Defining natural wine
Most good winemakers see themselves as non-interventionist, or natural. They try to use as few additives as possible and as little manipulation as they can.
Most of them have to compromise at some point. Where and why they make that compromise depends on what they are trying to achieve and how much they are prepared to risk in order to achieve it.
So we need to be clear exactly what we mean by natural wine.
A natural wine is a wine made,
- in small quantities,
- by an independent producer,
- on low-yielding vineyards,
- from handpicked, organically grown grapes,
- without added sugars or foreign yeasts,
- without adjustments for acidity,
- without micro-oxygenation or reverse-osmosis.
Most natural wines are neither filtered nor fined. The few that are will either be filtered extremely lightly or fined with organic egg-white.
A natural wine contains no more than,
- 10 mg/l total sulphur if red,
- 25 mg/l total sulphur if white.
If sulphur dioxide is added, it will be only at bottling and only in the tinest quantities. Many natural wines are made without the addition of sulphur dioxide at any point.
The perfect natural wine
In a perfect world all natural wines would be unfiltered, unfined, and completely unsulphured. In reality this is not always possible.
The perfectly natural wine is best seen as the goal towards which the natural winemaker is striving. Sometimes he will get closer than others. Just occasionally he will achieve it.
The winemakers that interest us are those who get closest most often.
But exactly how a wine is made is not something that can be decided in advance. Each year, and each wine, is different. The winemaker has to improvise.
There will always be times when, however reluctantly, he has to intervene to prevent it from spoiling.