What is Natural Wine

Contributor and wine consultant Laura Madonna give us some background on what is Natural Wine

Some of us wine lovers have already heard about natural wine. And most likely, what you heard or read was confusing or poorly defined. That’s because there really is no certified definition of what natural wine is. Is it ‘a living style’ or is it a method?

Organic or biodynamic fruit from a vineyard, that’s easy to define. There are stacks of laws and certification procedures for labels and processes. But defining natural wine is as wild as the yeasts that might be used to make it. Making a natural wine goes beyond the land and follows the fruit into the winery. Extremes go from the slightest use of stabilization with sulfur dioxide (SO2), to none at all; no filtration or fining, no new oak barrels! Sacre bleu!

Nori Nakamura of Noria Wines, whose wines pair with delicate cuisine, is all for minimal intervention in the growing and wine making process.

“When I made organic wine my focus was to protect wine from oxidation throughout the process rather than to bring out a maximum potential of the vineyard/grapes. I felt more restricted and thought I could have made a better wine if I hadn’t been so restricted,” he explains.

“Minimal manipulation” is a phrase used frequently when talking and making fine wine, natural or otherwise.  Jacqueline Yoakum, consulting winemaker and a PhD in winemaking says to her that means grapes are farmed sustainably, picked to optimize their natural acidity in conjunction with optimal flavors, fermented with minimal supplementation, preserved with minimal preservatives, and finished with minimal refinements. 

“My personal mantra throughout the cycle of winemaking is to make adjustments early to avoid large corrections later on,” she says.

Wines have a biochemistry, with underlying surpluses and deficiencies. For a healthy wine, it’s important to find its balance. Wines which are out of balance are vulnerable to a variety of defects and spoilage. 

“I’d rather consume a wine which was holistically managed rather than a wine that has a huge biological load of unwanted bacteria or yeast, under the guise of being an untreated Natural Wine. What’s holistic about a biochemical system in distress? Isn’t the intended effect to put something healthy into our bodies? ‘I filter my water, why wouldn’t I filter my wine?’ she says.

Drive through napa valley
“This book is an answer to dry guidebooks and stiff informational publications that pervade the wine industry.” – L.A. Times

What’s old is new again, right? We read stories about ancient winemaking  methods being rediscovered, such as aging wine under water or concrete egg fermenters. They never really left us in the winemaking industry, just fell out of favor for more modern practices.. 

Godspeed Vineyards‘ Larry Stricker, gives us his take on the natural wine phenomena.

“Winemakers have been making natural wine for 6,000 years. Only in the past few years has the term natural wine been used to differentiate from organic or biodynamic wines. Basically, natural wine is wine made with minimal technology, additives, filtration, and without preservatives. Who wants to drink ‘unnatural’ wine?”

It seems pretty clear that the consensus is a “less is more”. It’s not as specific or well-defined as the German Beer Purity Law, but it is definitely about a certain touch and style applied to winemaking. Expect more on the subject as confusion grows and labels stating “Natural Wine” appear more and more on retail shelves.

Laura Madonna is a wine consultant in Napa Valley and can be reached at [email protected] – check out her curated stock of small production wines at https://travelfood.com/