Crazy Little Thing Called Natural Wine!
We know them as the rebel artisan producers and they undoubtedly created a major movement over the last ten years. Natural wine producers are not interested in any official definition or accreditation, but in a nutshell: they farm their vineyards without chemicals, avoid unnecessary ingredients, minimize sulphites in the winery and tend to use neutral barrels for ageing. The amount of natural wine being sold in the market is still very little. However, their impact on the industry is quite significant.
Here and there, one can hear wine producers complaining about natural wines that are replacing their wines at high-end restaurants in cities like London, Milan, Copenhagen, Berlin and more. Well, it’s happening for a reason. And, instead of being bothered by “those hipster producers”, the smart move is to look into this niche and try to understand how their approach is in fact responding to a changing consumer behavior.
Here is a couple to begin with:
Environmentally Conscious: Natural winemakers share similar values with organic and biodynamic producers by avoiding pesticides and chemicals in the vineyards. The idea is to go back to polyculture in farms and revitalize the soil by using diverse natural preparations. Consumers know very little about the differences of organic, biodynamic and natural wines. But, does it really matter? They are looking for producers who are sensitive to the environment and are using natural ingredients in their food and beverages.
Rebellious Act: The Millennial and Gen Z, specifically in Europe and USA, are challenging the status quo more than ever. Climate change is a daily discussion for them, they tend to pay more for ethically sourced products, they are more social justice oriented, they have a revolutionary approach to gender and sexuality, they do not believe in having one job for life. This list can go on, but the important message here is that they are not afraid to redefine things. Very much like natural winemakers.
This generation of natural wine enthusiasts is questioning the style of wines that are said to be good by the experts. They are giving a chance to different flavors that are new to them. It is very important to realize that this is an extension of how they approach life in general.
Community: Building communities nurture the sense of belonging. Especially with the digital evolution, it has become easier to reach out people with similar interests. Natural winemakers are known to value advocacy over competition. They build a community to share their journey and carry the wine lovers along with them.
However, it’s important to point out one thing. Any group - even those who claim to be inclusive – might involuntarily start excluding others. You might have heard the saying “You are either a natural wine drinker, or not” because for some of them, drinking natural wine is more of an ideological choice. One should not fall into this trap, as there is a danger in becoming something you actually criticize.
Drinking with Love and Interaction: The wine industry– especially the Old World - puts a lot of pressure on wine drinkers, expecting them to know their appellations, regulations and wine styles. The labels are complicated and the terms are just too complex. The direct interaction with wine lovers is relatively limited, even in this digital age.
Many natural winemakers on the other hand put themselves out there together with their stories. They interact and share their love for what they do. They are relatively more open to discuss the flaws in wine. It’s not always about the best quality. People might actually enjoy imperfect things, as it feels more real to them.
There is always a diverse range of reasons why we like someone, a product or join a movement. I’ve tried to list some of them for natural wines because I certainly believe that mainstream producers should spend some time understanding these reasons for their own benefit.
Oh, and if you ask for my personal opinion: I, myself, enjoy drinking and discovering natural wines. It’s exciting to meet many dedicated winemakers in this field and there is always something new to learn from their own experience. However, I do think that people spend too much time in discussing some topics such as the addition of sulfur dioxide when it comes to natural wine. I believe in minimizing additives but I am not obsessively against sulphur dioxide. I believe, (depending on the style of the wine) certain amounts of SO2 protects the wine from tasting similar to one another. Plus, one more thing has been bothering me: when I do not like a natural wine due to some reason, I do not like being criticized as if I have not developed a certain level of tasting skills to appreciate that wine. Seriously, it’s not a Godard movie, it’s probably just a chemical compound produced by some microbes that I do not enjoy drinking. That’s all. I do have other ideological priorities though, such as finding wineries that have respect for nature and who put their hearts into building environmentally sustainable businesses.