To say that a wine is definitely natural or not natural is inadequate. There is a commitment and passion in ultimate wine makers that strive to achieve purity. These winemakers are typically working with organic and biodynamic methods but not as an end in and of itself. The issue is not so clear cut. To be sensitive to nature and to be able to tap into its resonance is rare. For those who can do it there is a relief from the human created clutter than “jam nature’s frequencies.” With winemaking these people are able to become one with nature and steward a transformation or evolution of nature that is sublime and simple, yet complex at the same time. To be a part of something so grand yet realize your miniscule nature can be profound and invigorating. Elemental life transcends us all. How do we make it to the shelves… by making juice that is pure with varietal expression, and in the US, quaffable on its own. A wine with a soul. Juice that tells a story for those more sensitive and alert to the biorhythms of life. For those of you who require a clearer cut approach…and I know you are out there… Natural Wine, Organic Wine, Bio-dynamic Wine? What does all this mean?
While Organic Wine and Biodynamic Wines are clearly defined (albeit slightly inconsistently) by various certifying agencies internationally, at this point, “natural wine” is a relative term that means different things to different people.
Here is our take on it and why consumers should be embracing these exciting wines!
Technically speaking, natural wines would be made from totally indigenous matter, absolutely no additives, no outside clones – no outside yeasts, etc… Natural winemakers see themselves as non-interventionist, or natural. These producers try to use as few additives as possible and as little manipulation as they can. Most of them have to compromise at some point. Where and why the producer will make that compromise depends on their own professional (and sometimes personal) goals and their risk tolerance level.
By definition, natural wine is made by adhering to the following criteria:
- handpicked, organically grown grapes,
- without added sugars or foreign yeasts,
- without adjustments for acidity,
- without micro-oxygenation or reverse-osmosis.
- natural wines are neither filtered nor fined (The few that are will either be filtered extremely lightly using natural product, or fined with organic egg-whites.)
- without added sulfur or at least with a minimal level of sulfur added, typically at bottling(where most will make their compromise).
As a result, natural wine will entail the following characteristics:
- Contain less than,
- 10 mg/l total sulfur if red,
- 25 mg/l total sulfur if white.
- If sulfur dioxide is added, it will be only at bottling and only in the tiniest quantities (again, most often seen compromise). Many natural wines are made without the addition of sulfur dioxide at any point.
- Possess purity of fruit and distinct varietal character,
- Possess the truest expression of terroir
- high quality, artisan, and estate-bottled wines
- Producers are farmers, grower-producers who are passionate about their land and the quality fruit it produces.
- Low-yielding vineyards
- Often massal selection vineyards (The practice of propagating the vines by grafting cuttings from those that are already in the vineyard and adapted to it (typically the most healthy, oldest vines), onto new rootstock.)
- Biodynamic producers who minimize their addition of sulfur are the ultimate natural wine producers.
Advantages of Natural Wine
Taste – Natural wines taste more authentic and are more pure than conventionally made wines. They represent the ultimate in varietal and terroir expression with greater purity of fruit.
- Health – Natural wine is good for you.
- Organic wines insure that there are no harmful chemicals used in the vineyard, or in the winemaking practice.
- Wines with no to little sulfur added in the winemakeing process maintain their natural vitimine B and other natural healthy elements that are stripped away by excessive use of sulfur.
- Conventionally made wines typically contain and utilize numerous additives that are both unhealthy and un-natural. Natural wines only contain elements that are naturally present in the grapes.
- Cost – Natural wine is better value for money.
- Natural wines offer better value for money because they get more out of a vineyard of any given value. Traditionally, appellation has been an indication of general quality. With the renaissance of natural wine, appellation is less important as a determinant of quality. Excellent wines are being made in many less recognized regions. Viticlutural and vinicultural practices are a much greater determinant of quality. Today, naturally made wines, with their purity of fruit, varietal character, artisan production and extreme sense of terroir are being marketed at comparable cost to conventional wines from the same areas and therefore represent a much higher quality-price ratio.
- Environmental impact – Natural wine is better for the environment.
- Where your money goes – A natural winemaker is a genuine artisan.
- Natural winemaking requires skill, patience, nerve, and hard physical labour. In most cases it brings small financial rewards. There is more money, less risk, and far less work in making wine conventionally. Only someone passionately committed to the idea of natural wine would choose to work in this way. These people deserve our support.
Consistency – A natural wine is different each year.
- Natural producers work with what mother nature has provided. Therefore vintage veriation is the norm.
