In the first of a three-part Blog, I will attempt to define and describe what is meant by Natural Wine. It's quite the task but I am up for it. Part 2 will focus on the challenges faced by natural wine producers and Part 3 will outline the key selling points of natural wine. I hope you enjoy it.
“Natural wine is wine made without crap in it.”
A simple, precise, definition that Natural Wine Blogger and Author, Alice Feiring - tongue firmly in cheek - proposes in her book Natural Wine for the People - What is it, Were to find it, How to love it . Of course there is more to natural wine than that. The principle is to make wine with minimal intervention in the vineyard, and in the winery. Additives and processing aids are minimized while ensuring the health of the vines and the wine. A noble cause for sure.
Historically, the term “natural wine” has not been regulated in the same way that Geographic Indicators (GIs) have been regulated. Only a handful of growers’ associations have attempted to set natural wine standards, but there is no consensus regarding what makes a wine “natural”. Also, no government body has created regulations governing natural wine – until recently.
The 2020 July/August edition of Wine Spectator, Suzanne Mustacich reported that the French government has approved a charter, trade syndicate and label for natural wine. The approved qualification requirements are described in the adjacent table. Wines that meet these qualifications can be labeled "Vin Méthode Nature".
|Winery Practices||No additives No modern techinques (i.e. reverse osmosis, sterile filtration)|
|SO2 limits||No more that 30 mg/L of added SO2. Label must specify that sulfites have been added.|
The natural wine community has been resistant to standardize and create a legal certification for natural wines. However, most proponents agree to the following principles:
In fact, the community’s resistance to regulation seems consistent with the principle of “limited intervention”. This principle leads to certain typical practices in both the vineyard and the winery that are common among most producers of "natural wine".
In the vineyard use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides are not permitted. Instead, natural steps are taken to improve the quality of the soil and, hence, the health and disease-resistance of the vine. Key features include:
Some farmers may use systemic vineyard products absorbed by the pores of the vine rather than “contact treatments”. This requires fewer treatments per year and thus fewer heavy metals absorbed by the soil. For example, Floris Lemstra, Owner and winemaker at Château Canet in Languedoc, a Terra Terra Vitus ® property, treated his vines only 6 times in 2018 compared to 18 treatments by his neighbouring organic farmer.
Hand-picking ensures that healthy grapes are transferred to the winery, which helps reduce the amount of SO2 required. Mechanically harvested grapes are easily damaged and suffer rot which can result in early oxidation and potential bacterial damage.
In the winery, limited intervention is the cornerstone of natural wine. Processes such as sterile filtration, chaptalization, acidification, and dealcoholisation are either avoided or not allowed. Little to no SO2 is added in the winery. Winemakers still must take steps, however, to reduce the impact of oxygenation during the winemaking process. These include:
Other decisions made by the natural winemaker include:
Clear as mud? At least you have a bit more information on what Natural Wine is. In part 2 of this blog, I will outline the challenges facing natural wine producers and how they are adapting....See you again soon.