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Wild Wines Part 3: Natural Wines

Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are on the rise! There’s a growing movement of producers and wine lovers around the world who are advocating for a return to a focus on farming and the vineyard, away from much of the processing and manipulation of “modern” winemaking.

So, what does it mean for a wine to be natural, organic or biodynamic? More importantly, what does it taste like? Take a walk on the wild side and decide for yourself! Finally, we’ll explore natural winemaking.

What is natural wine? A bit ambiguous to define, but the consensus is that a natural wine is: one with nothing added and nothing taken away.

This means:

-there are no chemicals in the vineyard or cellar

-there’s no filtering

-there’s no sulfites or commercial yeasts added

-no fancy machinery: hand picking and foot crushing

It’s also all about:

-being bit rock and roll.

-managing energy (like we talked about in biodynamics)

-breaking rules of convention

Natural wine may feel like the latest trend, but it is importune to note that this movement has been building for decades. Starting in France in the 1980’s through experiments in Beaujolais and Loire especially. Disillusioned by industrialized, over mechanized “fast food” wines- winemakers starting making more rustic, traditional wines like their parents or grandparents would have made.

Here’s the problem: unlike organics and, to a lesser extent biodynamics, there’s no certifying body for natural wine. If you’re looking to try new wines, you need to look for keywords and ask the people you trust. Natural wine focused bars and restaurants are found all over the world. In particular, our staff have been connecting with more and more natural producers in the past few years and local wine bars like Obladee, Little Oak and Ostrich Club have really been working hard to educate customers here in Halifax as well. You’ll also find an endless stream of natural wine focused Instagram accounts and  – like with other sources of information, make sure you like and trust the source of information about natural wine!

That said, with a hands-off approach comes serious risk throughout the winemaking process. This means you’ll usually see smaller quantities and higher prices.

A lovely and natural orange wine I tried when I visited the owners of Donkey & Goat a few years back.

Some terms you’ll see:

Oak Open Top- neutral vessel, to give access to the cap on wine during the winemaking process

Concrete eggs- Made from sand and and gravel stuck together, no chemicals or iron. The egg shape gives continuous flow to wine as it ages and ferments. Thick walls provide insulation- meaning no artificial refrigeration is required. This method gives wine a beautiful mouthfeel. Local winery Benjamin Bridge has two lovely concrete eggs in use at their winery!

What do natural wines look & taste like?

-Can be everything from wild and funky to normal. A note that some of the funkiest may be faulted.

-Youthful and vibrant nature means that they’re generally not for ageing.

-Unfiltered and unfined = cloudy with sediment. Still delicious though!

-Natural winemaking tends to go hand-in-hand with biodiversity, so you may find weird and wonderful varietals.

-Sometimes skin contact with white wines, creating orange wines.

As you can probably see, we’ve just barely scratched the surface of natural wines and winemaking. If you’re looking to learn more, there are also lots of books and online resources. I highly recommend two great books on natural wine- especially if you’re just learning:

Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What They Do Naturally- Alice Feiring 

Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally- Isabelle Legeron

Finally, the best part wine is that you learn by tasting! I suggest tasting some natural wines with friend: smell and taste what makes the wines the same or different from others you’ve had? Here are some of the producers in our shop creating natural wines. What are your favourite natural wines?

This blog post is based on the workshop I gave at Devour! The Food Film Festival back in October 2018. Did you read part 1 and 2 about organic and biodynamic wine yet?

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