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What is Natural Wine?

I’m all about small wineries and organic farming, but here are some pros and cons of natural wines.

New French legislation in 2020

In April of 2020, the French Government passed a law to define the rules on what constitutes natural wine. Previously, the term didn’t really mean anything and was barely regulated at all. The new legislation is as follows:

natural wine vinyard
  • The wine must be made from organic grapes (organically farmed grapes)
  • The grapes must be hand-picked
  • Added sulfites must be kept to a minimum
  • There can be no added sugars, colourings, or acids
  • Absolutely no added yeast

Most of the wines that fit this description are also often unfiltered. Keep in mind that this can mean the wine is no longer vegan.

Pros of natural wine

Good ones can taste amazing. The idea of an organically produced and sustainable product made with natural yeast sounds like something that could be lovely and pure, and often is… but sometimes it’s not.

Cons of natural wine

I’ve had a lot of gross natural wine. Part of the reason for this is its unstable quality. As I’ve talked about before in previous posts, wine that is unfiltered goes bad a lot quicker. Sulfites that are added to most wines also slow down the decomposition process. Without those, the wine simply keeps fermenting. It’s ALIVE!

Two things can happen to natural wines. One of them is volatile acidity, which is when acetic acid bacteria reacts with alcohol to create ethyl acetate. Essentially, the wine doesn’t have enough sulfites in it, and too much oxidation occurs. The other problem is aggressive yeast, or Brettanomyces, which is often considered a spoilage yeast. It will make your wine taste and smell like poop. Eeewwww!

Snobbery in the natural wine crowd

My biggest issue is not really with natural wine itself, it’s with the scene that has popularized it. It can be very pretentious and alienating. It is simply not true that natural wine is the only real one and everything else is poison. It’s an unhelpful narrative that really puts people off. Good natural wine is amazing, but passing off flawed wine as being somehow better than normal wine doesn’t do it for me. 

Ultimately, I’m all about smaller production wineries and organic farming, but forget the snobbishness! I want all of us to drink better wine and be better people for having done so. Whether natural or not, there are tons of great wines out there, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

french natural wine vineyard

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