August 1, 2017

Defining 'Natural" wine is just a first step


Hearing people speaking about natural wines is problematic from the start: Are all the other wines somehow unnatural? What is behind the loosely used word? I will endeavor to create a new lexicon for the simple task of clarity, without imposing a position on these wines and my experience of them.


Let's begin with the reality that defining, organizing and codifying wine is effectively modern phenomenon. Wine as beverage has not had a broad base of consumers until just about 100 years ago. It was for the landed aristocratic class, and with few exceptions was purchased by the barrel. The bottling of Bordeaux as a practice is 20th century stuff. (Champagne is an exception, being bottled beginning in the 17th century). Regions developed guidelines about grape growing and wine-


making in he 16 - and - 1700s. Laws, however, did not permeate until the 1930s with the creation of AOC system in France. The protection of the consumer - the purpose of the oversight - was not really needed until that 20th century, as until then the average person was not a typical consumer of wine.


Here is where the need for agreement in definitions is essential. Enter natural wine as an example. There is a group of wine makers in France who represent themselves as natural wine producers. Their goal, relatively clear and straightforward, is to make wine with little to no intervention, using:



- wild yeast for fermentation

- no chaptalization (the addition of sugar to fermenting juice to raise the alcohol level)

- agricultural practices that are organic or biodynamic

- hand - harvesting

- tangential filtration (concentrates must, to raise alcohol level)

- thermo-vinification (application of heat during fermentation)


Philosophy vs, Enforcement

We are seeing more consumers is drawn to the terminology surrounding "natural" wine, and more producers interested in presenting themselves as natural. A problem is enforcement. How to oversee the process that need to be adhered to, to legitimize the use of the term. We seem to be a distance form this accord. It will be difficult to define more specifically the term 'natural' if the producers cannot agree on the specifics of defining and enforcing the philosophy of natural wine.


The fight against over-production and over-intervention was genesis for this group of producers. Their efforts, however, should not necessarily imply all other wines are 'unnatural'. For me the most important aspect of wine is its sould; it must represent the grape that makes it and soil that it grows. Natural wine is a step in this direction. Like any new phenomenon (even ones that may date to thousands of years ago), some producers may take non-intervention too far an slip into defect and faulty characteristics. 


This was similarly said of wines which were at the begging of biodynamics, several decades ago. It might simply take several years to create a more specific framework for grape growers and wine makers to have a consistent output to quality. I am heading to Lanquedoc Roussillon region to visit several chateaux who are leading the change in biodynamics in the region



© American Sommelier, Inc 2017

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