From Soil to Sip

Photo by Andrew Shurtleff

Loving Cup Vineyard in North Garden.

As if wine labels didn’t already sport enough vocabulary (full-bodied, fruit-forward, complex mouthfeel anyone?), consumers are now confronted with terms such as natural, organic, and biodynamic when shopping for their favorite vintage. So what’s the difference, anyway?

Natural wines, also known as low intervention or raw wines, are typically made without chemical intervention; however, there are no regulations for labeling with this term—which means any producer can use this designation, regardless of their actual practices. Choose “natural” wines if you prefer products that haven’t been added to during the vinification process. They’re more likely to be free of fining agents, such as added yeast or sulfites, and may retain so-called impurities filtered out by traditional vintners. Our pick: Briedé Family Vineyards in Winchester is committed to producing wines with no additives.

Organic wines are produced by makers who are committed to agricultural practices that do not involve synthetic substances—such as mass-market pesticides and fungicides. Because the grapes are grown using only natural fertilizers, weed killers, and disease controls, harvests typically result in smaller yields (which can up the price tag). The term “organic” requires certification to be used on a product, and wineries can only be certified if every step of their production process has been verified. Our pick: Loving Cup Vineyard and Winery in North Garden is Virginia’s only certified organic vineyard, and one of only a few organic wineries on the East Coast.

Biodynamic wines take it a step further. This labeling is also regulated and requires certification for use. Holistic farming practices—in addition to the requirements needed for “organic” labeling—include intentional soil enrichment, plus planting, pruning, and harvesting vines based around certain moon phases. Choose biodynamic wines if you’re looking for a vintage that was nurtured around the clock through every stage of production. Our pick: Although not yet certified, Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison has been experimenting with biodynamic practices to produce more eco-friendly and healthful products.


This article originally appeared in our October 2020  issue.

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