Natural wine defined

Lack of a definition must surely hamper the growth of the natural wine movement. (Photo: Via Olivier Restaurant website)

Natural wine is “on trend” right now, but is it simply wine made without additives or are some additives permitted? Does natural wine have to be made from organic or biodynamically-grown grapes?

“Yes, it is possible to make stable wines using very low amounts of SO2. The key to all this is hand picking.” – James Healy, Dog Point Vineyard

Lack of a definition must surely hamper the growth of the natural wine movement.

A group of Italian wine producers plan to change all that. VinNatur now has over 200 winemaker members throughout Italy, with a few in other countries. They aim to,

“… grow vines and produce quality wines, using natural methods that are tied to the territory, without being forced by technology.”

All members must be European Union (EU) certified organic wine producers, which prevents them using synthetic pesticides, insecticides or herbicides. Use of copper-sulphate is allowed but below levels permitted by EU organic. Grapes must be hand-picked.

Fermentations must only use endemic yeasts and sulphur addition is limited to a (low) 50 mg/l for sparkling and sweet wines, and 30 mg/l for red and rosé.

Light filtration is allowed and they can use gas (carbon dioxide, argon or azote) to avoid oxidation. Everything else, such as bentonite, enzymes, heat treatment, reverse osmosis, acidification, deacidification, electrodialysis etc. is forbidden.

Those restrictions are rules, not recommendations and are subject to being checked by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.

I asked James Healy, winemaker at Dog Point Vineyard – this country’s largest producer of organic grapes – whether the VinNatur members could make sound wines if they stick to the rules. James replied,

“Yes, it is possible to make stable wines using very low amounts of SO2. The key to all this is hand picking. To get away with those low levels, the fruit needs to be as clean as possible. Adding SO2 pre and/or post fermentation are very different things. Pre is more about yeast selection and post is more about oxidation although there is a little bit of the other in each if you get my meaning. Rosé will retain good colour if the grapes are very clean and it’s kept away from oxygen.”

More information on VinNatur can be found here.

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