Over the last 2 or 3 years, roughly coinciding with the onset of the Global Financial Crisis (which we used to naively call the ‘Credit Crunch’), there has been a growing ground swell of interest in ‘natural’ wines. One might assume that as wine is made from fermented grape juice it essentially a fairly natural product anyway, but sadly this is not always the case. As with other areas of agriculture, big businesses have left no stone unturned in their efforts to maximise yields and profits and many of them readily deploy all manner of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to achieve those goals. Happily an increasing number of wine drinkers are starting to question the provenance of what they are consuming and are no longer content to buy the mass-produced, ersatz, branded wines so beloved of supermarkets.
One difficulty for the nascent ‘natural wine’ movement is that there isn’t actually an official definition of what a natural wine is. Obviously a natural wine should be made in sympathy with the environment in which it is produced, but unlike organic and bio-dynamic wine there are (as yet) no clear-cut parameters. Enthusiasts agree that natural wines should be made with ‘minimal intervention’ in the vineyard and cellar, but that is open to very broad interpretation. Nearly all natural wines are certified as organic, bio-dynamic or are en conversion to one of these two, but there are some celebrated producers that see the certification process itself as back to front. Take Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill Vineyards in Heathcote, South Australia: “What I don’t understand, though, is that the dirty bastards who can indiscriminately use agrochemicals don’t require any certification, yet I am being pressurized to be certified to be clean. It’s all topsy-turvy and we should be working the other way, to have the dirty guys certified to poison our environment.”
Natural wine makers eschew the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and other commendable precepts that they favour are hand-harvesting of grapes, not using cultivated yeasts and not fining or filtering prior to bottling; which inevitably increases the amount of sediment but also makes for more characterful wines.
A further key question is the adding of sulphur dioxide [SO2] to wine as a stabilizing or preservative agent. This is a bit of a thorny issue as there is a small group of purists who don’t hold with deploying any sulphur at all. Personally I think this stance is rather extreme as I have had some nasty experiences with unstable wines suffering from problems, such as secondary fermentation after bottling, and I favour the more catholic stance that ‘low’ levels of sulphur [less than 50 milligrams per litre] are more prudent.
Anyway regardless of doctrine (and I rather like fact that the natural wine movement is broad-minded enough to permit some flexibility) I think it is terrific that people are becoming more environmentally conscious about how wine is produced and are looking for more carefully-crafted, greener and less rampantly commercial wines.
An exciting new development for any discerning wine lover is the inaugural Natural Wine Fair to be held in Borough Market, London in May (Sunday 15th for private customers, Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th for press and trade visitors). This pioneering event is the brainchild of globe-trotting, Gallic wine guru Isabelle Legeron (the first French female Master of Wine: www.thatcrazyfrenchwoman.com) and Eric Narioo and Doug Wregg of inspirational and iconoclastic importers Les Caves de Pyrenne.
The Natural Wine Fair is being co-hosted by 5 founding wine merchant partners, among whom we are very pleased to feature – Dynamic Vines, Wine Story and Aubert & Mascoli completing the quintet. The Fair will play host to over 100 acclaimed wine makers who will be on hand to talk visitors through their wine-making philosophies as they sample their wares. There will also be talks and presentations by experts on related topics, so this represents an ideal opportunity for those interested in natural wine to get further acquainted with the concept.
So if you are bored to the back teeth of staid supermarket offerings, want to try some green, characterful and expressive wines, or are just curious what all the fuss is about do visit: www.thenaturalwinefair.com and book your tickets to what promises to be one of the best wine tasting events of the year. I look forward to seeing you there.