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Natural wine trend

The cult of natural wine

Natural wine has been fermenting in France since the 1970s, but recently it’s been gathering headlines around the world. What is this phenomenon?

The magazine Wine Business International (WBI) estimates that natural accounts for less than 2% of global sales, but, in hotspots such as New York, Copenhagen, London and Paris – where a small, fast-growing network of militant bars sell nothing but natural – it is very much a thing.

In 2007, UK importer Les Caves de Pyrene handled, perhaps, 15 natural producers. Today, it distributes 220, and sales are growing fast.

“You find them on the best restaurant lists and even odd examples in local pubs. Natural wine drinking has increased exponentially and there’s another 15 to 20 smaller importers who specialise in it,” says the firm’s Doug Wregg.

Natural wine’s focus is around additives – or the lack of

Using added sulphur, lab techniques and about 70 legal additives, industrial wines are manufactured to be stable, consistent and, arguably, narrow in their flavours. In contrast, natural wine is additive-free, regularly unfiltered and utilises only a tiny amount – if any – of sulphur.

These are sustainably produced, handmade, wild-fermented wines that wear their idiosyncrasies proudly and change subtly, bottle to bottle. It is high-wire winemaking and, many concede, some are ‘shit’. But, for many, that unpredictability is exciting.

Sulphur mutes everything; it makes wine orderly, neat, considered. With natural wines, there are extreme highs and lows.

The interest in natural wines is not solely down to flavour. Like craft beer, natural is both a drinks category and a movement: a revolutionary sect in the vanguard of a radical new wine culture. This is wine’s punk or acid house, a generational schism, in which young drinkers are rejecting the stuffy wine establishment.

“There’s been a massive change in how wine is made, sold and enjoyed,” says Dan Keeling, co-editor of Noble Rot, a fanzine launched in 2013 as an irreverent wine journal.

“There’s a new generation who can’t afford or don’t want to engage in classic regions such as Bordeaux, and natural wine has enjoyed a boom because of that.”

This rebellious attitude is, very much, inspired by the natural-winemakers themselves, in France, Italy and, increasingly, in Australia, Spain and eastern Europe. They are – sometimes bitterly – opposed to “big wine”, which they regard as both an ecological disaster (vast vineyards bereft of biodiversity, poisoning waterways with pesticides etc) and a creative dead end.

Natural wine does not do red tape

Makers only use organic or biodynamically grown grapes, but, often without official certification, and most French winemakers work outside the appellation system (a rule-bound bureaucracy that dictates which wines can be labelled authentic to that area).

Instead, they grow whatever (heritage, low-yield) grapes they like and make experimental wines that – fermented in clay amphorae pots or produced pét-nat, a low-tech sparkling-wine method – use ancient, rough ’n’ ready techniques.

Could such ideas become mainstream? Not immediately. It is difficult to expand production of natural wine quickly. Many makers choose not to. But there is scope for more producers to adopt natural methods, the big players, too.

“It’s gaining momentum,” says WBI editor, Felicity Carter. “Producers who were extremely sceptical are beginning to experiment with lower sulphur and different fermentation vessels. It has opened up possibilities for mainstream producers, which they appear to be relishing…..

The Guardian: Read the full article

“…. in circles that matter – people are choosing ‘considered consumption’ over fast, mass-produced hyper-consumerism.
“Driven in part by the pandemic, but also as a result of lower levels of trust in big multinationals and a life, that for many, has begun to lack any kind of higher purpose – people are turning to a simpler, more organic way of living.
“Not everyone, but in WASP-y circles; old-school is very much cool again.”

Comment on this trend from SA’s futurist/innovation specialist: Jonathan Cherry