The roots of natural wine

There is nothing new about natural wine. There have always been winemakers who worked in this way, just as there have always been winemakers who attempted to cut corners.

But the last twenty years has seen a growing awareness of these wines, a growing market for them, and an increasing number of winemakers turning, or returning, to this kind of approach.

Vin naturel

France leads the way in both the production and consumption of natural wine. At a time when the French wine industry as whole is shrinking, sales of natural wine are consistently rising.

The seeds of the movement were sown in the fifties and sixties by pioneers such as Jules Chauvet, but the French public has only recently become aware of the revolution in its midst.

Considered at first as a fad, the increasing success of these wines has been responsible for a shift in the approach of more conventional growers back in the direction of naturalness.

It is the number of small independent winemakers in France, and the number of small independent wine shops in Paris, that has enabled it to take hold.

But even here, natural wine remains a relatively small subculture.

The spread of natural wine

The first specialist natural wine shops appeared in the capital in the late eighties.

It can now boast around ten extremely natural cavistes, and around twenty more with natural leanings. There is a similar number of bars and bistros, and a handful of restaurants serving natural wine.

The other big market for natural wines is Japan, where they are prized for their lightness and extremely low sulphur content.

There are some great Japanese importers, such as Yasuko Goda, one of the most talented tasters working in natural wine. Her company is named Racines after the famous red of Claude Courtois.

The next biggest market is New York, where the taste for these wines has been developing over the last few years. In the rest of Europe and America there are isolated producers and the odd enthusiast.

But that could be about to change.