Natural wines? What could be more natural than wine? It starts off as a bunch of grapes, then the grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented. Simple.

Well, not quite. The grapes may be grown organically, which is great, but it’s what happens during the winemaking process that makes the drink natural. From the picking to the bottling, everything must be done with as little artificial intervention as possible.

Organic grapes

So, no pesticides or fertilizers in the vineyard means that the wine is organic, but this is just the start of producing a natural wine. Organic winemakers can produce organic grapes, but this doesn’t prevent them from doing or adding anything they fancy during the winemaking. This isn’t to say that every wine producer does this – many bulk wineries in the US, California in particular, are turning to natural methods once the picking is done.

What does make a wine natural, then?

Once the grapes have been grown (organically) and crushed, ready for fermentation, there must be the absolute minimum of additive use and the minimum of modern, technological methods. Additives could include sugar, powdered tannins or acidifying compounds. Methods and machinery could include micro-oxygenation to speed up the aging process or lab-grown yeasts.

In short, to qualify as a natural wine by most people’s reckoning, the wine must have these features at a minimum:

  • no artificial herbicides – competitor plants must be dug or plowed out;
  • no synthetic compounds or molecules found in the vines and grapes;
  • the yeast used must be native to the region the wine is being grown in;
  • the grapes must be hand-picked, with no rough treatment or micro-oxygenation;
  • no addition of sugar after fermentation to increase the alcohol content;
  • the wine should have no (or hardly any) filtering, and
  • no (or hardly any) sulfites.

Why go back to old-fashioned ways?

There’s nothing wrong with using modern methods to produce wine, in fact they produce excellent results. However, by using similar methods and compounds with every varietal, there’s the risk that wines will all become a bit samey. By removing all artificial interference (however well-meant), the true nature of the terroir can shine through.


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