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Wine Certifications: What do they all mean?

Janis Covey

I know how it is, you walk in to the liquor store and row after row of wine bottles are staring at you.  It’s completely overwhelming and you have no idea where to start or what to look for.  Conventional, Biodynamic, USDA organic: What does it all mean?

Shelf with wine bottles lined up

Conventional wines are just that!  They are wines that are grown with standard guidelines for all food products.

Wines that are certified USDA organic are regulated by more stringent laws; these wines are made from certified organically grown grapes and without any added sulfites.   Sulfites, however, can still be present since they are naturally occurring. The final wine product is certified organic.

Wines labeled “made with organic grapes” means the grapes were certified organically grown but the wine can have added sulfites and the wine itself is not USDA organic.

Picture of wine vineyard with mountains in the background

Biodynamic farming takes organic farming a step further.  Biodynamic farming is based on the writings of spiritual philosopher, Rudolf Steiner.  He believed the vineyard is its own ecosystem and not just rows of vines.  You must care for the soil as well as the plant.  In biodynamic farming, the grapes are grown organically without the use of chemical pesticides just like certified organic farming but it differs from organic farming in its belief that farming is attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos.  It incorporates lunar cycles and astrological influences.  Biodynamic certification is not a government certification instead it is an independent company called Demeter Association.  You can learn more here

Conventional wines are just that!  Conventional wine can contain numerous additives not found in USDA Organic certified wines and Biodynamic wines, including some of the ingredients below:

Commercial Yeasts – Many manufacturers add commercial yeasts to speed up the fermentation process. Many of these commercial yeasts are GMO. People who have histamine issues will be more susceptible to the “wine headache” due to the yeast.

Mega Purple & Ultra Red – Manufacturers add super-concentrated dyed syrup, which adds color and sugar.  The sugar adds sweetness and increases the alcohol content.

Pesticides and Herbicides – Most conventional wines contain traces of pesticides and herbicides. Glyphosate is the most used herbicide in US vineyards.

Sawdust – Some manufacturers add sawdust or wood chips. This provides tannins and the flavor of an oak barrel without the actual oak barrel.  This is a cost savings hack.

Sugar – Typically added during the fermentation process, it doesn't make the wine sweeter but it does speed the fermentation process and increase the alcohol content.  Organic wines without added sugar are typically lower alcohol for this reason.

So, now that you have the basics, you’re ready to go shopping for your new favorite wine, right?  If you don’t like trial and error, here are my two favorite vineyards:

Bonterra Vineyards:  This California vineyard has both Organic and Biodynamic wines.

Frey Vineyards: Claiming to be the first biodynamic and organic vineyard in America, Frey Vineyards is also based in California.

Both vineyards offer wine clubs for people who want to skip the store and have the wines shipped straight to the house.