NATURAL WINE: A NEW WINE TREND?
In the past 20 years, the wine industry has experienced an influx of “natural wines” to the market. Credited with the more recent “discovery”, Jenny Lefcourt began importing this wine from France in 2000 to bring a fresh new take to the much loved fermented beverage market.
It wouldn’t be surprising to have never heard of this before. Still, those who move in wine circles know that there has been one of the most significant divides within the industry, particularly with the rise of veganism within the population. For those who don’t know what natural wine is, it’s wine that has been farmed organically and made without any additives. Essentially, this wine is bottled straight from fermentation without any human intervention to hinder the natural fermentation of the fruit or any other biological processes. It also means that no fining or tight filtration of the wine takes place before bottling, resulting in a wine that tastes “alive” or “wild”.
While there has been a renewed zeal for natural wines within the bourgeoise, this is not a new concept. For centuries, man has fermented grape juice without additives like preservatives and sulfites. Contemporary winemaking, i.e. adding sulfites to aid in preserving the wine for extended periods, is the more modern way of producing wine, according to winemakers across the globe.
The present-day argument around natural wines primarily stems from the loose definition. There is no official regulatory body to ensure that wine produced by these winemakers meets a set of guidelines called “natural wines”, and many natural winemakers use vastly different methodologies to create this wine. For example, natural winemakers will not use herbicides and pesticides on their crops, pick the grapes by hand, rely on wild yeast to ferment the juice and bottle it up to sell with as minimal human intervention as possible. In contrast, others will include preservatives and sulfites to ensure a more shelf-stable product while still labelling it as “natural wine”.
After American wine critic Robert Parker released his 100-point wine rating system in the 1980s, many winemakers altered their methods to fit into this set of perceived “requirements” instead of allowing the fruit to be the show’s star. Natural winemakers also choose to enable each harvest to taste the way it naturally does. Other winemakers who use more contemporary winemaking methods rely more heavily on various additives to get the same result despite climate or yield.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the consumer to decide which wine they prefer based on their belief systems. I recommend that wine enthusiasts go out and compare a “natural wine” to their favourite bottle of commercial wine and decide based on taste”, says Jacques Wentzel, winemaker of Black Elephant Vintners.
Here we find the fundamental issue between the two factions in this debate: Is natural wine a more authentic expression of winemaking, making it the best industry representation? Or is a well-thought-out and expertly curated winemaking process, making use of ingredients and techniques available today, a better reflection of their crops and traditions?