NATURAL

WINE

LEXICON

To be honest, 'natural wine' is a woolly term that describes a broad philosophy and encompasses a range of different production methods. It means different things to different people.

That's why we're giving you the low-down on the important natural wine buzzwords used on this website or on bottle labels. That way, you can decide for yourself whether a wine ticks your boxes.

ORGANIC

Organic viticulture avoids toxic chemicals, especially in the growing process. It is the starting point for making good-quality, healthy wines, and it should be the standard, not the exception. When classifying a natural wine, this is a big one.

Organic viticulture avoids toxic chemicals, especially in the growing process. It is the starting point for making good-quality, healthy wines, and it should be the standard, not the exception. When classifying a natural wine, this is a big one. For a wine to be ‘Certified Organic’ (the term to look out for on the label), the grapes must be grown in a vineyard that adheres to the strict rules of organic agriculture for a minimum of three years. Certain less-toxic products, such as Copper Sulphate, are permitted.

Certification also means some of the other aspects of the winemaking process must be organic and the level of sulphites in the wine must be lower. Examples of certifying bodies to look out for are ECOCERT in France, AIAB in Italy and USDA in the US.

A word of caution: organic certification does not guarantee quality or automatically make it naturalwine. That is because some manipulation in the cellar is still allowed to happen. Plus, not all wines produced organically are certified; some small organic producers don’t apply for certification due to the cost. And other forms of natural farming, like permaculture, don’t have certification at all.

For natural wine explorers, the lack of organic certification shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but maybe it should make you inquire further about a producer’s methods.

Read more

BIODYNAMIC

Biodynamic wines are made entirely in tune with nature, both in the vineyard and the cellar. This is the zenith of natural wine criteria. If you want sustainably and ethically produced wine, biodynamic is your watchword.

Around a hundred years ago, philosopher Rudolph Steiner created a totally holistic agriculture system that views the farm as a living organism. He called it Biodynamic. Think of it as a super-charged version of organic that takes the idea much, much further.

The production method can be simplified into two parts. Firstly, it follows the lunar cycle in all aspects of viticulture and cellar management. Secondly, it uses special natural composts to replace traditional forms of fertiliser, encouraging the soil and plant to form their own natural protection.

There are aspects of biodynamic winemaking, like burying cow horns and being guided by the moon, that seem to take it into a weird, spiritual place. But the core belief is about achieving balance, not interfering with nature, and leaving the land in as good or better condition for future generations. And, to many palates, the wine tastes distinctly better because of it.

Read more

HAND

HARVESTED

Picking the grapes by hand rather than opting for machine harvesting is an essential part of the natural wine making philosophy. If your grapes were picked this way, it’s a good sign that your wine is made by someone who cares deeply about their product.

Harvesting marks the end of the growing process and the start of the making process. Many believe, for nature to work its magic, you must begin winemaking in a natural way, by hand- picking the fruit. The reasons for this are practical as well as ethical.

How producers manage the critical point between vineyard and cellar can have a significant effect on the wine. Machine harvesting can break the delicate skins and release precious juice ahead of time. And that’s when problems arise. Fermentation can start before the grapes reach the winery and nasty bacteria that can spoil the wine can start to breed. It’s why producers using machine-harvesting add sulphite compounds to the wine just after picking. However these make natural fermentations (and therefore natural wine) almost impossible. A good reason why hand harvesting should be a must on anyone’s natural-wine checklist.

Read more

NATURAL

YEAST

FERMENTATION

Allowing a wine to ferment naturally ensures its flavour is authentic to the area. It’s one benchmark we always look for. No natural fermentation equals no natural wine. It’s as simple as that.

Yeasts are bacteria, and they’re everywhere. Natural wines are made using the yeasts that sit on the berries and fly around in the winery. And because they affect wine character and flavour, they’re just as much a part of the terroir as soil, grape, climate and topography. They also impact on vintage variation in natural wines because the strength of yeast populations change from year to year.

Conventional producers eliminate these natural or ‘indigenous’ yeasts in favour of commercially produced varieties. These lab-bred strains are developed to reduce risk, add certain flavours and make the whole process easier and cheaper. For example, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc built its entire success on the back of the powerful gooseberry hit that comes from an engineered yeast called 4MMP. Wouldn’t it be nice to know a wine’s character comes from the place where the vines grow rather than out of a packet?

Trust us, once your palate has adjusted to the myriad of wild aromas and flavours of naturally fermented wines, they’ll start to pick up the comparatively lifeless character of conventional fermentation.

Read more

NOTHING

REMOVED,

NOTHING

ADDED

Using additives and removing things from wine are processes that help standardise flavour and style in conventional production. Natural wine shuns such manipulations to allow nature, in all its glory, to be fully expressed in the wine.

