We stumbled across a fantastic article recently on Lucky Peach discussing the definition and movement which is seeing great traction, the term ‘Natural Wine’. The article centres around a discussion between two wine buffs, Jordan Salcito and Robert Bohr on the terminology, definition, background, and what it really means for those of us that don’t really want to hear about the detail, we just want to drink great wine!
The natural wine movement started in Beaujolais, arguably, with Jules Chauvet, in the ’70s. He got four producers together (known as the Gang of Four) to focus on the vineyard so much, so that they would have grapes that were incredibly high-quality, which they could then turn into wine with very minimal intervention during winemaking.
‘Natural Wine’ is a term that is being thrown around a lot more than ever before; it’s a description in broad terms linked to “healthy” wine. Health properties in wine are linked to various aspects:
- the use of naturally occurring yeasts, not chemically made or additional batch strains of yeast to control and streamline the profile of fermentation
- production methods, particularly in fermentation: instead of tightly controlling the process the wine should be allowed to flourish and provide it’s own character. This includes using vessels like clay amphorae to let the wine naturally breathe and develop rather than stainless steel industrial looking tanks.
- Sulphur addition and the final sulphur content of the finished wine (sulphur stops the wine oxidising during production and developing ‘off’ aromas and characteristics, as a preservative).
- Addition of acidification productions to give extra stability for long life on the shelves, hiding the poor quality of the grapes
Bohr points out that “Natural wine” doesn’t exist in nature. It’s an oxymoron: natural wine is vinegar because wine doesn’t exist in nature. Wine is a man-made product. The question is what do we think natural wine is, or what people perceive natural wine to be. Many would say it’s what hipsters drink- big beard trendies talking about something that is away from the norm, a taste profile that it’s funky and can be off-putting to traditional tastes. The white wines can taste and look like cider and the reds can taste like they were made in a cow shed. That sounds like a criticism—and it is for my palate preferences on what I like, but, in the end, you have to respect making wine is an art form and there are many forms of it. The winemaker can make it as esoteric as they want it to be.
Salcito points out that : these wines (however funky) are an important reaction to an industrial approach to winemaking. There’s a lot of hype and confusion surrounding natural wines— and I completely agree. The term is not well-defined for consumers let alone those in the wine industry. In short, it refers to wines made with no additives and minimal intervention in the winery. There are no legal perimeters surrounding natural wine. While non-interventionist practices in the vineyard are common in natural wine, they’re not necessarily part of it. Natural wine refers to what happens in the winery and their attitude to sustainability. This was also covered by Matt Smith of Wildcard Wine Blog in his article: “sustainable and craft wines vs mass production” where he points out why there are health benefits and ethos in drinking wine from smaller producers who focus on the practice and quality of the wine, where they are just trying to make the best wine possible and make a living. The opposite of large, mass scale made wine that makes up the supermarket shelves and ‘too-cheap-to-be-possible’ offers. Remember tax alone makes up £2.09 (and £2.59 for Sparkling) of every bottle, before VAT. It’s always worth doing the maths.
We don’t sell the hipster juice and won’t sell wines that have a nose of oxidation. The wines we sell we believe are about people making wine as sustainably and honestly and honourably as they can, but making what is readily identifiable as wine.
Read the article on Lucky Peach here.
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