The tasty alternative to conventional wine

Everything You Need to Know About Natural Wine

Food

Whether you're relaxing at the end of a stressful day, toasting the New Years, or eating a picnic brunch, chances are there's wine involved! Wine is our go-to alcoholic beverage because it's so versatile and delicious. But conventional winemaking often relies on pesticides and additives to produce a bottle of vino. That's where natural wine comes in. Natural wine has gone from a small, underground trend to a pretty big deal. With widespread availability in restaurants, shops, and wineries, natural wine is here to stay. But with so many terms like natural, organic, biodynamic, the whole natural wine world can be a bit confusing, so here's a simple guide on what you need to know.

What is Natural Wine?

There are some pretty big differences between natural wine and the usual wine you'd find in a grocery store. Conventional wine making relies on many different external factors to produce a bottle of wine. To start, vineyards are often sprayed with dozens of harmful chemicals like Glyphosate to keep pests and weeds away. After harvesting grapes, wine makers can then add ingredients to the grapes in order to control the manufacturing process-- additional yeast to help with fermentation, sulfur dioxide to reduce oxidation and prevent bacteria from growing, or artificial ingredients to improve a flavor profile or color of the wine (1). Even though approximately 60 additives have been approved for winemaking use, an ingredient list is not required on wine bottles (2). It's hard to believe that additives like egg whites, mega purple, bentonite, and sulfur dioxide make their way into your happy hour glass (5)!

Natural wine, on the other hand, aims to "add nothing and take nothing away" during the wine making process (3). This means no pesticides are used in the vineyards and the grapes ferment on their own with naturally occurring yeasts after being hand picked. Sometimes winemakers have to add a minute amount of sulfur dioxide or yeast to correct a manufacturing problem (3), but in general they don't rely on additives when making natural wine. In fact, they try to be as hands off as possible! Natural wine often has some sediment in the bottom of the bottom, a cloudy appearance, or may have a complex taste.

One thing to note about natural wine- there's no universal standard of what "natural" wine means. This means it's usually up to each winemaker to figure out their best practices. Some countries have attempted to create their own definition of natural wine, but not everyone is on the same page. Take France, for example. Their national agricultural organization has recently formally recognized a two-tried definition for natural wine, but many winemakers have pushed back against the government's definition. To make things more complicated, the European Union doesn't even allow the term on wine labels (6)!

Even though there are complexities surrounding the definition of natural wine, we still think it's worth checking out. Knowing that the wine you're drinking is basically additive-free really gives us peace of mind. And the unique flavors of natural wine means every bottle is it's own adventure!

How are Organic and Biodynamic Wines Different From Natural Wines?

Wine variety doesn't stop at natural! Organic, biodynamic, and vegan are three other types of wine available to consumers. Vegan wine doesn't use animal products, but can still use pesticides or other additives during production. Even though organic wine can be confused with natural wine, they're actually two different things. And to make things more complex, organic can actually mean two different things in winemaking: wine made from organically grown grapes or wine that's organic (4). Wine made from organically grown grapes means that there are no pesticides used during the growing process but, more often than not, still contain additives. Wine that's organic is made from organically grown grapes that don't use pesticides during the growing process, and also doesn't contain added sulfites. There's a lot of information to keep track of! When in doubt, just look for a USDA organic label or the phrase "100% organic" on a wine bottle. Wine must pass a rigorous five-step process in order to be USDA certified as organic and follow strict labelling guidelines, so you can be confident that the wine you're buying is the real deal (7, 8)!

Biodynamic vineyards, on the other hand, relies on a "holistic, living farm" (4) practice that incorporates a specific astronomical calendar to create their wine. Biodynamic farmers incorporate the climate, organic material, wildlife, water recycling, and natural pest-avoidance methods into their practices to both grow grapes and wine (4). Biodynamic wine also has principles and standards for how grapes are processed and made into wine. The Demeter certification process for biodynamic wine can actually be tougher than the organic certification process! It has stricter requirements on "imported fertility, greater emphasis on on-farm solutions for disease, pest, and weed control, and in depth specifications around water conservation and biodiversity (4)". But you still frequently see biodynamic wine labeled as organic because biodynamic farms pretty much use organic practices.

