If you pay attention to wine at all, you may have noticed somewhat of a natural wine cult beginning to bloom in wine stores, bars and restaurants around the country. You might have even wondered what the heck it is, and well, it’s a bit hard to define.
Natural wine is, in theory, taking grapes, and sometimes other fruit, that is grown at least organically, bringing it into the cellar, adding nothing as well as not taking anything away. If that explanation is confusing, it can help to consider how modern wine is produced. Most winemakers today use additives so that more consistent outcomes are achieved – they use carefully selected cultured yeasts for fermentation so that they have control of the process and flavors. They also use things like sulfur dioxide to prevent bacterial growth and oxidation.
Natural wines can vary somewhat, from winemakers who use organic fruit with either no additives or fewer additives, but still rely on some sulfur or yeast to correct issues that arise, to winemakers that farm organically and then insist on allowing their wines to take on their own direction. That means the wines may have organic matter in the bottle, and appear somewhat “rough”- they could be darker than usual, perhaps a bit cloudy, and their flavors may be somewhat yeasty or tangy. Keep in mind that organic wine doesn’t mean natural wine – organic wine is simply wine made without using chemicals in the vineyard, whereas natural wine should be totally unadulterated. It’s said that this unadulterated form of wine allows for a truer expression of the grape’s character and, in turn, produces a more vibrant and unique flavor.
So why should you switch to natural wine? Here are six of the primary reasons.
1. Natural wine is better for your health
The chemicals used in the productions of standard wine can cause a number of health problems, most notably, allergies. Wine allergies have been associated with a number of chemicals that enter the winemaking process. Some of the reactions can include headaches, sinus issues, facial flushing and other negative symptoms. As most people can eat grapes without experiencing these issues, it suggests that it’s likely the chemicals that are added in the winemaking and grape growing process. And, of course, natural wine doesn’t use any of these chemicals.
Some of the chemicals that can be found in standard wine include sulphite preservatives, equipment cleaning chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides. Not only could these cause allergic reactions, they may contribute to other health problems as well. According to the California Department of Pesticides Regulation, in 2010, 25 million pounds of pesticides were applied to conventionally-grown wine grapes in California, an increase of 19% from the year before. Conventionally-grown wine grapes are sprayed with more pesticides than almonds, table grapes, tomatoes or strawberries. The Pesticide Action Network classifies those chemicals as known or probable causes of cancer. Roundup, a herbicide, that’s widely used on wine grapes in conventional farming, has been linked to health dangers like infertility, cancers and Parkinson’s.
Lest you think those herbicides and pesticides are washed off the grapes before the grapes are used to make the wine, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most of the time grapes are machine harvested, which means the grape skins are mixed up in kind of a “liquid mush,” so there’s no way to wash them.
In natural wine, there is nothing in it that hasn’t come directly from the grape. It’s one of the purest forms of alcohol that exists. You’ll get all of those antioxidants wine is known for, without it being counteracted by potentially harmful substances. As you’ve probably heard, the powerful antioxidants in wine offer many health benefits, including:
- Reducing the risk of heart attack
- Lowering the risk of heart disease
- Lowering the risk of stroke
- Cutting the risk of developing cataracts
- Cutting colon cancer risk
- Slowing brain decline (research from Columbia University found that brain functioning declines at a significantly faster rate in non-wine drinkers than in moderate drinkers)
2. Natural wine is better for the environment
It makes sense that natural wine is better for the environment. There is a focus on being a closed circuit, self-sustaining environment, with the makers working with nature rather than against it. The crops are planted according to the lunar calendar, there is little to no mechanics used, and pests are dealt with by luring them away not with chemicals, but by doing things such as adding cover crop or manually removing them. There’s a focus on using what nature gave us, both fauna and flora, to sustain and ensure that the land flourishes with only minimal intervention.
With conventional grape growing, although the pesticides are sprayed on land, often times, they can make their way into a water source, like a river, stream, ocean, or pond. When a body of water becomes contaminated with those chemicals, many fish and other animals can become ill or even die, and it can throw the entire ecosystem off balance. Those chemicals can also affect groundwater by a process known as leaching – lots of people depend on groundwater for their drinking supply, but if it has pesticides in it, it’s obviously harmful to drink.
Pesticides can also spread through volatilization, which occurs when a pesticide is transformed into a vapor or gas after it’s been sprayed. That allows it to travel through the air and spread to different areas. That can harm wildlife like frogs, in fact, researchers believe that certain pesticides can cause reproductive problems in frogs which harm the species.
As grapes used to make natural wine are never sprayed, the land, nor the land around the area, is polluted, so the environment is kept clean.
3. You’re less likely to suffer from a hangover
If you’ve ever experienced a hangover after drinking wine, you know how bad it can be – that brain fog, headache and often other negative side effects are no fun. But those effects may not actually be from the wine, but rather the additives that were in it.
With over 75 chemicals and additives approved by the FDA for use in winemaking, any of them could be the culprit. They’re not required to be listed on the label, so who knows what you’re getting when you buy conventional wine. There’s one additive known as Mega Purple, that’s a very concentrated coloring agent added to wines by some winemakers to change the hue of the wine or add sweetness. What it’s actually doing is covering up a poor winemaking or viticulture process as the grapes used were likely of poor quality. Then there’s commercial yeasts, added sugars, excess sulfur, fining and clarifying agents.
Those fining and clarifying agents often include common allergens, but they don’t have to be disclosed on the label, including eggs, dairy and animal products. If you’re vegan, watch out, as egg whites, milk, gelatin, casein and even fish bladders are sometimes used to change a wine’s flavor profile. Even if you aren’t vegan, do you really want to drink something made with a fish bladder?
And all of that doesn’t include those herbicides and pesticides we discussed earlier.
4. Natural wine tastes better
Lovers of natural wine say it tastes better too. It’s not great just because it’s natural. Of course, natural winemaking can bring the best out of a vineyard and many say the natural process always produces a better, more individual wine than conventional methods used on the same site.
Natural wine tastes of itself – it’s a fresh product, with its life never stalled by chemicals in the field or additives in the bottle. They’re expressive and don’t deliver a controlled experience, offering a surprise every time the bottle is opened. When they’re at their best, they taste fantastically vibrant, though they may be more bitter, acidic and savory than their conventional counterparts, with lots of complexity.
The fewer ingredients there are in a wine, in general, the better it will taste. Natural wines achieve exquisite flavors as the high-quality ingredients used are able to stand out on their own. That results in a smooth, full-bodied wine that isn’t impacted by any unnatural ingredients.
5. Natural wine is a better value
Going natural is better value way of drinking wine since you’ll get more of the vineyard in each bottle. While prices range all over the place, just like conventional wine, in general, they’re often an outstanding value.
6. Your money goes to a true artisan
Natural winemakers are true artisans. What they do requires lots of patience, skill and hard physical labor – and, in the majority of cases brings little in the way of financial reward. Making wine conventionally takes far less work and there is a lot more money to be made. You know that when you’re buying a natural wine, the maker is passionately committed to the idea, or there would be no reason for them to produce wine this way. Wouldn’t you rather your hard-earned money goes to someone like that?