If you’ve been on the internet in the past year (and with us all being locked inside our houses, who hasn’t?) then you’ve probably seen the rise of ‘Natural Wine’ – often with cool labels, these wines profess to be in some way more ‘natural’ than their counterparts. When I was approached to write this article, I started by asking myself, what does the term ‘natural wine’ actually mean? Were all the wines before this unnatural? Aren’t they all made of grapes? Here we’re going to look at some of the terminology and introduce you to a few wines from Peckham Cellars (shameless plug) to introduce you to some of our more ‘natural’ wines.
What is the definition of natural wine?
The short answer is that ‘natural’ wine doesn’t actually have a definition (hence my continuing use of inverted commas). In a broad sense, the term ‘natural wine’ implies a hands-off approach to winemaking, not spraying the vineyard with pesticides or herbicides, a wild yeast fermentation period and little or no S02 (sulphur) used. However, there is no agreed definition of natural wine and no accreditation board to certify that these criteria are being met by winemakers. Okay so we’ve agreed that there’s no definition to natural wine. Let’s talk about some of the winemaking practices that are clearly defined.
How about organic wine?
Organic wine certification focuses on the work in the vineyard, it restricts the use of pesticides and herbicides, and means that winemakers must focus on promoting healthy soils in the vineyards. Now this is good for two reasons, the first is it is making sustainability a focus for winemakers. By limiting the use of chemicals and pesticides, we’re ensuring that vineyards will be able to grow healthy grapes for future generations. We’re also ensuring here that the winemakers have to manage the vineyards in different ways, creating a biodiverse vineyard that manages pests naturally. The second is that wines produced in this way, in a healthier soil, with less chemicals used, taste better. A great example of this is our ‘Domaine la Haut Fevrie – Muscadet’, a crisp, fresh and salty white wine, where no chemical fertilizers are used in the vineyards and all the picking of the grapes is done by hand. This wine is a beautiful expression of the land it is grown on, and the winemakers take time and considerable effort to ensure they have healthy fruit.
What is a biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic wines are the level sitting above organic wines. Biodynamic wines have the tightest controls and regulations on what is permissible or allowed both in the vineyard and in the winery. Based on the theories of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), biodynamics take the principles of organic farming, but marries it with a much more holistic approach, with soil health, biodiversity, natural fertilizers and water management all being integral to the production of biodynamically certified wines. Now there is some quite bonkers theories in the biodynamic school of thought such as taking ground quartz, placing it inside a cows horn and burying it under the ground to harness the ‘cosmic energy of the soil’. Don’t let this distract you! There is a tonne of amazing stuff for both the planet, and winemaking within there!
The biggest accreditation board for this is Demeter named after the ancient Greek God of agriculture (the biodynamic farmers can get a a little kooky), and the reason we are proponents of this style of wine is that it’s the most sustainable way of making wine. It focuses on the soil, having the healthiest soils, ensuring healthy vines, healthy fruit and we genuinely believe that this leads to amazing tasting wines. A great example of this approach is an Umbrian winemaker we have called Collecapretta. The estate which only comprises 8 hectares has a blend of olive trees, ancient grains and vines planted. They use no chemicals whatsoever in the production of the wines, no temperature controls in the winery and no S02, with all the compost in the vineyards being made from their own animals. These wines sing, they are beautiful expressions of the land and the growing season. Their ‘Terra di Preti 2019’ is an orange wine that the first time I tasted was akin to a religious experience, the wine is alive with blossom, honey and stone fruits exuding from the glass.
To conclude, there’s been a rise of winemakers and farmers producing wines that are labelled ‘natural’. Although this term has no meaning within itself, it’s an umbrella term for wines that are produced with less chemicals, in a more biodiverse vineyard, where the winemaker has to focus on producing the healthiest fruit. This a movement we can get behind! It means better wine in your glass (in our opinion) and a healthier planet. Drink good, do good. LWW
All three of the wines are available online at peckhamcellars.co.uk
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