There's basically a whole new world of natural, organic, and biodynamic to discover! Although many of these winemaking techniques are hundreds of years old, so maybe we're just on a path of rediscovery? Either way, we're loving it. The next time you find yourself wandering down the wine aisle looking for something new, why not pick up a bottle of natural wine (or two)? You can purchase natural wine from many online retailers, including Dry Farm Wines, Primalwine, Plonk Wine Club or The Natural Wine Shoppe. Some of your local wine shops might even specialize in natural wine! Even if they don't, local wine shops might still carry some stock or be able to source a few bottles for you. Just ask!


References

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/dining/drinks/natural-wines-vin-methode-nature.html
  2. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/6/10/18650601/natural-wine-sulfites-organic
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/12/466284145/what-the-heck-is-natural-wine-heres-a-taste
  4. https://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-Farm-Standard.pdf
  5. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=e616cf652c2a16d768ed4c4873ad2cb0&rgn=div8&view=text&node=27:1.0.1.1.19.12.343.7&idno=27
  6. https://www.winemag.com/2020/05/19/natural-wine-definition-france/
  7. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/01/08/organic-101-organic-wine
  8. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP%20Wine%20with%20organic%20references.pdf

You may already know buying organic is good for your health, but did you know it also benefits workers, the environment and climate change? It's true! Organic foods are grown without the use of artificial chemicals, synthetic fertilizer, hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Essentially, eating organic foods minimizes your risk for exposure to environmental toxins, avoiding serious health issues related to pesticides and other harmful chemicals found in non-organic produce and meats (12). There are no preservatives and additives to organic products, a.k.a organic foods are better for you! But on top of it being healthy, it benefits farm workers and the planet as a whole too.

Buying Organic Food Protects Farmworkers' Health!

Studies show the greatest amount of pesticide use in the United States occurs in agriculture. Pesticide exposures increase the likelihood of chemical related injuries and adverse effects in the workplace. These injuries are caused by the chronic toxicity of pesticides (specifically organophosphate) (14). This study determined that fatal injuries increased with days per year of pesticide application, with the highest risk associated to those who apply pesticides for more than 60 days a year. Being exposed to pesticides (even when a small amount) everyday (a.k.a chronic occupational exposure), will cause adverse health effects such as difficulties in executive functions like verbal, visual, memory, coordination and attention functions (8)(14).

Not only are pesticides used in the United States' agricultural process, but they are also heavily used among conventional farming in other countries that produce a lot of the food we eat! Did you know Mexico accounts for 75% of agricultural imports to the U.S.? Not only are farmworkers in Mexico exposed to harmful chemicals but on top of that, studies show most farmworkers in Mexico do not have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)(8). Yikes! Meaning, they are even more exposed to these harmful chemicals! Similarly, according to a study where melon farmers were interviewed on pesticide application and PPE, the majority of farmers weren't aware of the importance of protecting themselves (6). Yet, another study conducted in India found pesticide poisoning is common among farmers because they are often under trained and consider it impractical and expensive to use safety equipment (13). Although we may not have the power to change these policies among other countries, we do have the choice to buy organic and help reduce pesticide exposure among farmworkers!

Organic Production is Better for the Environment (and our ecosystem)!

Unlike conventional farming, organic farming uses dirt and natural processes such as crop rotations, composting of plant and animal materials, and manure as fertilizer for the production of food instead of using synthetic fertilizers and applying pesticides. The problem with synthetic fertilizers is it requires the burning of fossil fuels, which inherently makes climate change worse by producing pollution and emitting nitrous oxide (N2O; a greenhouse gas with a high global warming potential)(3). The problem with pesticides is similar in that fumigants will release toxic chemicals into the air, accounting for 30% of global emissions leading to climate change (think CO2 in the air).

