Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic, Natural, Clean, and Vegan wines are everywhere, but what do these terms mean? These wines still taste like wine, so it all comes down to how they’re made.


Sustainable wines are produced with limited environmental impact in multiple aspects of production. Wineries reduce chemicals in the vineyard and push for minimizing carbon footprint, runoff, and conserving water and energy. There are a variety of certifications focusing on different aspects of sustainability. Be on the lookout for LIVE, Salmon Safe, CCSW, LEED, and Lodi Rules, and SIP certifications.


Organic viticulture avoids the use of synthetic chemicals. Instead, organic treatments and biodiversity are encouraged to naturally combat threats to the vineyard. The USDA Organic certification is rare and doesn’t allow for any additional sulfur in winemaking, which makes the wine’s stability quite fragile. You’ll more often see ‘made with organic grapes’ listed on the bottle, limiting sulfur to 100 ppm and requiring organic treatments and non-GMO ingredients.


Biodynamic viticulture is a holistic approach where the farm itself is viewed as an entire ecosystem. Plants and animals from that ecosystem are used to make teas and composts that are applied to the vineyard in conjunction with the biodynamic calendar, which ties the movement of universal energy to particular activities. Look for Demeter and Biodyvin certification on labels. 


Natural winemaking is about making wine with nothing added or taken away. Sulfur, which acts as a preservative and keeps fruit flavors fresh, is viewed as the only allowable additive in small amounts. The French government recently authorized ‘vin méthode nature’ to be used on labels. This is the first certification for natural wine and requires the use of organic grapes and indigenous yeast, while limiting sulfur use and banning ‘brutal’ winemaking processes. The best producers of natural wine are transparent about their vineyards and their winemaking practices eliminating any room for impure practices. Natural wines have broadened the acceptable flavors of wine, leading to the rise of flavors like cider, kombucha, and barnyard funk. These wines can also have classic wine flavors, but the category tends to be associated with the funkier styles.


Clean Wine has emerged as an acceptable drink of the healthy lifestyle movement. It is largely promoted as a healthy alternative to the ‘non-organic heavily manipulated wines of the market’. All of that sounds nice, except that these wines tend to be lacking actual transparency in sourcing or winemaking, and the buzz words they use to promote themselves are normal attributes of sustainable, organic, biodynamic, or natural wines.


Fining determines whether a wine is Vegan or not. Fining agents remove solids improving wine’s clarity. Isinglass, albumin, and casein are old school agents and very few producers still use them. Bentonite, carbon, and plastic are animal free and more common. Fining is not necessary to make quality wine, so logically unfined wines are also vegan. As it turns out, most wines are vegan, and as producers realize the importance of the category, expect more of them to make it known.