The question of natural wine, is already a hot topic in the wine world, sparking debate about how much intervention is allowed, if any and how to justify the higher prices of labels with an organic certification. Here are 5 facts you need to know.
What is natural wine?
Generally speaking, natural wine should have no chemical interventions, such as pesticides, herbicides and so on.
However natural wine is not a method of brewing, but rather a school of thought. As the wine industry develops more with technology, some winemakers have chosen to return to a simpler time, of natural farming. The aim of which would be to minimise intervention and retain the wine’s natural goodness. For organic and bio-dynamic certification, the governing body only allows the rational use of chemical products in vineyards.
While the aim of natural wine is to reduce any intervention, it is not always viable to totally eradicate it. As such the ethos is moreso adapting an attitude of reducing any intervention as far as possible.
Should you drink natural wine?
If you need any advocates for natural wine, just look at the big names of French wine itself. In the 1980s and 1990s, pioneers began to convert to natural wine, like Leroy in Burgundy and Lapierre in Beaujolais. These were the mavericks who began the move away from technology and modernization in the vineyard, and avoided the use of any additives. They also retained their standards of producing high-quality wine. Many winemakers choose to add sulfur dioxide, depending on the situation, to improve its potential to age- particularly when being shipped oversees. The natural winemakers are striving to avoid even this in order to create the purest expression of the land. However it makes the precision of the winemaking even more crucial, for the wine to survive long term.
Where can I find good natural wine?
Many of the top names in wine pride themselves on producing quality natural wines, such as Overnoy, Prieure Roch, Lapierre, etc. However to avoid any confusion, here is a brief list of the French options:
Pierre Overnoy, Julien Labet, Jean-Francois Ganevat
Prieure-Roch, Frederic Cossard, Jean-Yves Bizot, Philippe Pacalet
Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard,
Domaine de la Grand’Cour
Domaine Gramenon, Herve Souhaut
There are some very good winemakers who do not try to claim that their wine is natural wine, like Prieure Roch, Jean Yves Bizot, but nonetheless they have minimal human or chemical intervention, mirroring the style and philosophy of natural wine.
Challenge of Natural wine
In brewing of wine, the most valuable additive has to be sulfur dioxide. Almost all wines need the addition of a certain amount of sulfur dioxide to prevent oxidation and deterioration of the wine.
Of course a Burgundy wine will always sell easier. The natural winemakers in the Loire, Jura, Friuli etc, have a tougher time. Despite not demanding the prices of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Tuscany, they miss out on the esteem that comes alongside those regions. Given that the cost of producing a natural wine is higher, these producers are the ones who really are working towards popularizing the trend. However to do so, they need to produce wines of excellence, that can match up to their cheaper, altered counterparts. Add in the higher probability of natural wine deteriorating in transit, due to the lack of sulfur, and you really begin to understand how dedicated one needs to be to pursue this method.
Is natural wine the future?
When the natural wine began to prevail, the pursuit was one for a natural flavour expression. While not the easy option, minimal intervention is a good and proven way to achieve this. However in the face of unpredicatable weather patterns in the vineyard due to global warming , as well as the necessary to prepare wines to travel safely all over the world, perhaps there are other options we can look at.
More and more the respect for the land is prevailing over previous commercial aspirations. Producers want the wine to be an individual expression of their unique piece of land. As science and technology develop, so too will winemaking, which leads this new emphasis on how we control the use of technology in the vineyard, in the face of modern industry challenges. The natural winemakers are doing outstanding work, and perhaps now you see fit to give their goals due credit and admiration.
– Lucy Kelly