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What is' Natural' wine?

What is' Natural' wine?

Well, as with all life’s befuddling questions, we need a definition. And when it comes to what constitutes ‘natural’ wine, we find that there is a general consensus but no real hard fast rule as to what it is has to be, which… is kind of by design. This is a movement that began as a revolution against the post-war industrial agrochemicals like DDT that were gobbling up soil integrity acre by acre globally in the 70s. There was a tiny contingent of growers who returned to more natural approaches in the vineyard to restore the soils and give health back to the vines so they might be more resilient and self-reliant in times of inclement vintages. In the cellar, winemakers tried to guide the grapes moreso than dictate their process.

In short, I like to compare natural wine to natural beauty. The less makeup, the more authentic. The less interference from vine to wine, the more real your experience of the fruit, the place, the vintage. This can also mean you can confront a few with some warts and weird aromas - some could use a little lip gloss now and again. There’s a reason winemakers have over 76 authorized additives they can use in the winery to, well, ‘smooth’ things over — from fermentation aids to sensory enhancers. And while not all natural wines are created equal, at So What, we try to do the heavy lifting of tasting the good, bad, and ugly for you first. That doesn’t meant there still aren’t a few that are, should we say, an acquired taste. But most in the shop need no disclaimer at all. They exhibit the hallmark traits many love about natural wine — they are vibrant, pure, lively, fresh, fruity, and easy drinking. And they leave you feeling unpolluted. Some might dubb them ‘porch pounders.’ I would agree.

So What subscribes to the definition that natural wine is one that has no synthetic interference in the vineyard or cellar and has as minimal intervention as possible. This would include: native yeast fermentation (the yeast that is on the grapes and floating around among us), no additives (and there are several) except for a little sulphur if at all, no fining or filtering (yep, that’s why some are cloudy), no new oak. Extra points for those who think even bigger like concrete vessels that self -regulate temperature more than energy-consuming stainless steel, light weight bottles to cut down down on transport carbon emissions, eco-friendly labels, and eliminating pointless foil capsules for easy everyday drinkers.

I think another thing that has drawn me into this category is that many really speak to a free-spirit, openminded approach. These wines are creative, fun, collaborative. They don’t try to be anything other than what they are, and as a result, you get a lot of surprise and whimsy in these wines. They have awesome labels, and they tend to be from emerging producers who are partnering with tons of tiny organic farmers from less discovered pockets to create something beautiful and new for us to experience. They can be mind-bending. They can also be completely not serious, which can be nice. Many pair with more casual meals — taco night, burgers, Thai take-out…

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with ‘less’ natural wine. At So What, we are not dogmatic about this. While we do draw a hard line when it comes to farming (we really push for organic/Biodynamic/regenerative), there are a small handful of organic additives that when used very wisely and judiciously, can really improve the overall expression and not taking away from the personality of the wine. But it’s important to know what’s going on behind the curtain. That’s my job to ask those questions so you don’t have to.

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