A Guide To Natural Wine

As we grow more and more conscious of the way we consume, from food to movement, body products to waste, industries are quickly following suit to reflect those values that come with taking more care of our bodies at the same time as the planet. With the list of sustainable and stripped-down products growing, natural wine has inevitably joined the ranks – and the industry is flourishing. People are actively seeking out wines that are made with minimal intervention and additives, but for many the question still lies around what natural wine is actually all about. In this guide, we’ll explore everything from its process, to its characteristics, and what sets it apart from more conventionally produced wine as a whole. 

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What Is Natural Wine?

Becoming a winemaker is not exactly something you’re just born to do. It takes a whole lot of training, education, practice and perfecting, to get the art of this unique profession (or hobby horse) just right. And while every bottle produced has something unique to offer its consumer, when it comes to natural wine, the process is a little different – we like to think of it as a “hands-off approach”. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can just sit back and let the grapes turn themselves into wine, but it does mean dropping a lot of the chemicals and additives out of it, as well as avoiding adding anything to it, to ensure the winemaking process is as ‘natural’ as it possibly can be. 

It’s important to acknowledge that there is no official definition of what constitutes a natural wine, but at its essence the wine is produced without the need for pesticides or other chemicals of any sort, and is fermented using natural yeast only. Acid, sugar and additives in general are also ruled out from the process to generate an unfiltered, unrefined end product. Rather like wine would have been thousands of years ago.

The way natural wine is grown in the vineyard is very different from what you might see when on a typical winery tour. Instead of wandering through perfectly manicured grapevines, natural wine production essentially means leaving the vineyards to fend for themselves. In this case, you’re more likely to see vines that are surrounded by biodiversity, where ‘cover’ crops line the soil itself, and animals go about their day around them – very likely looking for vine pests to munch on. The idea being for the process of growing natural vines in the vineyard to mirror the biodiversity of the land which surrounds it. If there is any need for intervention, the products used are of natural origin. 
We’ve talked about the fact that “natural wine” is a very loose term, and with that comes a few different techniques under the umbrella terminology that are slightly easier to put your finger on.

Organic Wine

Essentially, what makes organic wine ‘organic’ is the fact that it’s made from organic grapes. This means the grapes were grown using processes where there is emphasis on the use of renewable energy sources and the conservation of water and soil. The goal is to ensure that any step carried out is done so with the impact it will have on the environment right at front of mind. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the grapes haven’t been exposed to any additives, but it does mean that if they have, you can rely on the fact that they were organic. Depending on the country, or even the region the wine is from, winemakers may or may not add sulphites to their product.

Biodynamic Wine

The process of making biodynamic wine is where organic wine is taken to a whole new level. In a nutshell, biodynamic farming as a practise involves a spiritual, holistic and ethical approach to food production. Much like how organic wines are produced, there are little or no additives, but the difference is that the vineyard, and the process from start to finish, are considered as an entire ecosystem, that is very much inherently linked. Biodynamic production of wine even goes as far as linking factors like the lunar cycles to the growth patterns of the vines, the soil beneath them and everything in between.

The History Of Natural Wine

There’s no doubt about it, natural wine has taken off in the last few years – but it definitely wasn’t discovered yesterday. Let’s take it back to the 1950s, when chemical farming was booming and winemakers were eager to challenge those norms and look at alternative and cleaner ways of production. Jules Chauvet, a winemaker and chemist, joined forces with three like-minded young winemakers, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard, to form the Gang of Four. This group committed themselves to work with natural vines, abandoning synthetic herbicides and pesticides, harvesting late, and carefully hand-sorting grapes without adding sugar to ferment them once in the wine cellar. These are just some of the people we can thank for spearheading the natural wine movement. 

Natural Wine Versus Conventional Wine

While natural wine is all the rage, it is a far more complex process than conventional winemaking, which involves many risks, as well as additional time and money for the growers, and producers. But the biggest difference between the two is that conventional wine is made using various herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilisers to ward off unwanted pests and preserve the grapes in a way that is more efficient and effective than alternative methods. 

