Natural Wine: Living and Breathing with Character, Determined by Nature
Natural viniculture is a process that aims to tread lightly on the planet, showcasing the purity of its produce and allowing us to truly appreciate what is encountered. Wholesome, flavoursome and full of character, it’s as authentic as the land from which its grapes are harvested.
Words by Michelle Torres
In recent years, consumers have become more influenced by factors such as production, additives and sustainability. When choosing what to buy we look at the ingredient list, and see that the fewer ingredients or additives it has, the healthier a product is. We apply this mindful behaviour to our selection of food, beauty products, and even the fabrics we wear against our skin. This same sensibility can be applied to wine.
Natural wine made clear.
Unlike conventional wine, or even organic wine (which is mass-produced, homogenised and has an engineered taste), natural wine consists of merely grapes and naturally occurring yeasts left to ferment by themselves. All that is required for the fermentation process to begin is sugar, yeasts, and acids, all of which already exist in freshly harvested grapes. The fascinating part about it is that all these happily growing yeasts are uniquely indigenous to their own time and place; they are unique to the area and the conditions they’ve grown in which makes the wine itself a perfect expression of its roots.
Historically, the concept of “terroir” refers to the factors that combine to make a wine reflect its birthplace; geographical location, weather, and soil properties. Adding sugars, cultivated yeasts and various chemicals to predict and stabilise a wine’s flavour is a practice that cancels out this concept entirely.
Much like the newly rediscovered sourdough bread movement, and the equally fashionable Lacto-Fermentation craze, this is a method of production that looks to the past for guidance. In ancient times, before stainless steel tanks or even oak barrels existed, humans would leave pressed grapes in stone jars underground to ferment into wine. This both preserved it and provided the perfect temperature for the magic to happen. In Georgia, for example, all wines have been made in this way for centuries, and the natural wine tradition lives on there as a culturally ingrained production method. However, as civilisation progressed, winemakers realised they could tightly control the flavour and shelf-life of wine using chemical additives, which made making drinkable wine far easier with less effort. Using these industrialised solutions meant that the quality of the grapes didn’t need to be high, and vast quantities could be made cheaply.
Natural wine, on the other hand, requires high-quality fruits, low yields and a real understanding of the earth itself. For this reason, the majority of natural producers use biodynamic farming methods to keep their land fertile and free of harmful chemicals. Phases of the moon and organic compost preparations are central to its success; these farmers are observers of nature, ever-sensitive to its changes and deeply respectful of the land they tend.
In essence, natural wine is a sustainable and circular practice; the earth is not damaged but enriched by it, slowly creating a healthier ecosystem that in turn will produce better fruit.
Conventional wine and Organic wine, in contrast.
Both conventional and organic wines are made using cultivated yeasts to control flavour and rate of fermentation. The difference between them lies solely in the growing; “Organic” is an agricultural specification, nothing more. To produce organic wine you mustn’t use any chemicals to grow the fruit, but when it comes to bottling it’s a free-for-all. More than 50 additives are allowed by EU law, even in organic-certified wines, and the scary part is that none of these need to be listed on the label. Flavour can be modified (or fabricated), and a list of chemicals as long as your arm are allowed to be added to keep that flavour from changing. No wonder industrially produced wine can leave you with such a heavy mind and body the next day.
Legally Permitted Additives:
Our Favourite Natural Wine Spots*
*Do you have a favourite natural wine spot? We would love to hear about it!
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