So you’ve been hearing the term “Natural Wines” for a few years now, and maybe you’ve had a few, but you don’t know what the term means. After all, completely “natural” wine would be if you let grapes fall to the ground and ferment there.
Generally, the term refers to low intervention in the winemaking process, minimal use of additives such as preservatives, little to no alteration through the addition of chemicals or other substances, and biodynamic practices in the vineyard that avoid pesticides. Many natural wine producers skip modern steps, like washing the grape skins to remove natural yeast. This simultaneously gives them less control over the behavior of the yeast and the flavors produced by them, and a larger array of flavors at the end. Makers of natural wine also rarely employ a practice called “fining,” the process of clearing up wine and removing tannins.
In other words, natural wines represent a counter reaction to the developments of the middle to latter part of the 20th century, where the intersection of technology and science lead to the type of wine that covers most of our shelves: clean, often intense, elegant or powerful, precise wines that are, while delicious, a departure from nature.
It’s important to point out that while some of the driving force behind the advent of natural wines is certainly the principles of sustainability and ethically creating wine, just as much of the allure is flavor. Natural wines are nearly always funkier, nervier and weirder than their more modern counterparts. While many people love these elements of flavor, to many they’re off-putting, at best. In fact, winemakers developed many of the standard techniques used in most wineries today to avoid some of the flavors and characteristics that natural wines boast. Just another reminder that everyone has a different palate.
Natural wines offer a glimpse into the past, and in doing so, offer a blueprint for a significant part of the future of wine.