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What is Natural Wine?
Natural wine is the embodiment of a winemaking philosophy that eschews any chemical, technological or mechanical intervention in the growing of grapes and their vinification. Natural winemakers reject the intentional standardisation of commercial wines in the pursuit of the natural expression of their native terroir.
A natural winemaker farms the grapes organically or bio-dynamically without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, insecticides or other synthetic aids. The grapes are tended and harvested by hand. The vintner lets the indigenous yeasts found on the grape itself transform the wine uninterrupted in a natural fermentation process, and bottles the wine without filtering or adding sulphites. The natural wine maker merely accompanies the process of vinification. On ethical grounds she always discloses her methods and interventions, if any.
The result is an expressive, dynamic wine that is true to its unique terroir.
Over 30 years ago a group of vignerons in France decided to produce wine in this manner and lit a torch for a generation of wine makers searching for their natural roots. Marcel Lapierre was the proprietor of a domaine in Beaujolais he took over from his father in 1973. In 1981, he met Jules Chauvet, a winemaker and chemist who had opposed pesticides and fertilisers in the vineyard since their introduction in the 1950s. Lapierre, along with neighbour wine makers Guy Breton, Jean Foillard and Jean-Paul Thévenet, formed a group of wine makers who shunned chemical intervention and advocated for a return to the old practices with organic or biodynamic farming.
The methods that evolved from this group of wine makers are revolutionary in the world of wine making today.
Why drink Natural Wine?
Conventional wine has lost all connection with nature, the terroir and its grape.
The commercialisation of the wine industry has made wine predictable, unexciting, potentially unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly and unnatural. The demands of mass consumption have commoditised the business of producing wine. In the hunt for profit, the industry has become dependent on added sulphites, chemicals, preservatives, flavour enhancers, filtration, industrial yeasts and unnatural vinification processes.
The result? Thousands of undifferentiated wines with no relationship to their terroir. Thousands of over-manipulated, over-flavoured, over-oaked, over-filtered and over-abused wines designed for the wallet, not the palate.
A subset of wine drinkers has grown increasingly aware of this problem. In response, the wine industry has embraced labelling such as “bio,” “organic,” or “bio-dynamic” to win back trust. The wines that depend on them for sales are engaging in little more than a marketing game. These labels attempt to speak to the type of farming and treatment of the grapes in the vineyard, but indicate little about how the wine itself is made. Indeed, unless explicitly stated by the producer, bio, organic, demeter or bio-dynamic wines are still filtered, intervened with and treated with sulphites.