What is natural wine?
Wine made the old fashioned way without chemical intervention. Organic or biodynamic grapes. Fermented via native yeast. Not cleaned up with chemicals. Can be cloudy, coloured or textural. Very low sulphur, generally only present as a bi-product of fermentation. How wine always was before scientists tried to make it perfect. Tastes like where it’s from.
A brief history of natural wine
Before the so-called ‘Golden age of capitalism’ that began after world war 2, wine was “natural”, as farmers were yet to be sold the promise that their crops, livestock and food would benefit from chemical input. Chemicals that were no longer needed to make bombs.
The wines that had been made for around 8,000 years leading up to the 1940s were simple, and innocent in their beauty. Grapes were grown without chemicals. Grapes were then handpicked, stomped by feet in earthen pots, and then left to ferment naturally - since the majority of the physical grape is actually fermentable yeast cells.
The scientists at the time got activated by the promise of making things perfect, including wine. Slowly more and more inputs were used to clarify, sanitise and refine wine. Some naturally occurring like clay, egg whites or milk. And some more nasty like copper sulphate, hydrogen peroxide and even cyanide. Wine judges rejoiced at these new crystal clear wines that no longer resembled wine. It was a terrible moment in the wine world, and in the major wine production hubs of the world, it became the norm, and even expected and applauded.
Small pockets of the world however - Georgia, Turkey, Iran, even some of France - adhered to none of this new science and remained making natural wines, and at the turn of the 21st century many emerging winemakers around the globe fell in love with the romance of the old way. The poetry, the art, the wonkiness. Why are we trying to homogenise something that is so beautifully imperfect?
And what of the sense of place? Wines are proudly branded by their geographic location, whether that be Burgundy or the Barossa. But when you strip wine of its natural purities in order to make it taste commercially familiar, you might as well rely on a barcode alone, for that wine has no sense of place any longer. On that note, have you ever had a friend say, “you’ve just got to try my tomatoes - they’re nothing like what you buy at the supermarket”?. You’re bowled over by the intensity and passion in that fruit. Let’s not forget then, that the grape is one of the most magical fruits of all, and if it is to transition into another realm as a wine, don’t you think it would want to pack all of it’s nuance and flavour and individuality with it?
Natural wine, thankfully, has enjoyed rapid participation ever since, and that is a marvellous thing. The term “natural wine”, though, has no true definition, but to you we say this. It is wine that is made with organically farmed grapes, fermented naturally, neither fined nor filtered with chemical inputs, and it can be any damn colour that the pigment of the grape skin dictates. There might be “minimal preservatives” in the bottle, but these shouldn’t be added by the winemaker unnecessarily, as said “preservatives” (ie sulphur) is a natural byproduct of fermentation so is present to some small degree in every bottle of wine.
It turns out that nature is pretty damn clever.
Stick it to the chemical man.
#Drink only the good stuff.