Wine Terminology:

Natural, Pet-Nats, Organic & Biodynamic

Natural wines. Pet-Nats. Organic wines. Biodynamic wines. What’s a wine lover to make of all these terms? Whether you are searching for the latest somm-suggested pet-nat or glou-glou,  something organic, or an iconic biodynamic wine - all bear a family resemblance and share some common traits. What’s key is the hands off, noninterventionist approach involved and the aim of letting the wine speak for itself.

Vineyards of Les Carmes Haut-Brion in Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux
Vineyards of Les Carmes Haut-Brion in Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux

Natural Wines

Natural Wines are best understood as an alternative to more commercial, mass-produced examples, and aim for a more natural, more authentic expression of wine. And how does a winemaker achieve that? Through a number of choices and decisions. Winemakers who make Natural Wines, among other things, avoid any chemical interventions or additives and take a more organic or even biodynamic approach in the vineyard. They might avoid lab yeasts, ferment with wild yeasts native to their vineyards/winery, minimize the use of new oak barrels, and even choose NOT to safeguard their wines with a small measure of sulfur dioxide (a chemical compound that prevents bacterial growth and inhibits oxidation). “Nothing added, nothing removed.”



Pet-nats (from Petillant Naturel) are lightly sparkling wines made using methode ancestrale. As its name suggests, it is an ancient method whereby a young wine is bottled just prior to the end of alcoholic fermentation, which is completed in the bottle. This method leaves a light effervescence. They’re often cloudy (suggesting that the wine is unfined or unfiltered), often made with minimal to zero sulfur, and fermented with natural or wild yeasts.


Organic Wines

Organic wines are crafted by winemakers without use of fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard. Rather, they adopt techniques that prevent pests/disease (rather than cure a disease) and deploy naturally occurring substances (copper sulfate is a notable exception) such as compost.


Large cement vats
Large cement vats

Biodynamic Wines

Think of a biodynamic approach to wine and viticulture as an augmented or intensified form of organic viticulture. Biodynamics is undoubtedly metaphysically inspired and was founded by Rudolf Steiner at the turn of the 20th century. Key tenets of biodynamics? The vineyard should become self-sustaining; the vineyard should be treated on a regular basis with herb, mineral based, or animal organ preparations; and key viticultural tasks such as planting, pruning, harvesting and even bottling are to be timed in accordance with earthly or heavenly rhythms to harness beneficial forces exerted by celestial bodies. No doubt such tenets invite an incredulous stare - but like organic winemaking, biodynamics shuns industrially synthesized compounds, and even calls for tasks that are more labor intensive than an organic approach. Composts are deployed, as are horse-drawn plows to till the soil - both to promote the overall health of not only the soils but also the vines. There are numerous top-tier producers subscribe to biodynamics: Domaine Leroy, Domaine Romanee-Conti, Domaine Leflaive, Chateau Latour, Chateau Pontet Canet, Zind-Humbrecht, Ostertag, and Champagne Louis Roederer among others. Some follow the tenets precisely; others adapt and modify them to their needs.


Vineyards of Chateau Latour in Pauillac, Bordeaux
Vineyards of Chateau Latour in Pauillac, Bordeaux

With all that said, keep in mind that crushed fruit in their natural state would form vinegar. Wine, even a self-professed Natural Wine, is in a fundamental sense unnatural, crafted with a helping hand of a winemaker with all the choices and decisions involved. And in sympathy with more conventional winemakers and viticulturists, socio-economic factors post-WW2 may have brought about the rise of synthetic fertilizers and industrial winemaking - farm labor shortages (brought about by a younger generation fleeing the country for a better life in newly industrialized cities) compelled farmers to resort to fertilizers and pesticides.

There are many top-notch, cutting-edge winemakers who also scrupulously avoid industrial herbicides and pesticides, ferment with wild yeasts rather than lab cultivated yeasts, avoid heavy use of new oak barrels, and minimize their use of sulfur - all without subscribing to the Natural Wine movement. Additionally, some wine regions have little need of organic herb-/fung-/pest-icides, enjoying advantageous factors such as a sunny and relatively rain free Mediterranean climate as well as drying winds that minimize or do away with blights that require pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Other wineries, however, are less fortunate and need to make a livelihood in climates that are cool, damp and prone to disease. And they all make excellent wine.

Wines that adhere to any of the approaches mentioned above can be found in our “Organic” section.




What is orange wine?

Orange wine is made by fermenting the juice of white grapes on their skins, as one does in red winemaking. The result is a darker, almost orange/pink/amber colored wine with more body and tannin than conventional white wines. While interest in orange wine is on the rise and has ties to the natural wine movement, the process is centuries old and is inspired by antiquity.

What are sulfites?

The use of sulfur in winemaking goes back to ancient Rome. Sulfites help preserve wine and slow chemical reactions that cause wine to go bad. They are both naturally found on grapes and often added as sulfur dioxide in small amounts at the beginning of fermentation and prior to bottling. Commercial wines have fewer sulfites than packaged meats, prepared soup, french fries, and dried fruits. Unfortunately, they are frequently blamed for side effects they do not actually cause. It’s been found that roughly 1% of the population has a sensitivity to sulfites. If you have a sensitivity to sulfites, you can shop for a natural wine, which has limited to no sulfur added. Keep in mind, all wines have some degree of sulfur since it is naturally occurring. USDA certified organic wine prohibits the addition of sulfur and regulates naturally occurring sulfur to 10ppm. If you have medical questions, we advise you speak to your doctor.

What makes a wine vegan?

A vast majority of wines are vegan, even if not marketed as such. The primary winemaking technique that would cause a wine NOT to be vegan is a process called fining. Prior to bottling, it’s common for wine to be fined and filtered. This helps clarify and stabilize the wine by removing any unwanted particles leftover from fermentation. Several fining agents available to winemakers would not be suitable for vegan wine; they include egg white, gelatine, casein and isinglass. The most popular fining agent today is bentonite clay, which is vegan friendly.

Are wines gluten free?

In our thousands of interactions with winemakers across the world, we’ve never encountered any winery that uses any gluten product in winemaking.