- Different bottles from the same year may also differ slightly, according to batch variation within a vintage.
- Without the preservatives and sterilization techniques used in conventional wine, natural wine is also more at risk from spoilage. This risk is drastically reduced by careful handling.
Availability – Natural wine cannot be mass-produced.
- There are currently very few people able to make organic or biodynamic wines with minimal sulfur, in any large quantities.
Service – Typically natural wines benefit greatly from being opened an hour or two ahead of time.
- Some natural wines need to be opened several hours before they are served.
- They can smell unappealing or “funky” at first or contain gas, making them slightly fizzy. They are also likely to contain sediment.
Storage and Transport – Natural wine needs to be stored and transported more carefully than conventional wine.
- It is a living thing and, as such, extremely sensitive to temperature.
- This means shipping it in refrigerated containers, which is costly for the importer.
Biodynamic Farming is a holistic and regenerative farming system that is focused on soil health, the integration of plants and animals, and biodiversity. It seeks to create a farm system that is minimally dependent on imported materials, and instead meets its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself. It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.
Biodynamic farming encourages a view of nature as an interconnected whole, a totality, an organism endowed with archetypal natural rhythm. Biodynamic farming involves managing a farm itself as a living organism.
A classic model of a living organism ideal would be a wilderness forest. In such a system there is a high degree of self-?sufficiency in all realms of biological survival. Fertility and feed arise out of the recycling of the organic material the system generates. Avoidance of pest species is based on biological vigor and its intrinsic biological and genetic diversity. Water is efficiently cycled through the system. While agriculture takes nature to a state that is one step removed from wilderness, the wisdom of the farmer that guides its course can reflect the principles of sustainability. The view of the farm organism extends beyond the fence line and includes the tangible and intangible forces that work through it. Examples include the climate, inherent wildlife of the earth (above and below the ground), the light and warmth from the sun and the more distant astronomical influences. Biodynamic agriculture attempts to harmonize all of these factors within a holistic, living farm system.
The food that results is very pure and true to its essence and provides deeply penetrating nutrition that is essential to an increasingly unhealthy human population.
Organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free. The use of added sulfites is debated heavily within the organic winemaking community. Many vintners favor their use in small quantities for stabilization of wine, while others frown on them completely. In the United States, wines certified “organic” under the National Organic Program cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes.”
Chemical fertilizers promote large yields and chemicals can easily wipe-out vineyard destroying diseases. Vines that are chemically fertilized and regularly sprayed for various diseases with chemicals are absorbed through the roots into the vine’s sap and passed through leaves, stems, fruit and finally, into your glass. Not only do you eventually ingest these chemicals, but by using them it also drastically reduces the natural terroir of the wine and diminishes the wine’s fruit profile in your glass.
Organic wines are produced by using only organically grown grapes. No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, or synthetic chemicals of any kind are allowed on the vines or in the soil of the vineyards claiming to be organic. Strict rules govern the winemaking process such as hand-harvesting, the types of yeasts that can be used during fermentation and storage conditions in the vineyards of all imported and domestic wines that acquire certification.
Organic winemakers abstain from all chemical substances used to stabilize conventional wines such as sulfites. It is important to remember that sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and that it is impossible for any wine to be completely free of sulfites. Wines that are completely free of sulfites are an accident of nature–fermenting yeasts present on all grape skins generates naturally occurring sulfites. Organic wines may have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 20 parts per million in order to receive organic certification.
Organic certification of wine is complex; different nations have different certification criteria. In the United States, the National Organic Program, run by the United States Department of Agriculture, sets standards for certification of organic foods, including organic wines. Within the EU, each country is responsible for certifying its own organic producers in accordance with EU law. Most countries devolve this power to independent certification bodies, which are then regulated by the ministry of agriculture. In France there are six government approved certification bodies : Ecocert, Qualite France, ULSAE, Agrocert, Certipaq and ACLAVE.
Some of the components of sustainable winemaking practices consist of using natural fertilizers, composting and the cultivation of plants that attract insects that are beneficial to the health of the vines. Sustainable practices in these vineyards also extend to actions that have seemingly little or nothing to do with the production of grapes such as providing areas for wildlife to flourish near vineyard sites (this provides vegetation for the animals, which keeps them from eating the grapes) and allowing weeds and wildflowers to grow between the vines (this stresses the vines and forces them to produce fewer bunches of grapes with a greater concentration of flavor) and using bio-diesel for tractors in the vineyards (which reduces harmful emissions among the vines).