also included some excellent sites to shop for individual bottles, in case you’re a bit of a commitment-phobe (we totally understand) and just want to get your toes wet.
So, let’s take an abridged journey through the history of natural wine, because you’re not drinking another f-ing merlot! To start off, there is muchdebate in the wine-making industry about natural wine. The process of winemaking responsible for most of what you find on grocery store and liquor store shelves only dates back about 100 years, while natural wine-making practices today resemble much more ancient techniques. Fans love natty wine for its fruity, funky, acidic, and often earthy flavor in addition to its environmental and health benefits.
Let's take a step back to where the modern understanding of natural wine began. We open in a vineyard in the French countryside: Down a set of stairs into a cool, damp cellar, you can smell wet gravel, oak, and an intoxicating mix of stone fruit and sulfur as Niagara plays. It’s 1983, and the wave of natural wine is just cresting in France. A small rebellion of low-intervention wine makers started to experiment with traditional ways of winemaking, spurring a crazy sensation that erupted in France in the early 2000’s and would take the U.S. by storm 15 years later.
In 2017, Bon Appétit told everyone that natural wine is, “...Elvis. It’s the Sex Pistols. It’s N.W.A. It’s that thing your parents could never understand.” If that didn’t sell you on ditching your safety-chardonnay and reaching for a pét-nat, nothing will. But the TL;DR is this: As opposed to large-scale modern winemaking that incorporates lots of processing, preservatives, and purifying, it is simply wine with nothing added or taken away. Which means, no pesticides in the growing process, no heavy machinery to harvest grapes, no filtering, and no added flavors, sugars, or sulfites. Contrary to popular claims, there is not strong scientific evidence that drinking natural wine will help you fully dodge a hangover, but the lack of pesticides and added sulfites(which many people say give them headaches or allergic reactions) lead many fans of natural wine to say that they have a better drinking experience compared to traditional wine varietals.
What is organic wine?
Like organic produce in the U.S., organic wine must be deemed organic by the USDA to be labeled as such. The grapes, the process of conversion into wine, and any added ingredients (such as yeast) must be certified organic by a committee, and cannot include the use of any synthetic chemicals. Many smaller producers of natural wine can’t afford to shell out for accreditation, so they choose to make low-intervention wines without the fancy title. So while organic wines are great, you don’t necessarily have to spend the extra bucks to get a deliciously drinkable bottle of wine.
What is biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic farming takes these practices to the next level by ensuring a holistic, chemical-free practice that not only thinks about the end product, but also the effect that production will have on the surrounding ecosystem, as well as taking lunar cycles into effect.
On the spectrum of what constitutes natural wine, that can mean taking into consideration the natural biology of the farm to create an entirely self-sustaining ecosystem. Biodynamic accreditations are also available, but much like organic stickers, the cost of certification can outweigh the benefits for smaller scale winemakers.
Where to buy natural wine online: sets & subscriptions
Every bottle of wine available at Plonk is sustainably sourced and grown using organic and biodynamic methods. Founder Etty Klein focuses on offering unique and obscure options from around the world. Plus, each wine club box (offered in all red, all white, and mixed) comes with recipe pairings. Unlike the typical “take this quiz” algorithm of larger operations, Plonk instead offers thoughtfully curated collections each month.