What the heck is natural wine

November 2017 · 3 minute read

Natural wine is a somewhat contentious term, but amongst winemakers and wine fans I’ve found a general consensus that the principals set forth by Louis/Dressner (an importer of natural wines) on the topic are the most accurate:

Wild Yeasts

All wines are made with the natural yeasts on the grapes, in the vineyards and in the cellars. Cultured yeasts to rush fermentation or add “enhancing” aromas and flavors are unacceptable. We look for wines that express their terroir. No enzymes, no hormones.

Hand Harvesting

Growers harvest by hand, not machine. We want the ripest fruit to be brought carefully and lovingly into the winery.

Low Yields

The growers want low yields for greater concentration. We look for growers with holdings in old vines.

Natural Viticulture

We work with growers who plow their vineyards to keep the soil an active eco-system, and who use natural methods in tending their vines. We also look for growers who have selection massale and not clones.

No or Minimal Chaptalization

We do not want an artificially high degree of alcohol produced by adding sugar to the must. Non- or slightly chaptalized wines are more enjoyable and healthier to drink.

Non-Filtration

Wines are either not filtered or minimally filtered.

Respectful Winemaking

We prefer a harmony, not an imposed style — wines should showcase their place of origin and variety character. We are not looking for oak flavor, particular fruits or overly done aromatics. Minimal use of SO2 is encouraged.

Quality Control

We taste at our growers several times before and after bottling before shipping wines. Where possible, we work with the vigneron to make special blends representing the very best wines in their cellar.

Getting Blasted!

Lastly, our most important “principle.” The overblown world of overdone wines is tiresome. But having too many high principals can also be a burden. Let’s drink some wine!

But how do you find it?

My process is something like this:

  1. go to potentially cool liquor store.
  2. go to the France section.
  3. start spinning around bottles looking for Louis/Dressner, Jenny & François, Kermit Lynch, Zev Rovine, Rosenthal Wine Merchants, Selection Massale as importers.
  4. if nothing, go to the Italy section. repeat #3
  5. if still nothing, go to the ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ section. repeat #3
  6. if you run into someone at the store and want to ask about it, use your new language from our friendly Louis/Dressner bullet points above.

Hot Tips:

Someday, natural wine will be ubiquitous, and everyone from the Mission or Williamsburg or Echo Park will know exactly what it is and most every decent store will carry it, like kombucha or specialty coffee. For now, soldier on!