The two cornerstones of what is defined as natural wine are maintaining the balance of the vineyard ecosystem and promoting the spontaneous evolution of the wine in the cellar. To date there is no official certification for natural wine and the interpretation of the terminology often varies. Generally speaking, any producer that identifies themselves as a natural winemaker follows agricultural practices that exclude the use of synthetic chemicals, as well as the use of additives or invasive processes to correct the colour, aroma and taste of wine in the cellar.
While conventional wine may rely on a number of oenological additives, natural wine only uses sulfur dioxide – that too only in some cases and in low quantities – as a preservative. This non interventionist production process requires a deeper knowledge and care of how to produce grapes of quality. Moreover, it results in a great expression of the terroir– the soil, the climate, the vines, and also reveals the subtle differences from one vintage to another. Without following the conventional ideas of taste imposed by bodies like the DOC, natural wine opens the door to an exciting and ever evolving range of flavor profiles. This novel way of experiencing wine challenges the conventional idea of what wine should taste like.
The recent success of natural wines and their ever increasing presence in restaurants and bars coupled with their growing popularity amongst wine enthusiasts the world over must not mislead us to believe that natural wine is a new phenomenon.
Rather, we are bearing witness to the rebirth of a traditional practice which was ubiquitous till the 1960’s but was subsequently abandoned with the advent of industrial agriculture and modern oenology. Nevertheless, those who produce natural wine today do so with the knowledge and tools that allow for an awareness of the process which is not comparable to that of the mid-twentieth century. Therefore, it would be just as wrong to say that today’s natural wine is like the wine of our grandparents.
The rebirth of natural wine has been gradual and widespread, often driven by a disappointment in existing industrial production practices. One of the areas pioneering this rediscovery was Beaujolais where, in the late seventies, a group of producers started turning their vineyards to organic and reconsidered the winemaking process from a more essential perspective. Amongst them were Marcel Lapierre, Max Breton, Jean Foillard, Jean Thévenet, and – above all – Jules Chauvet. The latter, who had long vinified without additives and produced an intense and vibrant wine different from the uniformed taste widespread in the region, became an example and inspiration for everyone.
Beujolais’ history is not unique. Rather, it is symbolic of the avant-gardist natural wine of those years. It has influenced and encouraged both other producers and other regions. From the late nineties, more and more cities have gotten hold of this current of producers, introducing their wines into the quality food industry.