This week we received our first natural wine delivery, and in doing so we follow an industry trend which some find hard to understand. The definition of natural wine is more inclusive than exclusive and goes beyond traditional classification systems.
There's a certain crossover with organic wine, but only so far. Natural wines do not need an organic certificate to follow organic practices. And they usually do. There's also a certain theme of small growers vs big business and the avoidance of large-scale industrial practices - particularly avoiding the use of chemicals.
So natural wine captures a sense of authenticity. Traditional small-scale farming in the vineyard, just nature's gifts and the winemakers bare hands (or feet). Natural wines don't have to be surprising or trendy, though they are often perceived to be, as perhaps with orange wines. These are simply skin-contact white wines, often hazy and unfiltered with unusual tannic qualities, which offer a natural preservative. This is again just a return to tradition. Orange wines were still popular in Italy for most of the 20th century before globalised conceptions of what a wine should be took hold in the 50s and 60s.
No additives is an essential theme, particularly no artificial yeasts or preservatives. Historically the vast majority of wine has been fermented by yeast occurring naturally in it's environment. Mass-produced wines are a uniquely modern phenomenon, often made with fruit from countless contracted growers and relying on artificial yeast strains for consistency of product. Artificial yeasts are also used on an industrial scale to emphasise or adulterate the more ordinary qualities of a wine. This is perhaps the epitome of "un-natural" practice.
Chemical preservatives are either minimised or eradicated in natural wine. Sulphites will sometimes be used to sterilise bottles before the wine is packaged, but will not be used to top up the wine once bottled. Sulphites kill off chemical and biological processes in the bottle, and in the body once consumed. Little surprise therefore that some people are very sensitive to them! If this is your experience, organic and natural wines are worth a try. You can be sure the winemaker has done all they can to deliver a wine that authentically represents their vineyard, their grapes and their manual process.
Minimal preservatives plus wild fermentations can equal unpredictability from batch to batch, never mind vintage to vintage. This should be very exciting to anyone who thinks they might have got bored of a certain style of wine. Natural wines also often feature more obscure regions and grape varieties, which only adds to the fun! So why not dive in? Prices start from just £8.99.