Before we examine what natural wine is, we must first take a step back and examine what wine is. At its simplest, wine is a representation of time, place and people. The mystical terroir that folk speak of with various degrees of insight and understanding (but let’s not get into wine snobbery here). Wine from a single vineyard is a reflection of the soil the grapes have grown in, the climate, the culture, the type of drink the people in that place are seeking – a refreshing rosé in a searing Provence summer for instance, or a silky black fruit-loaded Borolo for an autumnal Piedmont evening. Ultimately wine is about craftsmanship and balance, a form of expression of time and place, and even the mood of the winemaker.
As our mastery of the winemaking process has increased through the thousands of years that man has been making wine, many methods and treatments have evolved to help or control or optimise the winemaking process…some more palatable than others. In recent times these include adding yeasts, sugars and enzymes to boost and control fermentation, sterile filtration and of course most people are aware of sulphites in wine. Added at the bottling stage to prevent bacterial growth and oxidisation, they have a crucial role in protecting precious wines from degradation, but they come with down sides, not least that they often get the blame for hangovers.
The point of natural wine is to strip everything back to a process that has as little intervention as possible. This way the bottles produced are as pure a representation of the time and season a wine was made in as possible. No yeasts are added, only those naturally present on the grapes dictate the fermentation process, and as these are influenced by the weather and wildlife present in the soil and sky running up to harvest, there can be wild variations in batches within a harvest year, let alone between vintages. This gives a fresher, wilder tasting wine that has an extraordinary life to it. It is always changing too as it is alive, evolving, and sometimes that can pass into the undrinkable, if poorly handled. But that instability brings with it a kind of alchemy that no controlled process could compete with. When you try a natural wine you are dipping into a living, thrusting progression that can offer exquisite flavours. A carefully produced natural wine can help you appreciate more their stable cousins too, as you learn to map the winemaking process through your palate, and see where it has been locked or left to flow.
Natural wine may unravel everything you thought you knew about wine. It is unfiltered, so may be cloudy, it may feel different in the mouth – that’s all that life speaking to your palate, and it hopefully won’t give you a headache – though in truth that really is down to how much you choose to drink!
You might ask why a farm in Devon is selling such a thing and it’s a fair question. But to us it is as obvious as selling our glorious, natural milk. The vineyards that produce natural wine put sustainability and biodiversity first just as we do, and are organic or biodynamic, with no pesticides, herbicides or nasty agrochemicals used. This is because, like us, they know that what they make starts with how they treat the soil and the nature on their farms.
You can explore our collection of extraordinary natural wines here, all from very special vineyards with people, place and nature at their heart. Orange wine though? That’s probably best left to Instagram.