Are Natural Wines the New Organic: The Debate of Fad or Reality
There are a lot of people who believe that natural wines are the latest trend and just a passing fad. They say that it is nothing more than a marketing strategy designed to sell wines at higher prices and make them seem superior. But is this really true?
If you've been intrigued by the topic and tempted to ask Dr. Google or Miss Wikipedia for help then allow me to shed some light on the subject.
This matter requires a book, like the one I'm reading at the moment – Natural Wine… and actually at the end, I don't know if I'll be enlightened or even more divided on the subject.
Natural wine, explained
A “natural wine” is a wine made with grapes from organic or biodynamic farming and harvested by hand. Fermentation takes place only through the action of indigenous yeasts and no added yeast. The winemaker has minimal intervention and the wine is made by itself with a single ingredient – grapes.
It all started with a movement somewhere in France in the '80s and in recent years has naturally gained curious people, followers (even some fanatics), and worldwide success.
In addition to the wines produced, there are several themed fairs in the capitals of many countries and bars dedicated exclusively to “natural wines” and organic and biodynamic winemakers.
In 2020 France passed legislation on this type of wine calling them Vin Méthode Nature (translated as natural wine method) with the definition I described above. The supreme institute of French wines (INAO), the equivalent of our Institute of Vine and Wine (IVV) endorsed this new definition of les vins naturels.
The aim is to clarify some of the confusion surrounding natural wines and other often confusing terms that describe them to consumers.
Some hope that this step will serve as an inspiration for other countries because after all these years there is a lack of common regulations for a clearer understanding.
You must bear in mind that this movement arose in opposition to the globalization and mass production of luxury wines.
Wines made as recipes by renowned Chefs, in which for each ton of grapes harvested mechanically, a certain amount of selected yeasts is added, or the practice of winemaking processes such as pasteurization, cross-flow filtration, etc.
What is considered a natural wine?
Thus, 'natural wines' are therefore made from grapes not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. The harvest is manual and in the wineries, natural wine producers only use the yeasts present in the berries for the alcoholic fermentation process. Before bottling natural wines are not filtered. Depending on the country, the use of added sulfites may be permitted.
How do you identify a natural wine?
These wines are invariably cloudy in appearance, with sui generis aromas and flavors, not very fruity but vibrant in the mouth with an alcohol level considered low (between 11%-12.5% Vol.).
Without a clear definition, there is also no statistical data on “natural wines”. And without proper legislation, most wines are failing at the Chamber of Tasters in the region of origin (used for DO certification), due to the aromas, flavors, and unstandardized appearance, they are certified simply as wine.
The difference between A Natural Wine and an Organic Wine
On the contrary, organic wines are certified, so it is possible to quantify production, consumption, and forecast trends. And forecast says that in 2023 a billion bottles of organic wine will be opened. In other words, more than twice as much as those consumed ten years earlier.
And how much does this represent in world of wine consumption? According to The Drinks Business magazine, less than 4%, also known as, a niche market.
Organic wines can, however, encourage the increase of curiosity and consumption of 'natural wines' as it is a usual route taken by most consumers.
While interested in organic wines, they tend to look for more information and inevitably discover a “natural wine”, be it an Orange wine or a Pét-Nat.
However, if there is no legislative advancement in the near future, don't be surprised. Remember that this movement, a definition I prefer over that of “natural wine”, is about working with the laws of nature and breaking away from established formats.
These wines represent freedom to work the vineyard and make wines without the wine industry bureaucracy. I see 'natural wines' and the natural winemaking process as part of a much more complex ecosystem that I too am just beginning to discover.
If you want to join me on a natural wine trip, here is a list of 5 bars where you can buy and enjoy 'natural wines' in Portugal.
Comida Independente (Lisbon)
Senhor Uva (Lisbon)
A Cave do Bon Vivant (Porto)
Mariage à Trois (Porto)
If you're curious about the Natural Wine book, it was written by the first French Master of Wine – Isabelle Legeron. I'm loving the read as it's both informative and clear to understand.
In addition, Isabelle makes known the opinion of several wine producers by citing them.
What books on wine are you reading? Drop your recommendations in the comments below.