Natural wine is a type of wine made in small batches from hand-harvested organic, biodynamic, or sustainably farmed grapes with minimal intervention in the cellar.
In the last twenty years, an increasing number of wine producers have not only shifted to organic and biodynamic farming, but they have also adopted a different winemaking approach: natural winemaking. It must be noted how for some producers, natural winemaking has always been the only choice: some of them have always been making wine naturally.
Natural winemaking has become a movement akin to a revolution, a nemesis to the industrialization and homogenization of wine in the past three decades. Natural wine producers are at the forefront of this movement, rejecting industrial winemaking techniques and the excessive use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers in the vineyard.
Natural winemakers also reject the homogenization of taste and the predominance of international grape varietals, instead preferring indigenous varietals and focusing on the concept of terroir – the much debated “taste of place.”
Natural wine is still to some extent a mystery despite its recent surge in popularity. Here we’ll try to explain what natural wine is and dispel some misconceptions.
▷ Natural wines are made with minimal intervention in the cellar during the winemaking process.
▷ Natural wines are made with natural yeast; no industrial yeast is added to trigger fermentation or add a particular flavor to the wine.
▷ The fermentation process is not controlled by chemicals or temperature-control devices.
▷ Sulfur dioxide in minimal quantities is the only substance added to natural wines, serving as a stabilizer and preservative.
▷ Natural wines are often bottled unfined and unfiltered and as a result, sediment collects at the bottom of the bottle.
▷ Natural wines are made with organically or biodynamically-farmed grapes even though in some cases they are not certified.
▷ Natural wine producers tend to work with indigenous grape varietals including long-forgotten ones.
To better understand what natural winemakers are opposing, it is essential to have a look at some of the most common substances and techniques used in conventional winemaking:
▷ Lab-grown yeasts
▷ Acidity regulators
▷ Filtering gelatins
▷ Fining agents such as egg white, casein, isinglass
▷ Electrical fields treatment
▷ Gas injections to aerate the wine
▷ Reverse osmosis technique to control the alcohol to juice ratio
▷ Temperature control
Natural wines are the product of a winemaking approach that might or might not be utilized to produce all organic or biodynamic wines. In other words, not every organic or biodynamic wine is also a natural wine, but every natural wine is made with grapes farmed organically or biodynamically.
There is no shared definition or protocol establishing what a natural wine is the same way there are well-defined regulations for what can be considered organic or biodynamic. There are in fact certifying bodies both for organic wines (USDA) and Biodynamic wines (Demeter USA).
It is not uncommon for organic or biodynamic wines to be made following a conventional winemaking approach. This does not mean that organic or biodynamic wines – that is wines made with organically or biodynamically farmed grapes – are of inferior quality or less "pure".
Conventional winemaking can be fine, insofar chemical substances and procedures are not abused to the extent that the final product is an adulterated glob. However, at Primal Wine we believe that natural wine represents the purest and most authentic form of wine available on the market.
Natural wine can taste dramatically different from other types of wine. Natural wine, in some cases, has a level of acidity comparable to that of a Belgian-style sour beer or even Kombucha. Natural wines are only rarely aged in new oak, and therefore they tend to be less round and supple; they are also less extracted and so lower in alcohol.
Natural wine is usually unfined and unfiltered, and therefore it can look murky, definitely murkier than standard wine. This is especially true for some white wines. To some people natural wine is funky, wild, and unpredictable; to others, including us, is exactly how wine is supposed to taste.
A few important points we like to stress at Primal Wine:
▷ Natural wine might not be for everyone but everyone should definitely try it. Natural wine can taste very different from traditional wine and if anything, it is a very interesting and potentially life-changing experience.
▷ Same as with other wines – non-natural wines, conventional, industrial wines – there are good natural wines and bad natural wines; well-made natural wines and flawed natural wines. However, natural wines are by definition more ethical. At Primal Wine we taste all our wines and make sure they are the best natural wines available on the market.
▷ We might not believe that natural wine is the best wine for you (we secretly do) or even good for you; however, we do believe that synthetic pesticides and herbicides are awfully bad for you. Science believes that too.
Decades of scientific research tells us without any doubt that wine does, in fact, contain substances which, if ingested in moderation, have beneficial effects. However, it would be irresponsible and ultimately anti-scientific to claim that natural wine is good for your health – or any wine for that matter.
At Primal Wine we are very clear on one thing above all else: wine contains alcohol and alcohol, especially in excess, is not good for you. At Primal Wine we believe that wine should be consumed responsibly, with moderation, whenever possible paired with food, and of course with friends and family.
At Primal Wine we care way too much about wine to be cunning about natural wine's supposedly magical beneficial effects on people’s health.
Again, it would be irresponsible to make such a claim, and for two very simple reasons.
1. There is no scientific proof that sulfites cause a headache. Wine-related headaches are in fact highly subjective and can be caused by a wide array of factors, not just sulfites.
2. Natural wines do contain sulfites even though there are no added sulfites. Sulfites form naturally during the winemaking process. There is no such thing as wine with no sulfites.
However, it is true that natural wine has an incredibly low amount of sulfites and therefore for those who are highly sensitive to sulfites, or even mildly intolerant, it is the best option on the market.
Natural wine is probably the most fascinating wine on the market. It can be wild and funky but it always shows a strong personality. Discovering natural wines is made even more exciting by the fact that each vintage is different and has a different flavor.
The non-interventionist, hands-off winemaking approach, along with organic and biodynamic best practices in the vineyards, gives wines of unique character.
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