Whereas, organic farm productions improve climate change! Using manure as fertilizer reduces pollution, minimizes nitrogen footprint (i.e., reduces gas emissions) and increases nitrogen recycling (9). All good things! Additionally, crop rotations prevent nutrients from building up in the soil which helps with nitrate leaching and run-off. Otherwise, this excess nitrogen and phosphorus caused by synthetic fertilization can be lost into waterways, causing eutrophication (an increased load of nutrients in lakes and oceans, creating an abundance of algae and plants in estuaries and coastal waters). This excess of nutrients leads to low-oxygen (hypoxis) water (since the algae block the sunlight), which then kills off fish and their homes! (10) Eutrophication has a negative domino effect on aquaculture, since the abundance of algae and plants produces a large amount of carbon dioxide which then lowers the PH level of water, causing acidification. Acidification then slows the growth of fish, which means a smaller harvest (10). So let's support organic farming to save the fish population!

Eating Organic Will Help Save Our Busy Bees!

Organic farming benefits the entire planet, including our busy bees and beautiful butterflies! (10) Just like how pesticides affect human health, these toxic chemicals also place a burden on bees and butterflies (2). Entomologists (those who study insects) suspect that lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides are one of the many factors threatening our friendly pollinators (2). The use of pesticides is negatively affecting pollination and affecting our food system at large by reducing the bee population (21). Sadly, 40% of pollinators like bees and butterflies face extinction (11).

Although small, these tiny and mighty pollinators are responsible for a lot of the food we eat (11). Bees are responsible for the pollination of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Pollination is essential for foraging crops used to feed the livestock we depend on for meat and dairy products (1). More specifically, 75% of the world's food crops depend on these pollinators! (11) Without the bees, the shelves at your local grocery stores would be empty! And I don't know about you, but I certainly can't live without honey in my tea! To prevent this from happening, we encourage you to buy organic and while you're at it, join these U.S. food retailers in saving the bees and reducing pesticide use! (16)

Tips on Buying Organic

Even though there are many awesome reasons to eat organic, we know buying organic food products can get expensive. That's why we have a few pro tips to help you prioritize what to buy (and when to buy)!

1. Start off with purchasing fruits and vegetables where it matters most to buy organic!

We won't go into detail on all dirty dozen but we do suggest adding these organic items to your grocery list!

  • Strawberries 🍓 (according to many studies, strawberries are the fruit with the MOST pesticides)(5)
  • All other yummy berries you throw in that smoothie! - raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Spinach (or any other leafy greens of your choice)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries

Basically, anything you eat the skin on you should prioritize to buy organic!

If you feel overwhelmed by all this new info and feel as though everything in your pantry HAS to be organic. Don't sweat it. There's no need to rush to restock your entire kitchen with everything organic but the above list should help you start!

2. Budget and hold off on buying these items

Here's a list of a few of the foods containing the least amount of pesticides, a.k.a the clean fifteen (so it's okay to hold off on buying these organic right away):

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Mushrooms
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe

3. Buy organic meat and dairy products. Look for an organic certified label! Oftentimes, conventional farm animals may be fed antibiotics, animal byproducts, growth hormones, pesticides, and sewage sludge. We really shouldn't be consuming any of this. Whereas, organic farmers are required to raise their farm animals in living conditions as close to their natural habitat as possible while feeding them 100% organic food and do not administer antibiotics or hormones (18). Good for farm animals and good for you!

4. Shop frozen goods. There are many organic frozen fruits and vegetables that are affordable and delicious as well. Organic blueberry muffins that are good for the earth and your wallet taste better! Trust us!

5. Buy in season and shop at your local farm CSA! Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when they are in season (friendly tip: stock up on your favorite berries and freeze them for later!). Shopping at your local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm will help assure you buy what's in season!

We hope these tips will make the journey to eating organic a lot less stressful and instead, a lot more fun!

