What does 'natural' wine really mean?

on 27/10/10 at 11:04 am


What is natural wine?

During a recent winery visit, the winemaker noted that he had reduced the alcohol in one wine through a process called reverse osmosis. The wine was lively and well-balanced, and I suspect the additional step did improve the wine, which was also affordably priced.

A representative for the winery subsequently cautioned the winemaker that it might be better if he didn’t go into such detail. The representative feared possible repercussions from consumers, as well as some wine writers.

His worries were probably justified. A lot has been written lately about what defines a “natural” wine, and what sort of winemaking intervention goes too far. Debates among bloggers have gotten heated at times.

I’m all for hands-off, low-intervention winemaking when possible. But what’s a winemaker to do when something goes wrong? The 2010 vintage is a case in point: California’s cool, rainy spring and October rains have led to problems with mildew and rot, and a lot of grapes may not have the chance to get properly ripe.

Contributing to the confusion and conflict is the fact that there’s no agreed-upon definition for “natural.” Although natural wine is generally considered something made with a low-input, low-tech approach, some wineries are using “natural” as more of a marketing term — enological greenwashing.

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