It’s Only Natural

Is it Natty or Nature?

Fruit can ferment and become wine without human intervention. Just observe drunken birds and animals after they eat neglected fruit that has been fermenting on the vine or dropped on the ground. They get sauced and seem to be enjoying themselves – but was the wine good? If it was, it was by luck.

Humans have spent thousands of years actively pursuing the craft of fine winemaking with each improvement a result of some sort of intervention. Advancements in the vineyard include site selection, the improvement of the soil through composting or the grazing of animals, the choice of a rootstock, finding the ideal field selection or clone of a specific variety, analyzing climate to make sure the selections are appropriate for the environment, water management, deciding when to pick – and many more decisions that don’t even address pest and weed control as well as conventional (read chemical) farming methods. However, since I think of organic farming as a baseline, I will ignore the latter.

Then there’s winemaking. There have been huge improvements in winemaking in just the past 100 years with temperature controlled stainless steel fermenters, clean cellars, the study of native and cultivated yeast strains and small cask barrels. Then there is the dark side – a slew of less than natural remedial methods that alter the finished product of wine… and that has been the problem. 

As the technology of wine became more precise, wine became more generic; even at the high end. Some people began to reject “perfect” wine for a wine that was different – not necessarily better, but with unique character… and the “Natural” or “Natty” wine movement was born. 

I applaud the rejection of industrial wine for wines of character but I reject the celebration of severely flawed or overly funky wine in the same way that I reject over-priced wine that is manufactured to fit a targeted taste profile. The idea that a natural wine is only “natty” if it ignores the craft of winemaking and is made by a non-interventionist is a flawed concept. Every decision that is made in wine growing and winemaking is interventionist. No wine, that I am aware of, is made of foraged grapes from native vines. Humans interact with the natural process of turning grapes into wine from the beginning; from hybridized rootstocks derived from those that were once native to the US being shipped to Europe to save the French vines from phylloxera, to European vinifera planted all over the world as the identity of fine wine varieties, all the way through to choosing what vessel to ferment or age the wine in. Human intervention is the reason fine wine exists. The trick is to intervene using natural methods to make a well crafted wine of character that ultimately is delicious.

Rob Sinskey