What is Natural Wine?
There is currently no official classification or set of standards for the term “natural wine”. However, the wine profession today acknowledges that natural winemaking employs a low intervention and unmanipulated approach to producing wine, both in the vineyard and winery. Working with grapes that are, at the very least, organically farmed, natural winemakers produce wines that are minimally processed in order to showcase their unique and vibrant characteristics.
Are Natural Wines the same as organic wines?
Wines under the “Natural Wine” umbrella, so to speak, come from vineyards that are farmed naturally. These vineyards are farmed either organically or biodynamically. As such, no artificial fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides are utilized. Some of the vineyards may carry an organic or biodynamic certification. Two examples include Ecocert and Demeter, respectively. However, these types of certification are not a requirement of natural wine.
While natural wines come from organically farmed vineyards, not all organically farmed wines are “natural wines”. An example: A wine might come from an organically farmed vineyard, but cultured yeast is used to start the primary fermentation. A second example: Organically farmed grape must (unfermented grape juice) might be doctored with the addition of tartaric acid before the primary fermentation in order to increase acidity and improve the balance of a wine.
What is permitted and restricted in natural winemaking?
Throughout the winemaking process, natural winemakers adhere to the guiding principle “nothing added, nothing taken away.” More specifically, primary fermentation takes place via native yeasts, and without the introduction of cultured yeast strains either during the primary or malolactic fermentation (if this occurs). Natural winemakers also eschew any and all additions or subtractions to wine during the winemaking process. This includes chaptalization, acidification, must concentration, or chemical additions to alter the texture, color or tannic structure of the wine. Natural wines are also bottled un-fined and unfiltered, as natural winemakers believe that doing so alters the inherent quality, and in some cases, the age worthiness of the wine. Natural wines are bottled either with no, or minimal amounts of SO2 or sulfur dioxide.
Do Natural Wines contain sulfites?
Natural wines are bottled either with no, or minimal amounts of SO2 or sulfur dioxide. The decision to add or refrain from using sulfur dioxide at bottling is open to debate within the natural wine world. Certain winemakers avoid any SO2 addition before bottling, as they believe that the chemical additive alters the inherent quality and vibrancy of the wine. However, other natural winemakers bottle their wines with modest additions of SO2, (to prevent premature oxidation or microbial growth) to ensure that the wines are stable enough to travel overseas and withstand possible changing environments. In these instances, the levels of SO2 utilized are well below industry standards, often not exceeding 40mg/L.
Note: all wines contain SO2 (collectively known as sulfites), as it is a by-product of fermentation. Even wines that are bottled without sulfur may concentrations of SO2 of up to 10 ml/L.
My glass of natural wine is hazy and has sediment, is this normal?
Natural wines are in most instances bottled un-fined and unfiltered, as natural winemakers believe that doing so compromises the inherent quality, wine experience, and in some cases, the age worthiness of the wine. This applies to all styles of wine including red, white, rose and sparkling. This being the case, it is not unusual, and completely acceptable, for white wines to exhibit a slightly hazing appearance, or for red wines to contain residual sediment at the bottom of the glass.
How can I identify Natural wines?
There is currently no official certification for natural wines. As such, a definitive list of natural wine producers is somewhat nebulous. However, a great place to familiarize oneself with natural winemakers and wineries is to check out Raw Wine. Founded by Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron, Raw Wine is a website dedicated to promoting natural wines via education and their annual wine fair. Included on the site is a list of producers around the world who adhere to natural winemaking principles.
It is important to note that many wineries who do not actively identify with the natural wine movement have in fact been making wines in this manner for generations. The guidelines of natural winemaking are in many instances the same principles that winemakers employed more than a hundred years ago, and before the rise of agri-business in the second half of the 20th century. This being the case, it’s also a great idea to ask your favorite local wine merchant exactly which producers employ natural winemaking principles.