What are Vegetarian, Vegan, Organic, Biodynamic & Natural Wines?

Vegan and Vegetarian Wines

Whether a wine is vegan or vegetarian is partly down to the actual process of making the wine, or ‘fining’.

Fining is when an insoluble substance is added to the wine to clarify or stabilise it. These substances or agents are used to remove things like proteins, yeasts and bitter molecules. They bind themselves to the impurities, which in turn allows them to be removed from the wine. Some of the most commonly used fining agents are those below, which are derived from animals or fish:

  • Gelatine – an animal derived agent
  • Isinglass – a fish derived agent made from fish swim bladders
  • Egg Albumin – an agent derived from egg whites
  • Casein – an agent derived from cow’s milk

What makes a wine Vegetarian or Vegan?

Essentially, in order for a wine to be totally vegetarian or vegan, wine makers use no animal or fish based fining agents. Some common examples of these are:

  • PVPP – an inert, insoluble, non-biological synthetic polymer
  • Bentonite – an agent derived from clay
  • Carbon – a carbon derived agent
  • Pea Protein – derived from (you guessed it) peas

Organic Wines

Until very recently, there were no agreed EU standards for organic wines, however, since August 2022 there will be a legal certification for organic wines. Wines which pass this new EU standard will be allowed to display the logo above. In any instance where you see this on a wine label, you can be assured it is “Certified Organic”. It’s worth noting that standards vary across different regions and countries, and non-EU countries have their own variations on standards and certifications.

What are Organic Wines?

Before the introduction of chemical fertilisers and herbicides, all wines were organic!

It’s all down to what happens in the vineyard and the growing of the grapes. In many cases, the vineyards need to go through a three year conversion process to ensure the soils and vines are free of any chemicals, herbicides and fungicides. Organic viticulture only allows the use of fertilisers and sprays made from natural compounds. A spray made from copper and sulphur is allowed to protect the vines from harmful mildew.

Biodynamic Wines

These wines are also organic, however, biodynamic wine making takes organic practices to another level and includes a complex agricultural approach. This system is based on the work of Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. In addition to organic practices such as not using chemical pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides, it incorporates a homoeopathic and holistic approach to viticulture.

Biodynamic winemakers use a combination of weird and wonderful plant and mineral preparations in the vineyard. These practices are designed to enhance the health of the soils and vines. They also take into consideration the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars. This includes pruning and picking based on the timing of the lunar calendar cycles. Although some winemakers may follow biodynamic manufacturing practices without being certified, there are official certifications for biodynamic wines that vary across countries and regions. The most widely recognised certification worldwide is Demeter.

Natural Wines

This is a bit more of an “all purpose” term typically relating to wines that have not been fined or filtered, or have little or no sulphur dioxide (SO2) added to them.

What exactly is sulphur dioxide (SO2) and what does it do?

Sulphur dioxide is a naturally occurring element that has been used for 2000 years to keep wines fresh. All wines will contain at least some sulphur dioxide as it occurs naturally in yeasts during fermentation.

Why do we use Sulphur Dioxide SO2 in wine making?

In short, because it keeps wines fresher for longer and it also prevents both the unwanted growth of bacteria and yeasts, and the oxidation of the wine. There are set permitted SO2 levels for EU produced wines, and non-EU countries have their own regulations. The permitted levels for certified organic and biodynamic wines are much lower than non-organic and biodynamic wines. It’s worth noting that SO2 is an allergen, so you will often see wine labels printed with “contains sulphites”. It is estimated that around 2% of the UK population have a sensitivity to sulphites, but the amount of sulphites in a glass of wine is actually much lower than in everyday groceries, such as jam, cans of soda, packaged meats, prepared soup, frozen chips and dried fruit.