what is:
natural wine



We breakdown Natural Wine, Biodynamic wine, Organic and Orange wine. All the wines. All the definitions.





Text: Joel Footring


In the 1980s, in the heart of the Beaujolais region of France, four men, probably cooler than you’ll ever be, probably smoking a pack of Gauloises were sat around a table with a bottle of something delicious to hand, and rewrote the rules of wine making. They dubbed themselves ‘The Gang of Four’ and are responsible for the cool looking bottles of natural wine that are being advertised to you by Instagram’s terrifyingly accurate algorithm after you searched for Susucaru Rosé. Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard were the ones that initiated natural wine’s modern renaissance. The practice itself dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, but was superceded by the ease that chemical additives gave to the wine-making process. Natural Wine was revived in the 50s and 60s as a way of rebelling against France’s post-war industrial agriculture that was dominated by chemical inputs and mechanical processes. Now you can’t escape natural wine. It’s everywhere. Action Bronson can’t get enough, a new bottle shop has probably opened around the corner since you’ve been reading this or you’ve heard rumours of wine making following lunar cycles like some kind of cultish grape astrology; or when Mercury is in retrogrape.



NATURAL WINE





So, what actually is natural wine? There is no legal or official definition of a natural wine. Groups of growers have created their own criteria to certify natural wines, but not every grower follows these guidelines and they vary between country. The thing that distinguishes natural wine is a lack of intervention. Non-natural wine making permits the use of more than 200 additives and a number of technological interventions. Natural wine making aims to minimise the chemical and technical intervention, with the aim of creating a purer wine that is true to the grape and the terroir (the region in which the wine was made). To some a perfect natural wine should only contain grapes. Frank Cornelissen, a Belgian born winemaker working on the slopes of Mount Etna says ‘For me a natural wine is at least organic, and to be honest for me a real natural wine is a wine where the grapes are not treated at all… and then afterward not using any corrections in that. That for me is the real definition of a natural wine’. In practice many natural wines still use some additives, the idea is to minimise their use. The additives do serve a purpose and if something has to be added then it will be, but if it doesn’t it won’t.



orange wine



Orange wine has what they call Skin Contact. Orange Wine is actually a white wine where the grape has the skin on when it's the barrel, amphora or other receptacle. This results in a different flavour than a traditional Pinot G or 'regular' white wine.



ORGANIC WINE





Organic wines are slightly different. Organic certification requires following certain practices in the vineyard to minimise chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. The difference is in the wine production itself. An organic wine can use as many additives as it likes and still be classified as organic because of the way the grapes were grown. A natural wine uses these organic practices, but the hands-off approach continues after the grapes have been picked.


And now we reach a crossroads. You have two choices ahead of you. I put on my sunglasses and leather trench coat, open my hands and reveal a different coloured grape in each. A green grape in my right, a red grape in my left. You take the green grape and our journey ends; you wake up and take from this article a brief summary of what a natural wine is and go on living your life. You take the red grape and you stay in natural wine Wonderland and see how far the rabbit hole goes.





You took the red grape. Good choice. Welcome to the world of:



BIO-DYNAMIC WINE



Biodynamic wine is weird. In theory it’s just an extension of the principles of natural wine making. First proposed in the 20s it originally seemed to make a lot of sense: maintaining high soil fertility to maximise nutrient availability; creating self-sustaining farming systems that function as their own ecosystems, further reducing the need for unnatural intervention. This ensured that the land used for agriculture remains fertile and useable for future generations. Modern-day biodynamics are based on these principles.


Our current agricultural system is in drastic need of change and understanding the interconnectedness of soils, animals and crops is a step in the right direction. But some biodynamic wine makers take these practices, surround them with healing crystals, light some sage and give the grapes star signs. According to Maria Thun, an authority on biodynamic growing, the lunar calendar can make a difference to the way you grow grapes, make wine and even how you drink it. Every day can be categorised as a fruit day, flower day, leaf day and root day, as determined by the lunar cycle. Wine supposedly tastes better on fruit or flower days. Biodynamic practices get weirder though. Some farmers go as far as to fill cow horns with manure and bury hundreds of them in the vineyard, months later they are unearthed, the manure removed and mixed with water to be used as a liquid fertiliser. Nick Wenman is a UK wine maker that goes to these lengths and claims that

"the horns are from female cows as they are the most fertile animals and they absorb the cosmic influences"

Sick.


I was, and still am, sceptical of this kind of winemaking. Not the underlying principles emphasising a symbiotic relationship with nature, but the grape voodoo that seems to be going on in certain vineyards. Others share my concern. In 2017 a study was published to scientifically test whether the lunar cycle could influence the taste of a wine. The final paragraph of the article begins:

"In conclusion, the findings reported in the present study provide no evidence in support of the notion that how a wine tastes is associated with the lunar cycle"

Not a particularly promising result for proponents of biodynamics.


Focussing on the most extreme kind of natural wine making misses the point and draws attention away from what natural wine making really is and why it’s exciting. At its core natural wine making is environmentally aware and recognises the damage industrial agriculture can cause to the land and the product being produced. Natural wine makers are working to find and revive alternative methods to create wines that are less reliant on chemical additives and focus more on the natural processes that occur at all stages of wine production. Independent wine makers are creating something new, collaborating with other creatives (why do you think all the labels are so cool), working with independent shops and generally spreading good vibes. A big positive is that the wine tastes good too (although to some it’s an acquired taste, but they’re probably wrong).


Natural wines are at the forefront of a pretentious alcohol trend; but that’s okay. I say this because at its core there are groups of truly passionate wine makers that aren’t just following a trend and that believe in low intervention techniques and wine shops that know the who, when and where of natural wine making and can give you the hook up. Most importantly there’s an understanding that using wine making and agricultural techniques that minimise the damage we are doing to the planet can be pretty fucking cool.