Welcome back to the next installment of my unofficial serious of misleading wine marketing. SO… WTF is natural wine, anyway? Keep in mind that unlike organic wine, there’s no official regulation when it comes to using the term “natural wine.” Be sure to ask your tasting room associate for what their winery’s particular definition is.
Generally, natural wines will have most or all of the following characteristics:
Organically or biodynamically grown grapes
That’s right, our strange friend, biodynamic farming, is back! Additionally, the natural wine movement frowns upon any sort of pesticides or spraying of vineyards. I only know of one organic vineyard in Virginia. Keep in mind that wineries in the Mid-Atlantic climate would be losing at least a third of their grapes each harvest if they went fully organic in practice. The closest biodynamic vineyard I could find is in Maryland.
Dry-farmed, low-yielding vineyards
Dry-farmed vineyards are not irrigated and rely only on rain for hydrating their grapes. This is pretty common in Virginia. Remember 2018 and how it basically just rained for the entire year?
No machines here! Hand-picked vineyards are also extremely common in Virginia. Keep an eye on your favorite winery and you may get an opportunity to help them harvest!
No added sugars & no cultivated yeasts
Yeast can be produced and commercial yeasts are pretty well trusted in the wine world. Yeasts can be designed to guide the wine to a more specialized taste. These yeasts are a biiiiiiig NO in natural wines. Instead, wineries will use natural yeast. Natural yeast, or “wild yeast,” uses the yeast found naturally on their grape skins. Sometimes, the flavors created can be more unpredictable, but isn’t that part of the fun?
Additives in wine are a little bit misunderstood. After all, grapes can give off multifaceted and familiar flavors on their own, so there’s no need to add in anything additional. When you’re tasting vanilla notes in your wine, nothing is actually added, but rather because it’s the flavor produced by the grapes and the winemaking process.
Minimal or no fining or filtration
Fining and filtration is all about removing the unwanted materials in wine. A common product to attract and bring out these particles is egg yolk, which is why your wine out of big box wineries likely isn’t vegan.
No heavy manipulation
Big ole’ winery chains many times process their wine a loooooot. From reverse osmosis, to other major processes, all of this is pretty taboo in the natural wine world. Keep in mind that none of these processes are bad or are actually harming you or the wine. They just go against the concept that natural wine should be as un-manipulated as possible.
Minimal or no added sulfites
Sulfites are not our enemy. Remember that. And don’t age your natural wines too long, since they have minimal sulfites to preserve them.