A Wee Rant About “Natural Wines”

From John, January 8th, 2017
Keeping abreast of natural winemaking.

Keeping abreast of natural winemaking.

Wine has always seemed to me as the most natural of substances. So it comes to me as a bit of a surprise that a whole new genre of wine, “Natural Wines”, has been created.

To be sure, there is a plethora of manipulated and manufactured wines out there, but even they come from real grapes fermented by real yeasts. So I intuit that the creation of the “natural wine” classification is a reaction to the addition of concentrators, micro-oxygenation, coloring agents and the like to modern winemaking. And, to be sure, I share the disdain for this increasingly large collection of manufacturing techniques.

But let us be fair in our evaluation of this new genre: it is, to be sure, a narrow and arbitrary classification meant to suit the marketing needs of whoever is using it. For example, when I see a cloudy wine and am told “Oh this is a natural wine”, I am compelled to retort “I can’t think of anything more natural than gravity…maybe the winemaker should have waited to rack his wine for bottling!” And when one encounters a wine which is oxidized, yes this is a natural process, and to be sure there are some great wines that are made with oxidation in mind (eg Radikon and other wines from the Collio as well as of course Sherries). But in many other cases oxidation or smells of fingernail polish remover or brutalization by a lactic acid bacteria infection emanate from poor winemaking practices.

A winemaking practice which is “modern” should not necessarily be considered outside the realm of “natural.” There are in fact a good many “modern” practices which are both organic and sustainable and can be utilized to make beautiful vibrant wines. Rejecting these practices is a bit like rejecting a naturopathic or traditional cure for a sinus infection because it is not “natural”.

And I will admit to occasionally producing wines with some of the preceding faults….the difference is that those wines go down the drain in my cellar, not into the bottle.

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