It may surprise you to learn that additives are the norm in wine making. There are fifty permitted in organic wine production alone. Who knows how many there are in conventional wine making. And many of them won’t be good for you. Adding activated charcoal, edible gelatine and tannin in the form of powder are three which sound particularly unpleasant.

Removing compounds from wine is also rife, and it’s responsible for stripping out the authenticity from the wine. One of the most surprising extraction processes, which became commonplace in the 80s and 90s in areas like Bordeaux, was the sucking out of water to increase concentration in the wine. Crazy.

For natural producers, avoiding these ‘ins and outs’ is crucial because, if nothing else, it ensures the wine tastes like wine and not alcoholic Ribena. That said, there are a few simple additives they will permit, so we do give a little leeway on this, but not much.

Read more

UNFINED

Fining is the winemaking term for one of the clarification processes used in conventional winemaking. The problem for some wine lovers is that it traditionally involves animal-derived substances. Unfined wines, while they can sometimes appear cloudy, are vegan-friendly and favoured by most natural producers.

Fining is the process of adding substances with charged ions that combine with the unwanted solids in the wine and sink to the bottom, before being filtered out or removed by racking. In the past, things like pig’s blood, egg whites and Isinglass (a form of collagen derived from the dried swim bladders of fish) were commonly used. Of course, these substances rendered the wine unsuitable for vegans.

Nowadays, vegan-friendly fining agents like bentonite, a kind of clay, are available. But the truth is any kind of fining can strip a wine of flavour, aroma and even colour. That’s why fining is almost always avoided by natural wine producers.

If you’re embarking on a natural wine journey, unfined wines are a highly recommended port of call.

Read more

UNFILTERED

This term is used for wines that aren’t subjected to the questionable practice of filtering wine at a micro-level. Ironically, the whole point of the process is to clarify the wine, but it leaves you with a product that is less naturally pure.

There are two types of filtration: Gross and Sterile. Gross filtration removes big stuff from the wine, almost like passing it through a sieve. It’s a generally accepted process in natural winemaking. Sterile filtration, on the other hand, uses fine membranes which filter out microscopic particles, including the micro- organisms in the wine which make it ‘alive’ and pure.

This high-level filtration is an absolute no-no for natural wine as it has a large impact on the character of the wine. Unfiltered wines escape this process and are left with all their authenticity intact.

Read more

LOW

SULPHUR

Sulphites help stabilise and preserve wine. The problem is that conventional wine producers tend to overdo it by adding excessive quantities. In some people, this can contribute to hangovers or cause reactions. Thankfully, natural wine producers prefer low sulphur additions.

What are sulphites? They’re the sulphur-based compounds that occur naturally in wine, and they’ve been used in winemaking as a preservative since Roman times. Unfortunately, many conventional producers are a little heavy-handed when it comes to the sulphur they add. For example, a third of a bottle of conventional white wine with 200 mg/l of sulphur dioxide (SO2) would take the average man over his recommended daily consumption of the compound.

What makes a low sulphite wine? Under EU law, certified biodynamic wine is required to contain less than half the amount of SO2 permitted in conventional wine. In practice, most natural wines will contain much lower levels than that, and some have no added sulphur at all. All the wines featured in our low sulphite category contain 50 mg/l SO2 or less, apart from dessert wines where we allow up to 100 mg/l.

What do low-sulphite wines taste like? While minimal sulphur levels may not have any real noticeable effect on the style of a wine, they can contribute to a different flavour profile, which some conventional wine drinkers reject. In white wines, where less natural SO2 occurs, low sulphur might render the flavour more complex, yeasty and a little ‘wilder’. In reds, the difference is less evident, but low sulphur still might promote a natural vibrancy and authenticity.

We think low sulphur levels add authenticity to the wine and once you drink these wines, you may never want to drink anything else again.

Read more

NO

ADDED

SULPHUR

Sulphur is an almost essential wine additive that stabilises and preserves wine. It can, however, impair the very qualities natural winemakers aspire to uphold. That’s why some brave and highly skilled producers avoid it altogether. The results can be spectacular.

Making wine completely without sulphur is difficult. It takes a winemaker who understands his vineyards, yeasts, and cellar very well and knows where the dangers lie. Zero-sulphur is the hallmark of a winemaker who is willing to take risks and allow nature to express itself fully in their product. Their wines can have incredible energy and zing that make them genuinely thrilling and memorable. Once they’re on your radar, it might be hard to go back.

Note that, even wines with no ‘added’ sulphur are likely to still have ‘contains sulphites’ on the back label. Why? Because, under law, a wine with more than 10 mg/l must have ‘contains sulphites’ on the label. The problem is almost all wine will have more than this naturally occurring in the wine.

Read more