We have all heard the story about the millennial who couldn’t afford to buy a house because they ate too many pulled pork, avocado and sourdough sandwiches, and wiled away their days drinking craft gin and tonic. During their life long quest to move away from mass production and in your face branding, they have been quietly (well, not always) moving in the natural food movement, and encouraging artisans to produce more quality products. Why not wine too?
Natural wine has been viewed by some as the hipster wine movement, using techniques that move away from mass production and with very little interference in the wine making process. As it should be. But why are we seeing an increase in natural wine? Is it really just going back to basics because its better, or is it the millennial generation rebelling against every process that came before them, just to prove a point? Like pulled pork, and avocado before it, natural wine is being taken over by the millennial, because it shakes things up, turns the process on its head and is different to what came before it, its got serious funk and attitude! Who needs a roof over your head when you can drink natural wine and frolick in the kale fields, with our millennial friends who make craft beer and smoke their own fish?
But, lets leave our millennial friends to frolick and we can get back to the serious topic of natural wine. Natural wine is wine without all the instagram filters and photo shopping, in fact usually the wine itself is not even filtered. Our trusty guide, The Oxford Companion to Wine(which you should all get a copy of, if you stop buying kale and craft beers for 4 months you should be able to afford it) gives a definition of natural wine as:
- Grapes are grown by small scale often independent producers
- Grapes should be sustainable, biodynamic or organic
- These grapes are harvested by hand
- No yeast is added to the fermentation process
- No other additives are added in the process
- Sulfites are kept to a minimum or completely left out
This is not a fixed, firm and legal definition. Any winemaker on the street can call his wine natural wine. He probably wont, but he can. If he wants to.
Lets touch quickly on the process of making natural wine, as we saw above, the grapes should be small in scale and harvested by hand, and usually whole bunch pressed (not de-stemmed), and fermented without the addition of yeasts. Some natural winemakers will ferment their wines under flor, a natural yeast layer that is formed under certain winemaking conditions. The flor will protect the wine from invading bacteria, and give the wine a fresh but bready flavour. This method is typical in sherry making and also found in jura vin jaune. Orange wine is also a form a natural wine.
Natural wines are also very sensitive to oxidization, and can take on a bruised apple and cider vinegar notes, but these are also characteristic profiles of orange wine. Natural wines are more unstable than their additive packed brothers and sisters, they are unfiltered, unadulterated versions of the mass produced wine we find in our supermarkets. This means they can be more exciting to drink, often with aromas deeply rooted in nature, wet hay, yeast, bruised apple. they are ripe and sometimes agressive in thier flavours, they are not muted by additives. They are shouty in thier aromas, you cannot turn down the volume on these wines.
There are a number of natural wine activists in South Africa, not because they think its cool, but because they are passionate about producing wine that reflects nature, with minimal intervention. Austria is churning out its fair share of natural wines, and of course France. Almost every wine making country has passionate natural wine makers, committed to working with their grapes to bring out the best in them, without the aid of added yeasts and sulfites.*
Natural wine is not the new kid on the block, it has been around since the 1970’s in France. Only recently has it become the flavour of the month, but it only accounts for roughly 2-3% of the worlds wine production. It will not be mainstream anytime soon, and perhaps this is the way the winemakers want it. They have something special, and many other winemakers are opposed to this natural wine movement, with its implied moral superiority complex.
Natural wine is a movement, as much as it is a wine making process, and as a millennial myself** , it is one I am happy to get on board of. It is in our nature as the millennial generation to push away the boundaries of our parents, and explore radical new things, and to have adventures. We are breaking all the molds of society. Natural wines are the casual laid back version of the stuffy, suited and booted wine world that came before. It is making wine appeal to a wider audience, more and more millennial’s are getting into wine.
We are being led to believe that being a millennial is a bad thing, not only are there more injuries in millennial households caused by trying to take the stone out of your avocado, but we are seen as the ungrateful generation, bitter at the people who came before us. We are selfish and indulgent, we can afford to be picky about what we want to involve ourselves in. We are pushing forward nature, and engaging with producers. We have a passion for the small producers, and artisans, for knowing the origins of our produce. we are more environmentally conscious when it comes to our life choices. Natural wine fits perfectly into our new lifestyle. Look at what we have already done for the Vegan food movement. We are not to be messed with in our quest for differentiation, we will have natural wine!
Does it taste oh so millennial? Well, have a think about it as you sip on your next glass of wine, natural or otherwise.
*This is not a dig at other winemakers who do not make natural wine, but are equally as passionate about their grapes!
** Yes! I am a pulled pork and kale munching natural wine drinking Millennial.
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