Anyway who has a passing interest in natural wine will know that it’s a subject on which feelings run high. A lot of people are outraged that such unconventional wines are praised and fêted when they are (in their view) unpalatable and clearly faulty.
But the thing that seems to get them hottest under the collar is the term ‘natural wine’ on the grounds that it implies that all other wine is unnatural. (Well some of it clearly is but let’s let that pass for a moment.)
The problem is there’s no agreed definition of natural wine. It is, most people would agree, made from organically grown grapes and often comes from vineyards that are worked biodynamically (i.e. receive homeopathic treatments and are planted, pruned and harvested in line with the phases of the moon. I know. It sounds bonkers but it seems to work.)
So far so good but it’s in the winery that the big divergence occurs in that natural winemakers will only use naturally occurring yeasts and minimal if any sulphur. That results in significantly different, colours, flavours and textures from conventional wine. (Nailing my own colours to the mast I say ‘Hooray! More choice!)
It is, as I pointed out in the natural wine workshop I co-hosted for my colleagues in the Guild of Food Writers on Monday, more of an attitude of mind than anything else. A desire to let the wine more or less make itself with minimal intervention - as winemakers used to do before the existence of many of the products and techniques that are used today.
Natural wine producers want to make their wines that way because those are the kind of wines they enjoy themselves. Some of us - enough to keep them in business - like them and want to buy them*. Others don’t. Fair enough. No-one’s forcing them. What’s the problem?
It seems to amount to the N word which, let’s face it is overused by the food and beauty industries and is almost as vague as to be meaningless. But what do you replace it with? Real wine? Equally pejorative - it implies that most wine is unreal. Raw wine? I don’t think most people understand what this means. Unconventional wine? Not bad but a bit of a mouthful. Artisanal wine? Yes, but that arguably applies to all wine made by small producers, natural or not.
So how about craft wine? Hackles may rise but you can’t really pin a negative on it. Uncraft wine or non-craft wine is clunky and doesn’t work. And it’s done wonders for beer and gin. I suspect that a craft wine list would get natural wine a much wider audience as would craft wine bars. The only drawback I suspect is that its often bolshie, idiosyncratic producers might well reject the term.
I hesitate to open this up for general discussion (*ducks*) but what do you think?
* But not to the exclusion of wines that are not made this way. I'm not a natural wine fascist, I just think they add an interesting dimension to wine drinking.
Bottle image © Monica Shaw