by: Maxine Hendry

Do you know what natural wine is? Have you heard the buzz? It’s a term that’s being used more these days, but it’s a style of wine making that goes back a very long time. And because we are seeing more of this style of wine in the market , we want to help you understand what it is, and explain why you’ll love it!

What is “natural wine”??

It boils down to organic-style wine made in a very “hands-off” approach beginning with the growing of the grapes in the vineyard through the bottling process. Don’t be fooled however, it’s a loose term that is not legally classified. Know what you’re getting into! Many times natural wines are funkier than fruity, cloudier than clear, and definitely more tart/sour than sweet. Do you hear that my spontaneous ale-drinking friends? You will totally dig this style! So technically, aka according to Wikipedia, “Natural wine is wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention, both in growing grapes and making them into wine. The term is used to distinguish such wine from organic wine and biodynamic wine because of differences in cellar practices.” So it’s like organic wine or biodynamic wine? Well, kinda, but it goes beyond that.

According to rawwine.com, “Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.”

So, it’s made organically and sustainably without adding or subtracting anything, and you let it do its thing spontaneously during fermentation. (Meaning no commercial yeasts!!) And? Some other techniques you’ll see used include extended skin contact (aka “long maceration”, where the grapes sit with their skins and seeds for days, weeks, or months – that is how orange wine is made), and aging in concrete or cement vessels. Also, natural wines are rarely fined and filtered, that is why they can appear hazy or cloudy sometimes and throw sediment. They can come from anywhere in the world, but you will find many in France and Italy.

Some popular styles of natural wine include orange wine (basically white wine made like red wine) and Pétillant Naturel (aka “Pet Nat”, or Méthode Ancestrale, a style of bubbly where fermentation finishes in the bottle resulting in the wine naturally carbonating with fizz). Those are just two examples, keep in mind natural wine comes in all styles!!

I love how Madeline Puckett at Wine Folly describes them, “Think of it as wine unplugged. Natural wines are known for their funkier, gamier, yeastier characteristics and a cloudy appearance. They are often much less fruity and much more yeasty in their aroma profile than a typical wine, smelling almost like yoghurt or German Hefeweizen. Of course, some natural wines are quite clean and fruity indeed. But if you taste a few, you’ll discover most lean towards the sour, yeasty end of the spectrum.”

This means that some taste a lot different than many wines you’ve had, and chances are if you’re into funky, sour beer, sherry or cider, you’ll probably really like this style of wine.

But remember: there is a spectrum! If you’re not a fan of funked-up, yeasty qualities – don’t worry, there are plenty of fresh, fruity, easy-drinking examples at reasonable prices available. The mantra for producing this style is, “conforming to standards and criteria goes against the principles of natural wine making.” For that reason, you will find that styles vary drastically and many people are trying to capitalize on the trend. That means there are some bad examples on the market and you should recognize flawed wines for what they are. Like I wrote above, natural wine is not regulated and therefore interpretations can vary significantly.

So why drink natural wine? Is it better for you? According to Madeline Puckett, “Without the use of additives, sulfites or any other manipulation, many believe that natural wines are better for you. Sometimes this is true, but also sometimes it isn’t.” This is because sulfites aren’t the worst thing in the world. Also, natural wines are rarely fined or filtered which can leave impurities in the wine. Plus, some native yeast may contribute to headaches. And finally, many sulfite-free wines are extra sensitive and do not have a long shelf life. You need to be selective where you buy natural wine and how you store it.

Why are producers gravitating to this style, you ask? Guild Somm explains why natural wine has seen an emergence in popularity among winemakers, “Because the idea is to follow ancient and historical methods that combine great care in the vineyard to produce the very best product nature can provide.” The “movement” has also been criticized for its lack of rules, which have resulted in some less-than-flawless examples of wine on the market.

Commercial exposure has also increased the popularity of this style with mainstream drinkers because of personalities like Action Bronson. This red-headed rapper famously eats his way through France drinking completely baller natural wines on the Vice-produced show, Munchies. His intense love for natural wine has sparked curiosity among new groups of people who might have never been interested. But the program showcases extreme versions of natural wine that are impossible to find, and would be price prohibitive. You won’t have much luck trying to obtain anything you’ve seen on the show, but we can point out some similar items here in the shop. And don’t expect that all natural wine is as expensive, hard to find, funky, cloudy, weird and captivating as some of the stuff he’s drinking. `

So, you should drink natural wine not only because it is “cool”, but also because you care about the environment and you care about what you put in your body. Drink it if you like funky, less fruit-forward styles of wine (or beer). Drink it for something wild and new. But if you want to drink natural wine, you should fully appreciate the style – which is often about nuance – and realize it’s not just about which one has the most shit floating in the bottom and/or smells the most like a barnyard. Discover it for yourself and fall in love with the unique and expressive style that is natural wine.

So let’s talk about some items we sell in the store!

-Orange wine: Radikon, Gravner, Cos and Movia plus domestic selections from Scholium Project and Matthiasson

-Pétillant Naturel: Scar of the Sea and Cruse from California plus François Pinon, Renardat-Fache, and Daniel Boccard from France.

-Other Bubbly: Laherte Frères and Roger Coulin Champagne, Dom. Bechtold Cremant d’Alsace, Pecheur Cremant de Jura, and Mas de Daumas Frizzant Rose.

-Old World Still Wine: François Cazin Vouvray and Cheverney from the Loire, Luli from Piedmont, Arndorfer Gruner Veltliner from Austria, Baudry Chinon from France, Mas de Daumas from Languedoc, and lots of other options from Italy.

-New World Still Wine: Ovum Toro y Scorpio and Big Salt from Oregon; Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote from Raj Parr in California; Luminis Malbec, Dom. Eden Cab and Chard from Edna Valley.

-Something sweet: Bera Moscato, Infantado Ruby and Tawny Port

We have tons of other stuff, those are just some examples. We can always order anything you might want that we don’t sell either, just let us know, or email me at max@mrbswineandspirits.com

Let’s close with a wonderful chicken analogy from Guild Somm’s Ronan Sayburn, MS:

1. Go to Whole Foods and buy the very best chicken they have. It will be corn-fed, free-range and it will taste great. This is organic wine.
2. Search out a local butcher, the best you can find, and buy his most expensive chicken. It will be corn-fed, free-range, and coming from a small farm—the feet and head are still attached. It tastes fantastic. This is biodynamic wine.
3. Raise your own chicken, kill it, pluck it and eviscerate it. Then spit-roast it on an open fire. If you have some chicken skills it will taste amazing. If not, you risk salmonella, chewing on feathers and your friends thinking you are bonkers. But you won’t care and will still insist it’s the best chicken ever. This is natural wine.