What the F*** is Natural Wine
Hang on a second, what the fuck do you mean natural wine? Wine is just fermented grape juice right, what could be more natural than that?!? The truth is, a lot happens to wine before it makes its way into that beautiful green bottle in which it comes. Wine today, for better or for worse, is an industrialized commodity. Winemakers around the world will use modern techniques available to them because they want to create wines that appeal to the masses, wines that people want.
When Robert Parker created the ratings system, he essentially told the world what wine should be like, created parameters for quality and said anything outside those parameters would be considered flawed. We could get into an argument about the system itself, but what we need to know right now is that it influenced how people enjoyed wine, and wineries responded. Most winemakers in the world use their creativity, their artistry, to create magnificent wines using minimal intervention and allowing the grape to express itself. But they still use technological, chemical, and biological methods to overcome flaws and make their wines more consistent. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Adding sulfur dioxide (sulfites) to the wine for example, keeps the wine alive! Sulfites prevent oxidation and kill off unwanted microbes. Others methods like adding Mega Purple to give the wine more color and body are a little more dubious. All of it is to feed the machine of what is considered desirable wine.
That is until natural winemakers decided that they did not want to use technology, chemicals, and other agents to mask their wine. Thus begun that natural wine movement, which was based on technological and chemical free winemaking from vineyard to cellar. No technology, no chemicals, no bullshit, just wine left on its own.
The natural wine movement
Historically wine was very different to what we consume now, and there are hundreds of traditionalists making wine using ancient methods all over the world. The natural wine movement is different. It sprouted in the eighties in France, and like all cool things to come from France has made its way all over the world in a short amount of time. For natural winemakers there seems to be a zeitgeist stirring them to create wine with as little intervention as possible. They are not bound by rules, only what they instill on themselves making natural wine more of a discipline than anything else. Because there are no rules the discipline of natural winemaking is liberating for a lot of really creative winemakers who will experiment with all sorts of grapes and methods. A powerful Rose made of crushing and fermenting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay together, a Grenache left unfiltered to give a rustic smoky hue, or even a Pinot Gris left in contact with the skins for five hours so it gives us a murky pink wine. There are no rules, so natural wine can get pretty wild.
Natural wine is more than just a trend or a buzzword
Natural wine is having a pretty hot moment right now. Natural wines are very liberating so they have become a philosophy. Those who adhere to it swear by it, there is no other way of making wine. Natural winemakers want to see where the grapes take them, they take nothing from it and add nothing to it. To some, this is the truest expression of the fruits, where they are from, and when they existed.
Yes, natural wine is a hot trend right now in the wine world, but for good reason! Natural wines are allowing us to experience things we did not know were possible with wine by not adhering to rules at the least and tearing them down at the most. You will see some awesome experiments in natural wines such as crushing red and white grapes together and allowing them to ferment. For these people it is about setting something that would otherwise seem chaotic in motion, and seeing where it goes.
So is natural wine good or bad?
Yes, but it may take some getting used to!
The major criticism about natural wine is that it has become and excuse for bad winemaking, or even lazy winemaking. Though you would be hard pressed to find a lazy person making natural wine, because even if you are insistent on letting the grapes do what they do naturally, you still have to be persistent in your farming methods. You will also see many critics and wine buffs balking at the supposed celebration of flaws in the wine.
The truth is, when you make natural wine you are flirting with flaws in your wine. However those supposed flaws are determined by the RP rating system and our desire for more consistent wines. While you should never celebrate a bad wine, there is a heck of a lot of character in these wines. Ultimately the greatest judge of a wine is you, do you like it? If you are ready to get a little bit funk, but also ready to delve into stuff that is exciting and raw to drink then natural wines hsould be at the top of your wine bucket list.
Natural wine is wine with all the bullshit taken out of it
If anything, natural wines remind me of punk rock, especially the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. These guys played their instruments with all the bullshit taken out of it. They focused on the energy, the expressed themselves in the most vibrant way possible because they were raw. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Thats what natural wine is, natural wine is wine with all the bullshit taken out of it.