Isn’t all wine “Natural”? Yes and no.
Wine is a natural product made from grapes and fermented with yeast, but not all wine is considered a “Natural” wine. The Natural Wine movement is similar (and connected to) the Biodynamic Wine movement in that both are relatively recent trends in terms of branding, but are ancient and traditional ways of making wine.
What is “Natural” wine? Natural wine is a wine that is produced purely from grape juice with no assistance, in the vineyard or in the winery.
“The most excellent wine is one which has given pleasure by its own natural qualities, nothing must be mixed with it which might obscure its natural taste”Columella, Roman writer on agriculture
To start with, Natural wine must be grown either biodynamically or organically, with no pesticides used in the vineyard to help the grapes. Typically, Natural wine is grown by small-scale producers and picked by hand. After the grapes are picked, the Natural winemaking process can begin!
All wine is created when the juice from grapes is fermented by yeast (See my post on Instagram about @meinklang_farm to learn more about yeast!). For a Natural wine, the fermentation must be created by the yeast that “naturally” occurs in the grapes instead of yeast that has been cultivated or engineered to produce a specific reaction and flavor profile.
Finally, there can be little to no additives in the wine. Many winemakers use a range of products – from natural to chemical – to stabilize and clarify the wine or add flavor. These can range from using egg whites as a fining agent to using oak chips to enhance oak aromas. By using no additives, Natural wine often end up being cloudy (due to lack of filtering) and a bit more unpredictable on flavor. Notably, Natural wines are often described as “Funky.”
Is Natural wine healthier or better for the environment? Maybe. Organic and Biodynamic farming practices use less chemicals, which can be argued is better for the environment and end product. There are also statements that because Natural wine has fewer sulfites (sulfites are actually the one additive that CAN be added to Natural wine, albeit in tiny amounts), it causes fewer headaches, but this does not seem to be proven. Regardless, I like Natural wines because they’re fun – you never know what to expect bottle to bottle and they are a raw expression of the grapes!