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/would-we-starve-without-bees/zkf292p#:~:text=All%20sorts%20of%20fruit%20and,we%20depend%20on%20for%20meat
  2. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pollinators/pollinators.pdf
  3. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/synthetic-fer...
  4. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/sources-and-solutions-agriculture
  5. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/strawberries.php#
  6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10661-015-4371-3
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3515737/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5606636/
  9. http://www.n-print.org/Organic
  10. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication...
  11. https://www.organic-center.org/pollinator-health
  12. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/5/e1406.short?casa_token=NLuQNAYHAhcAAAAA:qpYUy6ciDLWYmouziY_-ctj4UYVXbNcRNDaL3zHzDUZD2CHn6BpLkMfdndq5bylhunXC60AYcO8
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17962973/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27128815/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30411285/
  16. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190626005208.htm
  17. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/29/bees-food-crops-shortage-study
  18. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic...
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The next time your pantry is looking scarce, skip the retail store and head to your local farmers' market! Not only are these foods better for your health, but they often use less fossil fuels and you'll be contributing to the fight against climate change.

Supermarkets vs Farmers Markets

You may not realize it, but the food you see on the shelves in your neighborhood supermarket probably required a large amount of fossil fuel to get there. How else would a peach show up on the shelf in the middle of February?! Fossil fuels are needed to power machinery on farms, to transport food from other countries, to produce food packaging, and to create fertilizers and pesticides (1). And as we already know, fossil fuel consumption plays a huge role in climate change.

Instead of relying on internationally-sourced produce and lots of plastic, farmers' markets create a space where the focus is on locally produced food. Most markets only allow vendors to sell food that has been produced within 200 miles of the venue. Some markets are even more stringent and only allow the sale of food grown in the community or immediate surrounding farms. This has a huge impact in reducing the amount of fuel that is needed in the transportation of these foods. On average, locally sourced produce travels 27 times less distance compared to massed produced food (2). Less fossil fuels used means less stress on the climate!

Another problem with supermarkets is that they can rely on a ton of plastic to store its produce. Sometimes the plastic is needed to keep the produce fresh as it sits on shelves, sometimes it doesn't seem to serve a purpose at all (plastic-wrapped bananas, anyone?). Not only are these plastics unneeded, but they also have a toll on the environment. Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals coming from fossil fuels (3). Plastics are responsible for clogging our drainage systems, leaching harmful chemicals that contaminate groundwater, and injuring and poisoning wildlife (4).

To reduce the amount of plastic waste, and thus fossil fuels, farmers opt out of using plastic packaging and market patrons are encouraged to bring reusable shopping bags to stow their purchases. Vendors at a farmers' market often stock produce on tables without any packaging whatsoever! Berries may come in a plastic container, but overall plastic use is pretty minimal.

Why Farmers' Markets?

Shopping at a farmers' market gives you a chance to connect directly with farmers and their support team. You can learn where the food was grown, and the important decisions behind certain growing practices like the cultivation of crops without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents AKA organic farming. A lot of vendors are certified organic by the USDA. If you're unsure, just ask!

An additional reason to shop at farmers' markets is because they often provide a wide-variety of foods that are not available in grocery stores. Ever wonder what a pluot or zebra melon taste like? Go to a farmers' market to find out! You can taste before you buy to discover and find new favorites. Also, vendors eat what they sell, so they can suggest ways to cook the fresh kohlrabi you've just bought but have never used before.

For those of you who live in areas with seasons, farmers' markets don't stop when the leaves fall and the snow comes. Some markets continue to operate and bring fresh food to communities year-round. Come winter, farmers begin to sell their fall storage crops such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and squash. Some farmers with greenhouses will have spinach, arugula, chard and other hardy produce available.

Getting Started

Are you now convinced to pay your local farmers' market a visit? Not only is this experience more fun than your routine trip to the supermarket, but farmers' markets are also a great opportunity to introduce your family to healthy eating and environmentally responsible consumption. You are ultimately investing in your health and doing your part in combating climate change.

To start, you can go online and search for local farmers markets in your area to find out their hours of operation and location. Note that this information may change based on the season. When there, strike up a conversation with a farmer to learn more about the products they offer and the environmental practices they use in their business.


References

  1. https://foodprint.org/issues/agriculture-energy-consumption/
  2. http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/farmers-markets-promote-sustainability/
  3. https://www.ciel.org/issue/fossil-fuels-plastic/
  4. https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html
  5. https://www.pan-uk.org/health-effects-of-pesticides/
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