What is natural wine? Although some find the term contentious, it is useful to think of it as a philosophy more than a label. A philsophy that espouses respect for the land and those who tend it, that valorises the uniqueness of vintage and place, and according to which the most enjoyable wines are made with as few additives and manipulations as possible.
The distinctive profile of these wines tends toward the fresh, lively, and fun. Many conventional wines are fermented with synthetic yeasts that mimic aromas like strawberries or bananas, have added sugar or acids, or are flavoured with oak chips . Most conventional wineries also use a wide assortment of preservatives and fining agents, as well as large quantities of sulphites that set the wine, preventing it from continuing to evolve in the bottle. This is the reason most conventional wines tend to taste the same each time you open them, and often leave you feeling depeleted after more than a glass or two.
Natural wines tend to be lighter, more dynamic, and with more vivid and complex aromas and flavours than broadly available conventional wines. If you’re tired of heavy, sweet, and generic wines that always taste the same, then you’ll find natural wines to be an exciting change.
Natural wine makers reject the large-scale, agro-business model from which comes most of the wine on offer today. They reject conventional techniques and technologies used to produce large volumes of ordinary and standardized wine as quickly and cheaply as possible. In order to be profitable, conventional wineries often use copious amounts of chemical fertilizers, as well as pesticides, insecticides, fungicides (and other things that rhyme with homicide, to paraphrase the great Lalou Bize-Leroy!). Their toll on the land is enormous and unsustainable. In natural wine, the objective is not to turn a profit, but to make a living offering the very best of what the terroir – the land, the climate, the vines, and the maker's own skill – has to offer.
Natural wine makers are small-scale producers, growing their fruit organically or biodynamically. They harvest by hand, in small batches. In the cellar, their methods are artisanal. Fermentations are spontaneous and rigorously followed avoiding the use of synthetic yeasts, additives, fining agents, filtration, and other technological interventions and manipulations. The results are pure expressions of grape variety and geographic origin.
The use, or not, of sulphites is a never-ending discussion in the world of natural wine. If ideally none are added, we recognise that in some cases they may be necessary to protect wines from flaws or spoilage, but only in quantities that are infinitely smaller than what is practiced in conventional winemaking.
This is what’s natural about natural wine. Fermented grape juice - and nothing else - that tells a story of people and places. So uncork a bottle and enjoy its goodness... once you’re hooked, there’s no going back!