When someone says natural wine, I normally reach for the snooze button, but I’m in “the industry“, so I hear about it all the time. For us it is a term that is rarely used correctly and is said waaayyyyy too often. However, for all you legendary punters out there, natural wine is most likely a new thing. It may be either:
b) something you’ve never heard of
c) something you don’t care about
Fear not, I’m going to explain it to you.
Firstly, it’s a VERY broad term. I’m just going to deal with the basics. The basics are that to consider yourself a natural winemaker, you really need to spend a lot of time in your vineyard. Your vineyard needs to be managed biodynamically (more about this later) or organically or ideally, both. This takes a lot of effort. A lot more than commercial viticulture which relies on herbicides and pesticides being sprayed by machines.
Once you get the grapes off the vine by hand, no machine picking allowed, it’s time for the winery. This part of the process becomes very hands off. Wines are left to ferment naturally, with many different techniques used. Open fermenters, skin contact for white wine (resulting in orange or amber wine), oxidative handling and wild yeasts all result in complex and interesting characters… The real key here is to not let any technique mask the true flavour of the vineyard. You’d be surprised how adjusted many commercial wines in Australia are. Acid, tannin, water, alcohol and colour can all be tweaked, not to mention things like reverse osmosis and industrial standard yeasts, which can completely suck any original character and life out of a wine. There’s nothing natural about that. Filtering and fining are also a no no, which is why you’ll often see cloudy wines, sometimes with sediment.
Natural wines were a bit of a fad, but don’t forget… They’ve always been a part of traditional winemaking. Most of these techniques date back to the early days of converting grapes to booze.