If you’re a serious wine lover, you may notice a special category of wines gradually making a comeback in bars, boutique wine shops, and in the wine collections of your hippest friends. It’s called natural wine. And no - it is not the same as organic. Sure, grapes grow organically, free of pesticides and other industrial chemicals, but that's just the baseline requirement. In fact, natural wine implies much more than that.
The unfortunate reality is that natural wine remains unfamiliar to many, and that’s probably because it’s masked by complex terminology like “biodynamic” and “indigenous yeasts,” which doesn’t make it any easier to understand. In reality, it is the simplicity of natural wine that makes it taste so special. The way it’s made is far simpler than most conventional wines out there. Once you taste the difference, we doubt you’ll be going back to commercial shelf wine.
So what makes natural wines so special, anyway?
Nowadays, you probably see and hear the word “natural” applied to a plethora of different food and beverage items, so much that the term has become a bit fuzzy. However, natural wine is distinct from the everyday “natural” label attached to products at the grocery store. While there is no legal classification or set of standards for what makes a wine natural, natural winemaking is more of a philosophy than it is a label. The extent to which a wine is considered “natural” is largely determined by the discretion of the winemaker, and it encompasses all the activities from the vineyard to bottling.
At the core of the philosophy is a minimalist approach to wine production, in which nature is given precedence over human intervention. Natural wine is the purest form of wine there is, reflecting traditional practices in the growing, picking, and fermentation stages of winemaking. The entire process of making natural wine emphasizes as little disruption as possible to the natural environment.
It all starts at the earliest stages of preparing the land for each new cycle to ensure a healthy foundation for the vines to prosper. Animals are free to graze and fertilize the fields, and crops are rotated in and out to maximize the nutritional richness of the soil. Organically grown grapes are gently harvested by hand rather than with a machine, ensuring the quality of each individual grape that will eventually turn into wine. Lastly, natural winemakers only use natural strains of yeast to induce the fermentation process, unlike conventional winemakers who use lab-grown yeasts. Natural wine contains zero inputs. It’s grape juice without the junk.
Healthier for the environment and yourself
The production of natural wine often involves a set of practices that treats all elements of the vineyard as one living, breathing organism. This encompasses what is commonly referred to as biodynamic farming, which as you’d expect, produces biodynamic wines. As an ecosystem, each functional part makes the whole system self-sustaining. Everything - from the crops and natural vegetation to the livestock and wildlife - is interdependent and therefore treated holistically. In fact, the extent to which farmers adopt these practices is what marks the difference between natural wine and organic wine.
In order to preserve soil fertility and promote plant health in the vineyard ecosystem, biodiversity is encouraged. The soil in which vines grow teems with worms, insects, and healthy bacteria. Moreover, the land is enriched with a diversity of crops. For example, farmers introduce cover crops including particular herbs and flowers to protect the grapevines from parasites and disease. Even natural predators are allowed into the vineyard to fend off any organisms that would threaten the health of the vines. For example, ladybirds eat away aphids, insectivorous birds prey on spiders or beetles, and chickens prevent weeds from getting out of control.
And of course, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are never used. Instead, the soil is enriched with nutrient-dense compost to stimulate microbial activity and promote plant growth. As you would expect by the absence of chemical inputs and additives to the soil, natural wine is better for you than conventional wine.
Domaine Olivier Pithon, the biodynamic vineyard where we sourced our first collection’s red wine, sows a mix of grains and legumes to reintroduce a permanent plant covering and adds organic matter to sustain life and growth in the soil.
The health-conscious practices don’t end at the vineyard. As referenced earlier, the natural philosophy extends into the cellar, where grapes are fermented with minimal to no additives. The threshold for added sulfites is lower in biodynamic wine than in organic wine, reflecting higher standards for health and sustainability.
Unlocking new aromas and flavors
When made the right way, natural wine is a gateway to exploring a vast palette of deliciously unique flavors and aromas that you could never experience with regular wine.
There is no doubt that wine produced through biodynamic processes tastes different, as it has more depth of character. While natural wine’s flavor profile varies from bottle to bottle, people often describe its taste and aroma as “wild, “funky,” and even “playful” which is attributable to less standardization and intervention in the production process. Additionally, people with a keen eye may sometimes point out the cloudy appearance of natural wine compared to conventional wine, which forms as a result of it being unfiltered.
Hopefully, you now have an appreciation for natural wines and the unparalleled drinking experience they offer.