Put simply, it’s just grapes! Natural wine is made with grapes that are typically grown by small-scale, independent producers, handpicked from sustainable, organic or biodynamic vineyards. These grapes are then crushed into juice and then left to ferment with indegionous yeast, with little to no sulfites added. This produces a much more funky, sour and unconventional tasting wine.
Sadly not! Although conventional wine is made using grapes, the process to make this type of wine is by no means natural. The conventional wine process can involve manipulating the grapes at the vineyards, and adding sulfites, yeast and even colouring into the wine.
Natural wine doesn’t involve any of this, the grapes are grown without interference, and left to ferment with nothing but a little sulfites, and not all of them even use sulfites.
When we refer to ‘conventional wine’, we basically mean the normal stuff. The stuff your mum drinks probably. Creating this wine involves using chemicals at the vineyards, so they don’t lose any grapes, which sounds like a good thing right? Wrong, the use of man made insecticides, herbicides and pesticides while not only being unsustainable, has a knock on effect for the wider soil health in vineyards by killing anything living in the soil which may or may not pose a threat to the vine. This is effectively sterilising the soil, purging it of all living things that may reside there. It also kills the natural yeast that forms on the grape skins, which then requires yeast to be added.
These wines are usually manufactured on a massive-scale, so supermarkets can be stocked year round with the same wine with the exact same flavours each time. To achieve these consistent flavours, chemicals are added, fermentation is controlled, and everything is mass-produced with the help of machines.
Many huge industrial vineyards that produce conventional wine are monocultures, meaning they only have vines that grow grapes there. However, biodiversity is key in creating an ecological balance to make sure the cultivation of grapes is not damaging to soil health. Soil health is fundamental to the agriculture of all plants, not just vines, so by encouraging diversity of life in vineyards we can make healthier and nutrient rich soil which only benefits the vines that grow there!
Organic growing, no synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and only using natural products to protect your vines is expected in the natural wine world. But, some winemakers take their passion for the ecosystem to the next level.
Wingaard Lijsternest are a great example of taking it to the next level, a quote from them reads,
“At Lijsternest, we want to establish a truly ecological project. No greenwashing here, we do not only diminish our ecological footprint, we make our environment more diverse, we stock carbon in our soils, we use no pesticides at all, not even one drip of copper or sulphur, we do not disturb our soils, in fact, we never eliminate one thing, instead, we add other things. Every season, we plant a mix of annual plants, to produce food for the soil.”
Here they also have a no-tilling farming approach, a technique for growing crops that does not disturb the soil. This may make their work a little harder, but it benefits the soil they work with.
Hand picking grapes is an important aspect of what sets natural wine apart from conventional. It is common for bigger, conventional vineyards to use machinery to pick the grapes, to speed up the process and save labour hours. However, these machines are not selective with the grapes and can cause damage to the vines. Hand picking the grapes allows us to treat the vineyards with care, and pick the grapes that are ripe to ensure only the best tasting grapes are used in the wine.
Natural wines ferment with little to no input, allowing them to naturally ferment and turn out how they want to. This means the same wine can taste completely different depending on what time of the year the grapes have been picked, which adds some great variation to the flavours in natural wines.
Some of the wines are hazy or cloudy, this is because it is not filtered unlike conventional wine. Filtering the wine is purely an aesthetic choice, and one that damages the flavour profile by stripping away some of the elements in the wine. Natural wine can also be quite bubbly, the reason behind that is that carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of fermentation and because natural wines haven’t been killed in bottle by the addition of a large amount of sulphur they can often have a second fermentation in bottle.
So, after reading all of this, you probably want some natural wine as it’s just better all round right? Correct! But this can be a tricky thing to tell, there is no label or sticker to indicate that a wine is natural, and to become organically certified can be a long, costly process for winemakers. We recommend buying from a natural wine shop to make sure you’re getting a legitimate natural wine, in fact, we have just the place right here!
Natural wine tastes better and is helping the environment in the process, it really is the future of wine - so we encourage you to try it out and see why we are so passionate about it.