Natural wine is the latest trend that’s sweeping the wine world one glass at a time, but this phenomenon of ‘going back to the basics’ has actually been around for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned ancient wine-making process that lets nature take its course — a process that has been cast aside by commercial wineries in favour of controlling and raising production quantity. Natural wines are as clean and natural as wine can get.
We spoke with Philippe Chin, operations and wine manager of Drunken Farmer, a travelling natural wine bar by Spa Esprit Group, on why people should get on the natural wine bandwagon sooner rather than later.
1. What are natural wines?
Photo: Drunken Farmer
Natural wine is wine that is made organically; that is, with minimal chemical and technological intervention. There’s usually no added yeast, no additives included in fermentation and little or no sulfites added. They are usually grown by small, independent wine producers. Natural wines are different from biodynamic and organic wines, which while made with grapes that have been cultivated according to respective farming practices, still include some external intervention.
According to Philippe, natural wines are “better for your health, for the soil and for the environment”. Growers of natural wines, he explained, seek to maintain the purity of the terroir — the environmental conditions, such as the soil and climate. “Chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and selected yeast can obstruct the fundamentals of terroir and blur out its purity. We are not against commercialism; we are against over industrialisation of the vineyards and the over extraction of our resources and land to the detriment of its core.” For example, some natural wine–makers allow indigenous yeasts to lead the fermentation process, rather than inoculating the wine with reliable, more controllable cultured yeasts.
2. Why should people buy natural wines?
Photo: Drunken Farmer
Michael Volker, a natural winemaker in Germany, puts it this way: “Nothing added, nothing taken away.” Because it’s au naturale, natural wine is dependent on Mother Nature. It goes through “spontaneous fermentation,” much like kombucha, kimchi and sourdough bread, and has similar probiotic effects, according to HuffPost. A bottle of natural wine contains a multitude of wild yeasts and gut-healthy bacteria as well as polyphenols ― a group of antioxidants proven to improve the beneficial flora populations in our guts ― leading to overall health and longevity, it adds.
Philippe says natural wines tend to carry higher drinkability and more freshness. “From the feedback I have gathered, extreme physical reactions to alcohol are not felt with natural wines — hangovers are lesser, and enjoyment greater.” Also, if you’re an adventurer, you’d love this — no two bottles of natural wine are ever alike; every time is a different experience. Each bottle of natural wine is full of its own character, flavours and personality.
3. Which country or region/vineyard is known for its natural wines?
According to Philippe, Beaujolais and Jura in France are very strong advocates for the natural wine movement. “In Jura, many have never seen a touch of chemical. Other places such as Loire, Georgia, Slovenia, many parts of Italy, from the Friuli to Sicily have always grown organically and refused to partake in industrialising the vineyards.”
These days, there are also natural winemakers in Australia, South Africa and China. “Basically wherever wine is made, winegrowers are getting self-aware, and conscious about how they intervene in the process of winemaking. Natural wines is becoming a global trend and lots are trying to farm organically,” he explains. However, he adds, “one has to be careful of the bigger industries trying to cash in on the wave and exploiting the market by auto proclaiming to be natural or bio. Bio-agriculture still permits a lot of ‘intrant’ and no accreditation or secret stamp is given to natural wines”.
4. Where can we buy natural wines in Singapore?
There are currently around five places offering natural wines in Singapore — Drunken Farmer, Le Bon Funk, Wine RVLT, Open Farm Community and Cheek by Jowl. Still, Philippe says with interest growing and more people getting on board of the natural wine movement, he expects to see more establishments offering such wines soon. Drunken Farmer and its sister importation company will also be launching an online platform very soon.
5. What wine labels should people look out for?
There are plenty of good natural wines, but some well-known labels include Domaine Marcel Lapierre, Yvon Metras, Julie Balagny, Philippe and Tony Bornard, Claude & Etienne Courtois, Julien Guillot, Dario Princic and Hervé Souhaut. “I would recommend for newcomers and folks curious about natural wines to start with those from Beaujolais and Jura, as most producers in these regions work very ethically. Avoid supermarket beaujolais though.”
6. What are some things people should note when drinking natural wines?
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The flavour profile of natural wines can vary pretty widely, just like conventional wines. Natural wines have wilder, more intense and unfamiliar flavour profiles, and some can taste or smell musky or a little funky. “Natural wines are usually more vibrant, have more energy and more volume because we don’t filter as much so you have a nicer consistency,” says Philippe, adding that this can differ too, depending on the type of wine and the styles defined by the winemaker.
However, many producers now tend to bend toward a style that is more pure and refined — i.e. with gentler extraction, less oaky, with more freshness, he says.
“Some of the challenges faced in living wines are how to reduce the faultiness, mousiness, strong volatile acidity and reductions in the wines. However, I prefer to drink something slightly imperfect with personality, than something that is comparable to everything else in the global trend, with no sense of belonging,” he notes. “Just have fun with it! Share a bottle and smile. Keep an open mind.” he advised.
In terms of how to properly keep the wines, Philippe says it should be just like every other wine – avoid high heat temperature. Another thing to note: Unlike the stamps found on back labels of organic and biodynamic wines, there’s no certifying body for natural wine.
7. What food should you pair with natural wines?
According to Philippe, the basics you follow when food pairing with regular wines apply to natural wines as well. “The product is just a lot cleaner and smoother as natural wine makers do not over extract because we want to keep the freshness and drinkability to produce enjoyable wines. We want our wines to taste like fruits from the grape and that is not hidden behind chemically altered aromas,” he says.
So that means a white with seafood, low-alcohol wines with spicy foods, rich red meats with tannic reds and earthy wines with earthy foods. With lighter meats, pair the wine with the sauce and for desserts, go with a lighter wine.
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