What is natural wine? To quote Alice Feiring: “Nothing added, nothing taken away.”
In my five year wine drinking journey I would have naturally assumed in the beginning that all wines were clearly natural, I mean they come from fermented grapes don’t they? It doesn’t get more natural than that….right?
Five years ago, blissfully unaware, the true origins of my go to $7 Rosé didn’t really matter to me. I felt like I found a special deal, because this wine tasted just as good as a $20 bottle. But of course, the next morning I felt as if I was knocking on deaths door. My head would throb, my mouth was parched, and my stomach would have a mind of it’s own for the next 36 hours.
It never actually occurred to me back then, that this isn’t a normal occurrence after drinking wine. I thought to myself, perhaps I deserved this for drinking more than one glass of wine on an empty stomach. One person suggested: “Maybe it’s sulfates!” and maybe it was? So I bought a marketed “low sulfite” wine from some California wine brand and to be frank, it didn’t make a tremendous difference nor was the wine actually any good. I still felt like garbage.
Perhaps an unknown allergy? Maybe I was allergic to wine? This thought terrified me because, let’s face it…I love wine! I then began the arduous journey of self discovery and research. Maybe I was reacting to something used in the processing of wine? I learned with time, that making wine isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. It’s not simply picking grapes, putting them in a tank and poof! Wine.
Through reading many articles and books, I learned that sulfites are present in a lot of different foods; dried fruits, chocolates, and cheese, none of which I have ever had a problem with. So I knew at this point, it wasn’t the sulfates. So what was the problem?
I’ll never forget my first experience with a truly biodynamic, natural wine producer. It was spring of 2018 and after a trip to Verve Vine in TriBeCa I decided to splurge a little and buy a particular wine I had had my eye on. The producer was called Gravner. Yes, that Gravner, the famed Slovenian/Fruiliano wine maker Josko Gravner. I tried his Anfora Breg and never have I tasted something like this. It was alive, primal, and pleasant all at the same time. It changed and evolved in the glass like a caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis into a butterfly. I drank this wine slowly over the course of an evening at home. The wine I had sipped an hour before was a completely different wine an hour later. What was this witchcraft? The next morning I woke up bright and chipper, I felt like a million bucks. I had no headache, palpitations, or any other unpleasant feelings. This was it, my “ah-ha moment.” This was a stark contrast to the mornings after enjoying my $7 Rosé.
It’s hard to say for certain what I was actually reacting to due to poor labeling laws in the US for alcohol. I know that I’m allergic/sensitive to Penicillin, nickel, and latex. But I don’t think wine contains that, who knows right? What I can say is that Ive noticed I most heavily react to wines who have sourced grapes from areas like the Central Vineyards in California, this is the land of Trinchero, Constellation, and Treasury to name a few. This is the land of Industrial winemaking and some of the most polluted soil in the state.
I have come to the inevitable realization that the more committed to responsible argricultire and viticulture a producer was, the overall better I felt after drinking their wine. There was clearly something to be said for producers who refused to work with Glyphosate, Polyvinylpolypyrolidone (PVPP), or Defoaming agents like polyoxyethylene40 monostearate, silicon dioxide,dimethylpoly-siloxane, sorbitanmonostearate, or glyceryl mono-oleateand glyceryl dioleate. The names of these chemicals are kind of disturbing, right?
Please understand, I’m being really candid with you right now, taking you through my thought process and five year journey. It’s not an easy thing to do considering the pull that many large wine corporations have. It’s not easy to go against the grain, especially when you have friends who are happy to drink a two buck chuck. But I can’t expect everyone to enjoy wine the way I do. This wine journey has been a heck of a ride to say the least.
Due to the fact that I am a public account, my wine journey has been obviously very public through the years. I can see my own evolution played out on little tiny squares on my phone screen. If I scroll back (WAY back), and look at some of the wines posted when I first started I kind of chuckle to myself. Oh the innocent times, my views were so simple, uncomplicated. I don’t think I can ever go back to featuring canned mulled wine or rosé jelly on toast. In a way, I’ve awoken from a slumber with no intentions of going back to sleep.
So what’s next?
I feel as if my eyes have been opened. I don’t look at that $7 Rosé the same way I did five years ago. Knowing what I know now, it seems cheap, lacking personality and soul. It’s a dead wine. Dare I say even destructive; to myself, to small wine producers, to the men and women working the vineyards, and to the environment. I can almost taste the industrialization, the chemical fining agents used to clarify and speed up production. I don’t have an interest is this kind of cheap wine anymore. I can’t go back now, I won’t.
Nowadays, I’m happy to spend the extra money to support small, responsible, and committed producers. Natural wine still remains a poorly defined term, but I do agree with the common consensus that it’s low intervention, adding nothing that doesn’t belong. Ironically, I’m now happy to pay more, if it means I’m getting a whole lot less.
I hope that you’ll do the same.