A Few Things to Consider Before You Choose a Natural Wine Club or an Organic Wine Club
Naturally Made Wines: In the Vineyard
What are Naturally Made Wines? Does Natural Wine actually taste better?
With no official definition for what natural wine is, there are more than a few perspectives out there. “Natural wine” is a term that gets wobbly pretty quickly, so let’s get after it.
Our definition of naturally made includes natural wines, organic wines, biodynamic wines, sustainably grown wines as well as wines that do not carry any of these certifications. Joining a Natural Wine Club can be the beginning of a new and exciting adventure in wine.
We believe in transparency so our French Red Wine Club and our Italian Red Wine Club both highlight naturally made wines from rockstar women producers at the top of their game. Since not all of our wines meet our strict definition of natural wine, we don’t call our wine club a Natural Wine Club, nor do we call it an Organic Wine Club. For Iola, when we say a wine is “naturally made,” we mean it’s been produced using long-proven, time-honored practices with minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar.
What is Natural Wine and what makes it natural?
Part of what makes this topic so intriguing (and challenging!) is the lack of official definition around it. Have you been curious about natural wine but not sure exactly what it is? If so, you’re in solid company.
In my opinion it’s tough to get very far in any conversation about wine – natural or otherwise – without first talking about terroir. I know, we hear about terroir all the time. But its for good reason as great wine begins in the vineyard and terroir is a key element in naturally made wines.
There are loads of definitions and opinions out there about what terroir is. Terroir of course refers to a sense of place but what makes a ‘place’ distinctive and “unique”? To paraphrase Isabelle Legeron,MW the pioneer and global leader of the natural wine movement, from her book Natural Wine it’s a combination of factors – the plants, animals, soil, geology, climate, weather, topography, etc – in a given year. Definitions of terroir don’t always take into account the vintage variations which are inherently part of farming and therefore part of viticulture. Vintage variation influences that ever important sense of place.
Legeron explains that different years present different growing conditions which affect all of the life forms in a given place, each of which are inextricably linked to the others through symbiosis, dependence on the food chain or just because they happen to be in the same place at the same time. Legeron importantly notes that “Humans may also play a part in this context, but it is only ever a part. If humans dominate, then the expression of place dwindles…”
“How is wine I drink actually made?”
Why should we care about the role humans play in influencing terroir? Answering this question takes us not only to the vineyard, but also to the winery and inspires the question “How is the wine I drink actually made?” It easy to think (and believe) that wine is made pretty much by growing some grapes, harvesting them, plopping them into a vat or vessel and then somehow that becomes wine which ends up in a bottle that I open and drink. In fact, most wine isn’t made this way. There is a spectrum of human intervention in both the vineyard and the winery.
What is Conventional wine?
There are people who believe that as along as a wine isn’t grown conventionally then it’s probably okay to call it natural. At this point you might be saying ‘conventional wine’? What’s that? Aren’t we talking about natural wine? Conventional wine is on the opposite end of the spectrum from natural wine. When we talk about conventional wine, we’re taking about high volume wine that is better described as ‘made’ not ‘grown’. These wines fill the shelves in supermarkets, fit a particular flavor profile and they pretty much don’t deviate from that profile from vintage to vintage. How is that possible when every vintage is different? Human intervention in both the vineyard and winery makes it possible. French microbiologist and vineyard soil expert Claude Bourguignon says “We are now at the first point in the the human story where wine can be made without terroir, only with chemicals.
What is organic wine? Is organic wine natural wine?
In the European Union winegrowers certified organic vineyards are farmed only with certified organic treatments; winegrowers may use only treatments allowed under the requirements and rules for organic viticulture in the EU. To achieve organic certification of their vineyards, European winegrowers must complete a 3-year organic farming conversion process.
Organic viticulture is table stakes for natural wine. If synthetic pesticides and herbicides are used in the vineyard, the resulting wine isn’t natural. Whether the wine made from grapes farmed organically will be a natural wine depends upon the choices of the winemaker in the cellar.
What is biodynamic wine? Is biodynamic wine natural wine?
Biodynamic wine is grown according to the principles and methods of Rudolf Steiner who founded the approach to biodynamic farming in 1924. According to the Biodynamic Association, Steiner was a philosopher and scientist who concluded that western civilization would eventually destroy itself and the earth if it did not develop and objective understanding of the spiritual world and its interrelationship with the physical world.
Demeter France explains that biodynamics is a holistic approach to agriculture which cares for the earth. It was the first form of organic agriculture; biodynamics regenerate ecosystems by caring for each element of the agricultural system: soil, plants, animals, humans. Farming is a collaboration with nature using specific techniques and following traditions.
Biodynamics looks at the vineyard as a living system and the idea is to make that entire living system as regenerative and healthy as possible. Living soils result in living wines; biodynamic vineyards are self sustaining through the use of composts, dynamized teas sprayed on the vines, and cover crops. We often we see animals in the vineyard to eat the grasses and and contribute to the health of the soil naturally. Can you taste the difference? Yes I think you can. And, a wine doesn’t have to come from a certified biodynamic vineyard to be grown on living soils. There are many producers out there following biodynamic principles without a biodynamic certification that are growing living, dynamic wines; the trick is finding them. Here are a couple I particularly love Chateau Forge Celeste. We’re seeing more and more excellent certified biodynamic wines available, here are a couple I especially love. Domaine Des Lauzieres Persephone and Solstice
Does a biodynamic certification mean a wine is natural? As with organic certified, whether the wine made from a certified biodynamic vineyard will be a natural wine depends upon choices made in the cellar. Learn More
Some believe that wine grown organically (whether it’s certified organic or not) is ‘natural’. Others believe that isn’t going nearly far enough and want a wine to be certified biodynamic to be considered natural. Yet there are many producers out there who’s vineyards aren’t certified organic or biodynamic, nevertheless they are making low to no intervention wines with a sense of place that could certainly be considered natural.
There’s a lot of chatter about what natural wine is. With no official definition and lots of gray area it can be challenging to track down a Natural Wine Club that is actually delivering natural wines to you. Unfortunately, the term natural wine has become a powerful marketing buzz word and since there isn’t a legal definition for natural wine it’s easy for any wine business to use the term whether they are in fact producing natural wines or not. If you’re strictly looking for an Organic Wine Club, things are much more straightforward since there is a specific definition both in the EU and in the USA (please forgive our lack of detail on wines from the rest of the new world).
For Iola, when we say a wine is “naturally made,” we mean it’s been produced using long-proven, time-honored practices with minimal intervention in both the vineyard and cellar. Curious about minimal intervention in the cellar? We’ve got some thoughts to share with you here.