Natural Wine. This term gets thrown around a lot these days, but what exactly does it mean?
Interestingly, in Australia there is no legal definition for Natural Wine, as of yet. France has recently adopted a set of rules to attempt to define it, but for Australian natural winemakers, it's still quite open.
So how do we define it? Essentially, the term "Natural Wine" refers to wine that has had no additions or subtractions throughout the winemaking process. Firstly, the fruit must be farmed either organically or biodynamically, with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers used. Nowadays many producers choose to use sustainable viticulture, regardless of whether they subscribe to the natural wine movement. It is important to note, however, that many natural producers may not be officially certified (even though they do follow organic or biodynamic practices).
Secondly, no additions of any kind can be added throughout the winemaking process. This includes yeasts, acids, tannins, sugars - basically anything that is not naturally present in the must. Fermentation must be spontaneous and carried out using the natural yeasts that are present on the grapes. Minute additions of sulphur dioxide (an organic compound) are generally accepted, however, as this helps to protect the wine as it goes in to bottle. Though there are many natural wine producers that don't add any sulphur at all.
Finally, natural wines cannot be fined or filtered at all. Filtration can strip flavour and structural compounds out of the wine, and leads to a more homogenised product. The use of fining agents has a similar effect. This lack of filtration means that natural wines can throw a light sediment in the bottle, or appear slightly cloudy. Rest assured, any sediment or haziness is completely harmless, and not an indication of a faulty wine.
Due to the minimal intervention of the winemaker, natural wines speak much more clearly of their terroir. The wonderful vinous character that comes through in these wines is exciting, vibrant and vital. Natural wines are loaded with character; they are living wines; wines that change and evolve with time.