The inclusion of wine in our diets and daily lives, has been a topic of debate for decades. Is it good for us ? How much should we consume ? Which type of wine is better for us ? These questions have been discussed around social circles since forever, and with the way our society functions, it’s no surprise. Arguably, natural wine is better for us because it doesn’t include all the perceived “nasties”, which means it’s more inclined to be better for us on the whole. 

Then there’s the sustainability factor. When wine is created without all of the things that destroy natural habitats, as well as flora and fauna, it’s bound to have a positive effect on the environment. Once the grapes make their way to the wine cellar, the lack of need for machinery to process the grapes is also a big energy saver – a way to reduce more carbon footprint.

In terms of what the best type of wine to drink is, it really comes down to personal preference. But what is undeniably true, is that we can expect to see more natural wines making their way to store shelves and their popularity among wine drinkers heading in an upward incline direction.  

What Does Natural Wine Taste Like?

Just like any food or beverage, every person has a different perspective on how it should taste, feel, smell and look. However, it may come as a bit of a shock to some when natural wine doesn’t reflect the tasting experience of conventional wine. Because the process is so simplified, it’s often found that natural wine has a more cloudy consistency and can even be slightly fizzy – this is a result of the wine not being filtered the same way, and because it’ s fermented for a longer period of time, the wine can turn out quite ‘bubbly’. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these elements, but it can be a bit of an adjustment for those who are used to smoother styles of wine. 

Another characteristic of natural wine is that it can have a more potent aroma and a slightly punchier flavour profile similar to cider. While those who are not used to these qualities may see them as negatives, others would see them as an enhancement of flavour and texture. At the same time, there are many natural wines that have the same qualities as conventional wine, in the sense that they look and feel the same when tasted. There’s no harm in being adventurous with your natural wines, and it’s encouraged to try a few before you make a decision on whether its for you, or not. 

What Food Can You Pair With Natural Wine?

One of the most special aspects of wine is that it can provide an entirely unique culinary experience when paired with food. We know that red wine pairs well with red meat and white wine pairs well with fish, but what about when it comes to natural wine pairings with meals ? We believe there are no boundaries when pairing wine with food, if you want to pair a lighter red with salmon, why not? And this rings even more true for natural wine. You can eat any food with any type of wine, but we have a few recommendations we think you’ll fall in love with. 

The next time you go to purchase wine, why not go for a natural sparkling wine and have it alongside your favourite seafood or even something deliciously deep-fried ? There’s nothing quite like an icy cold Rosé with cheese – have it with platter essentials, or go the crispy route with a perfectly grilled cheese sandwich. Natural light reds are a match made in heaven with savoury foods, earthy flavours and the tangy hit of tomato-based dishes. And as usual, you can’t go wrong with rich red wine and some tantalising lamb chops.

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s key to remember that pairing like-with-like is almost always going to work – light with light, red with red. But at the same time, we have to stress the beauty of following your taste buds, so if it works for you, pair your natural wine with whatever you like. 

What Is The Alcohol Content Of Natural Wine?

It’s no secret, an increasing amount of people are turning to lower alcohol or 0% alternatives. Whether it’s for health reasons, or being able to join in on social occasions and still drive themselves home, more conscious consumption of alcohol has become part & parcel of today’s society. So the question of whether or not natural wine is lower in alcohol than conventional wine is often a talking point. The simple answer is Yes. 
Many conventional wines have sugar added to them during the fermentation process to speed production up and increase the alcohol level. With natural wine, the absence of sugars means that the level of alcohol is inevitably lower. The lack of additives has also been shown to decrease the chance of a hangover if you’re indulging in a few. It also comes down to quality, if you’re drinking cheaper, lower-grade wines; there are always going to be more things added to them – whether from pesticides to clarifying agents, the more that’s added, the worse you’re going to feel the next day.

With a rich history and loads of benefits, there’s no wonder natural wine is taking the industry by storm. From cutting out all of the unnecessary additives to introducing a more diverse era of flavour, there’s so much to celebrate when it comes to the production of natural, more sustainably produced wine. If you’re still on the fence, we suggest branching out and trying a wide range of natural wines until you find your go-to, because there’s no doubt about it – natural wine is well on its way to becoming a household staple.

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