Some thoughts on ‘Natural’ Wine

For some time now I have been confused, even perhaps a bit annoyed, at a term that’s being bandied about by many people who all too often mean different things by it. Certainly there seems to be little unanimity as to what the term ‘natural wine’ actually means. I have asked proponents  – even makers of Natural wine to give me a definition, but to date I haven’t found two people who have given me the same definition. It is wine “made on skins”; it is wine “without sulphur”; it is wine “without artefacts”; it is wine with “nothing added or nothing taken away”. Of course all the above can be true but none of the above on their own can make a wine which can honestly be called ‘natural’.  We here at Castagna have been making natural wines since 1999 and I believe finding an honest definition seems important. It has not been easy, I have tried to create a definition but haven’t, as yet been able to come up with anything which seemed to me to be both honest and real. There is too much wine out there which is grown conventionally and then because no sulphur is added or is fermented on skins – it is called ‘natural’.

That’s just marketing claptrap as far as I’m concerned.

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Land with a loud voice.

If we want to label something so that it has some meaning we should at least try to find some form of definition. I read very recently part of the translation done by Tom Munro of Boovability of a French book called LE VIN AU NATUREL by Francois Morel – and in the author’s introduction I believe I have found the best definition I have yet read of that term.

“Man has never spoken so much about Nature as he does today, now that in Nature’s complex relationship with man she appears threatened or even facing destruction. It cannot be denied that man is an integral part of Nature and, as such, an essential force in her perpetual transformation, to the same extent as is continental drift or the respiration of plants. However, man – uniquely – has the power of decision and choice. The direction of these decisions and choices is therefore fundamentally important to us all. Another way of looking at this situation is to say that Nature does not exist as a fixed object, definitive and immutable, but she is perpetually in the process of being created and re-created and that man is in-dissociable from this evolution. Nature is simultaneously that which is given to us and that which we make of her.

For some years now the notion of ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ wine has made itself felt with increasing force across the world of wine. This notion of natural wine shares with ‘organic’ wine the desire to prosper on a level playing field with the modern viticultural method that has, the world over, been subjected to the production-oriented demands of the food industry and which has in turn been deemed unacceptable by a significant proportion of vignerons both here in France and elsewhere. However while ‘organic’ wine is simply a wine made from organically grown grapes, and which therefore only bases its legally recognised status on the organic way in which the grapes are grown,  the factor that differentiates natural wine is that it spreads its ambition to include every stage of the winegrowing process from the planting of the vine and the ploughing of the soil right through to the vineyard sprays, the harvest, the vinification and the ‘education’ of the wine in barrel, and concluding with the bottling of the wine. ‘Natural’ wine brings together in a single process, the work of the vineyard manager and the winemaker, united in the persona of the vigneron. And in contrast to ‘organic’ wine, which is legally defined and monitored, ‘natural’ wine derives its validity from the vigneron’s personal style, from a particular enterprise, and not from fixed rules and principles, or even less from a law whose conditions simply need to be fulfilled one-at-a-time”.

As good a definition as I suspect I will find. Here at Castagna we are fortunate in that we have an amazing piece of land with a loud voice, and this Vigneron’s tool of choice to encourage that land to speak through the wine is – biodynamics.