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Natural Wine Explained

By Andrea Infimo | Head Sommelier, MoVida


The past decade, thanks to increased environmental and ethical awareness, has seen consumers turning towards more wholesome products. This trend definitely hasn’t spared the wine industry. Raw, Naked, Lo-Fi or more popularly Natural Wine has found solid ground in the trendiest food scenes of Australia and the world proving it is no longer a niche drink supported by delusional hipsters.

Non-manipulated wine has been produced since the dawn of agriculture, with Georgia being its spiritual home. Nevertheless, the modern natural wine movement only started in the late 60s in Beaujolais with Jules Chauvet and his disciples as a reaction to the post World War 2 large scale chemical agriculture that was sterilizing the vineyards and the land.

In Australia, over a decade ago, a handful of pioneers such as Adelaide Hills-based James Erskine of Jauma Wine, Anton van Klopper of Lucy Margaux Wines, Tom Shobbrook in the Barossa and, even earlier, Taras Ochota from Ochota Barrels, gave a huge shock to a stagnant wine scene by making wild, sometimes cloudy, but exceptionally drinkable wines.

Like in many areas of the wine world, the French were the first to forge rules and bring order. Two years before any formal recognition, the French association ‘AVN’ (L'Association des Vins Naturels) had already come up with a specification according to which natural wine must be:

  • made from organic or biodynamic grapes with guaranteed traceability and from low yielding vineyards
  • made from hand harvested grapes
  • vinified without any input or additives

In March 2020 natural wines were officially recognized by French authorities: wines that fall within that category will be labelled as ‘vin méthode nature’ which allows the addition of up to 30 mg/l of sulphites at bottling as opposed to conventional wine making where up to 10 times more than that amount is added, and at different stages of the vinification process.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture should be taken more seriously. Their environmental implications are enormous: the preventive rather than interventive approach enhances biodiversity and improves the health of soil and vines which may yield smaller volumes but much tastier fruit.

In the winery, it is probably worth talking about what can’t be done rather than what is done. Fermentation has to occur spontaneously without the inoculation of cultured yeast. Wild ferments are usually slower and gentler, but the way they contribute to the level of aromatic complexity is still underrated. The greater number of yeast varieties naturally present in the vineyard generates a larger number of compounds (mainly flavonoids and anthocyanins) and many believe they are partially responsible for regional distinctiveness.

The ageing vessels of choice are usually inert and have minimal impact on the flavour profile of the fermented juice.

Finally, any sort of manipulation, like acid regulation and Organic and biodynamic viticulture should be taken more seriously. Their environmental implications are enormous: the preventive rather than interventive approach enhances biodiversity and improves the health of soil and vines which may yield smaller volumes but much tastier fruit.

In the winery, it is probably worth talking about what can’t be done rather than what is done. Fermentation has to occur spontaneously without the inoculation of cultured yeast. Wild ferments are usually slower and gentler, but the way they contribute to the level of aromatic complexity is still underrated. The greater number of yeast varieties naturally present in the vineyard generates a larger number of compounds (mainly flavonoids and anthocyanins) and many believe they are partially responsible for regional distinctiveness.

Clarification, is forbidden or avoided. The finished product typically presents with less alcohol and an extra degree of freshness, a wine that taste alive.

So how do the wines taste? Sparklings, be it a Pet Nat or a Prosecco col Fondo, are cloudy and less effervescent. Whites may appear slightly cloudier than their conventional counterpart (but not always) with various shades of orange/amber if they undergo maceration on skins; reds on the other side, tend to be crunchier, fresher, lighter and can be often enjoyed chilled.

This generalisation does not imply that all natural wines are ‘vin de soif’ (aka thirsty quenchers). There are plenty of structured, age-worthy wines out there. To name a couple: Gravner ‘Anfora’ Ribolla Gialla, an amber wine with a monstrous level of complexity that undergoes 7 years of total ageing in amphorae and wood before bottling; Elisabetta Foradori ‘Granato’ from the Italian Dolomites, a red made from Teroldego grapes with a density envied by the best Northern Rhônes.

The non-interventionist approach however, inevitably raises questions about stability and cleanliness. A large proportion of drinkers still expect natural wines to be cloudy, funky and weird; adjectives that are often kinder synonyms for ‘faulty’. This stigma is alas reinforced by speculation and the introduction on the market of wines that are poorly made or stored and don't taste any better than re-fermenting cider, damaging the reputation of the category. Realistically speaking natural wines are fragile: they don't receive any of the treatments that make conventional wines correct or stable except for tiny amounts of sulphur, hence they are more prone to oxidation, and microbial spoilage.