Question time! So this is a really common question among people new to wine or even seasoned pros. If a wine is classified as an orange wine does it mean it’s necessarily organic? Biodynamic? Natural? Read on to find out. 🧡
Orange wine seems to have found itself in an interesting place during its evolution since it’s resurgence in the 1990s. It’s often categorized alongside natural wines and people tend to assume it’s either organic, biodynamic, or natural in some way. But would this necessarily be correct? 🤔
Truly certified organic wines must meet a criteria of growing and processing requirements. European requirements are actually more strict than USDA organic. However, many producers don’t bother seeking certification because of costs and may self describe as “practicing organic.” Some producers adhere to these principles more closely than others. Additionally, the same can be said of Biodynamic wines. There is a criteria to be followed with biodynamic wines and it’s really more of a lifestyle practice. As with organic production, many producers don’t bother seeking certification due to costs and would be considered “practicing biodynamic.” We can speak more of organic and biodynamic at a later time.
In regards to the term Natural Wine, please realize there is no formal, organized, widely accepted definition. In France there is a designation for producers to acquire called Vin Methode Nature. However, this designation is extremely difficult to obtain! For example, the wine’s final level of sulphites must not exceed 30 mg/L. By Comparison, in order for for a wine to be permitted at Raw Wine Fair this number is slightly higher at 70 mg/L.
According to Raw Wine:
“Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.”
I think this definition really sums up nicely what most people consider natural wine to be. However, there still has yet to be a formal widely accepted designation and consensus.
Buy buyer beware; there are still brands trying to capitalize on what I like to call “faux natural wines.” Such examples include Scout and Cellar and Cameron Diaz’s new wine launch, Avaline. These brands like to label themselves as “clean wine” and more natural. Please understand that clean wine is a lie. This is a marketing gimmick used to trick consumers. These wines are still using fining & filtration agents for clarity, cultured yeasts & not ambient, and additives like tartaric acid and stabilizers. Additionally, they still permit sulfur at up to 100 mg/L if they’re using organic grapes.
Now this all leads us back to our original question: Are Orange Wines always organic? Biodynamic? Natural?
The short answer is actually no. In order to be considered an Orange Wine, a wine must be made using white wine grapes that are essentially treated like red wine grapes. That skin contact during the fermentation process is what gives this style of wine it’s interesting and variable color. Theoretically, any producer using white wine grapes could make an orange wine.
The important take away point is to do your research. If biodynamics are important to you, then research biodynamic producers who also make a orange wine. The same goes for organic and natural wines. However, please don’t be fooled by clean wine claims. As previously stated, these are marketing gimmicks.
There are also a lot of great conventional wine producers who are also making skin contact wines such as Channing Daughters in Long Island’s South Fork. This producer is actually one of the first in the United States to experiment with Orange Wines, or Ramato as they like to call it. Although they are not formally organic or biodynamic, they are practicing sustainable farming methods which leads to a lesser environmental impact. Places like Long Island offer a certification called Long Island Sustainable, a third party-certified sustainable viticulture program tailored to the environmental needs of the East End ecosystem.
Whatever wine choices you ultimately make, remember to always drink the wine that you like! The purpose of the short article wasn’t to persuade you to drink organic, biodynamic, or natural but to simply inform you that just because a wine is an Orange wine doesn’t mean it necessarily falls into any of the mentioned categories. Great wine can take on many forms. Remember to constantly keep an open mind and taste, taste, taste.