Niesa Granger, wine buyer at Driver's Market

What is Natural Wine?

By Niesa Granger, wine buyer at Driver’s Market

 

Here at Driver’s Market, we have a commitment to bringing you the best products with a reverence for where they come from and who makes them. That philosophy rings true in our wine department which specializes in Natural wine.

 

Natural wine is made using organically and biodynamically grown fruit that is allowed to ferment with a very light human touch. Nothing is added or taken away during the wine making process. Vintners who make Natural wines don’t use a labeling system, but follow a common code of integrity. As a general rule, in order to be called a Natural wine these are the guidelines:

 

  • Organically or biodynamically grown grapes, with or without certification.
  • Dry-farmed, low-yielding vineyards.
  • Hand-picked grapes.
  • No added sugars, no foreign yeasts, no foreign bacteria.
  • No adjustments for acidity.
  • No additives for color, mouth-feel, minerality, etc.
  • No external flavor additives, including those derived from new oak barrels, staves, chips, or liquid extract.
  • Minimal or no fining or filtration.
  • No heavy manipulation, such as micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, spinning cone. 
  • Minimal or no added sulfites.

 

These rules sound like how I thought wine was made. Instead, the conventional winemaking process is very manipulated. So many modern wines are not only made with conventional ( chemical ) farming, they are changed from the moment they are picked. For example, after they are harvested, conventional grapes will be blanketed with sulfur. This stops the spontaneous fermentation and keeps all the fruit flavors locked in. This also gives the winemaker more time. Once in the tank, many additives can be added to the crushed grapes. Yeast is added to guarantee fermentation. Acidifying agents can be added if the fruit was picked too ripe, or sugar can be added if the grapes didn’t reach the desired ripeness. Glycerol can be added to make the mouthfeel richer. Tannins, extra Malolactic bacteria ( butter flavor ) may also be added. These are some of the more familiar additions. When it’s all said and done, did you know that there are over 200 additives that can be added to a bottle of mainstream wine? Here’s a link to a list of what can go into a bottle:

http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/additives.asp

 

Additionally, grapes are never washed before going into the tank, so all their chemical herbicides and fertilizers are interacting with all the other additions. I’m sure we all remember the “Arsenic Wines” that were found to be on shelves. Mostly in value wines. We are still not sure if it’s a reaction from additives or chemical filtering or from chemical farming. Never the less, it’s disturbing to know how unregulated the process has become. Here is a link to the story:

http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/hold-the-franzia-and-two-buck-chuck-your-cheap-wine-may-be-filled-with-arsenic-5444149

 

Natural vs. Organic Labels

 

Did you know that wine can be labeled “Organic” despite going through all of the winery manipulations? It seams counterintuitive but there is a market for Organics and some winemakers will find loopholes in the regulations to raise their bottom line. A winemaker is also allowed to buy conventionally grown grapes and process them in their certified organic winery, which exposes the equipment to chemicals.

 

“Natural” wine, on the other hand, is a code of honor that select winemakers share. There is no certification, just trust. Natural winemakers want to share the beauty of the place where the fruit is grown, and show a glimpse into that vintage. The wines change from year to year, just like the sunshine and rainfall.

 

Besides being cleaner, why go with Natural wine? Flavor!! These wines are harder to make but the dedication results in complex flavors. The winemaking process is gingerly cared for from the last frost to final bottling. The fermentations usually take longer allowing for more flavors to develop. The winemakers use older techniques to stabilize the wines like aging in oak or allowing white wines a little contact with the skins. So, next time you see a little sediment at the bottom of a bottle, don’t worry. It’s actually a part of the process!

 

References:

Natural Wine, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_wine