The term ‘natural wine’ has never been more widely used when talking or writing about wine. Yet there is no clear definition of a natural wine, it is open to the interpretation of the farmer and winemaker.
Viticultural practices can be divided into four: Conventional Agriculture, where farmers routinely use chemicals to control pests and diseases. However, the overuse of man made chemicals has become a real concern for the industry and has led to the other forms of farming. Sustainable Agriculture, where chemicals are not prohibited but only used when absolutely necessary. Organic Agriculture, similar in concept to sustainable except that only a few treatments against diseases is allowed and also the land has to be certified as being organic. The third is Biodynamic Agriculture, based on the work of Rudolf Steiner whose philosophy was to adopt organic practises guided by cosmology and lunar cycles. To be classified as biodynamic the vineyard also has to be certified.
Natural Wine is a term that includes ecological, organic, biodynamic wines but the wine does not have to be officially classified as either in order to be considered natural.
One reason why we have seen growth in demand for ‘natural wines’ is because wine drinkers are much more aware of the use of additives in what we eat and drink together with the negative impact long term use of man made chemicals has on the land when used in farming.
Over the last decade the wine industry has been changing, working towards environmental sustainability by using less chemicals and incorporating alternative vineyard management systems.
There are many in the wine industry who dismiss natural wines due to the higher tendency of being faulty, partially due to the minimal or non use of sulphur dioxide, which acts as an antioxidant and as a disinfectant killing harmful bacteria that could spoil the wine. However, the quality of natural wines has been improving a lot during the past 10 years.
For me a good wine is an authentic wine with personality that expresses the characteristics of the variety and the area where the grapes were grown. It reflects the skill of the winemaker to make the best wine from the raw material in their vineyards. Nowadays more winemakers and viticulturists adopting a more balanced mix of practices to get the best results.
When tasting I do not make any allowances for a wine being natural or bio, it has to be good. So keep trying different wines, whether they be natural or conventional because there are wonderful new wines to discover. Above all, find wines that are genuine with character.