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Natural wine or wine?

February 27, 2024 Tags: 0 comments
Is natural wine a distinct category of wine, superior, over conventional wines? Is natural wine, by definition, a better wine, independently of how it tastes? Should we choose natural wine over conventional wine? These were only some of the questions that loomed in my mind after attending a natural wine fair in Italy, an event unlike any other I had attended before.

Entering the venue, the first thing I noticed was the dress code with only a couple of exceptions. The dress code was shouting “I just came out of the winery”. In contrast to other wine fairs, where participants are typically dressed to impress, this one projected an air of indifference. It felt as though the producers did not want to be there and I was actually bothering them with questions and asking to taste the wines.

I also had the impression of having arrived late at the party, after everyone else had left, with only empty glasses and bottles and signs of past partying. Despite arriving on time, the tables were still unattended, as many producers were nowhere to be seen or still in the process of setting up their tables. I was told that the previous evening the venue had been transformed into a party with an abundance of wine flowing. This reminded me of the early days of the Italian craft beer movement, particularly my first visit to the Italian craft beer fair.

The were several parallels, from the party atmosphere to craft breweries created in a garage, mirroring the minimal requirements for natural wine producers – a relatively small amount of grapes. Fast forward a few years, the initial party atmosphere of the craft beer movement has disappeared as well as many breweries. Is the natural wine movement destined to follow suit?

Eventually, everyone arrived at their table and the corks had been removed and I was ready, and looking forward to, discover the wineries and taste the wines. It is worth mentioning that unlike organic or biodynamic wines, there aren’t a set of rules or protocol or third-party certifications for "natural wines", so it is left to the winemaker interpretation. Generally speaking, a wine is considered “natural” if it is fermented using its own yeast.

It wasn’t a big fair, so I completed my visit in a few hours during which I tasted dozens of wines and spoke to several winemakers, and it was evident their total reject towards conventional wine and winemakers, like the two were not side of the same coin. According to them, a wine drinker cannot like both categories, he has to choose one over another and choose natural wines. Again, the parallels with the craft beer movement came back.

Wine and the wine industry are already facing plenty of challenges, from low to no alcohol to climate change, so, a Cain and Abel war is not needed; natural and non wine producers should work together for the superior good of great wine, should not they? There are great wines made on both sides, just as there are poorly made, but making great natural wines is certainly more challenging. Winemakers have limited tools to control the wine making process and wine's evolution.

I left the event with a couple of wineries' details, and strangely enough, one was natural and the other wasn't. The conventional winemaker said it participated by pure chance, and I was pleased he did.

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