Wine Blogs

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Natural Wine: A Quick Explanation 

By Rachel, 17th July 2020

Natural wine is quite a loose term, but to briefly describe it, natural wine means low intervention wine. It is wine that, from grape to bottle, is made with the philosophy of allowing natural processes to determine the eventual product.

Growing
Natural wine often starts with an organic and biodynamic vineyard. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are eschewed for more environmentally minded methods. 

Fermentation
Most wine is fermented using yeast strains chosen by the winemaker, but natural winemakers often forgo this control and their wine is fermented using yeasts and bacteria naturally present on the grapes and in the air. Natural yeasts convert sugar into alcohol and, alongside natural bacteria, create flavours specific to each strain. The flavours of natural wine can range from incredibly weird and funky, to pretty much indistinguishable from “normal” wine: the key difference is that natural winemakers allow the grapes to ferment and develop flavour naturally, rather than tightly controlling the process. 

Sulfites
Sulfites are chemical compounds that are naturally produced during fermentation, so all wine has some sulfites, but natural wine has far less. Sulfites have the effect of killing or deactivating yeast and bacteria, so most winemakers add them at many stages of winemaking. Sulfites are used to get rid of the natural yeasts and bacteria before adding the winemakers chosen yeast, they are used as an antioxidant to prevent unwanted oxidation flavours, and they are commonly used to help clean equipment. Unless you have an allergy, sulfites are harmless and have been used in wine making since Roman times, but natural winemakers want to encourage natural fermentation, so they do not usually add them. 

Mechanical processes 
There are a myriad of mechanical processes used during most winemaking – the fermenting liquid is stirred, sieved, pumped over, etc. to help with the fermentation/oxidation or create specific flavours. These steps are skipped by some natural winemakers. Again, this is done to encourage the natural development of flavours, rather than controlling them. 

Fining
Most wine is also fined to some degree – yeast and other particles are removed before bottling using bentonite clay, isinglass, or egg albumin. Natural wines are often unfined – this means that the wine can be slightly cloudy. Keeping the dead yeast cells and other materials in the wine also means that there can be flavour differentiation between bottles, even between bottles from the same batch! But this is all part of the fun for natural wine.

You might have noticed me using the words “often”, “sometimes”, “usually”, and other vague descriptors, because truthfully, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to natural wine. Pop in to say hello if you want more information, or you want our natural wine recommendations, but I hope this quick explanation comes in useful when you want to impress someone with your wine knowledge!

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