wine bottles

Photo: Drunken Farmer

This week, we will see natural wine festival Vivent Les Vins Libre from France take place in Singapore, one of the many that have been happening. There’s been a lot of talk about natural wines, but its buzz is bigger than its bite. Most people still don’t know what it is, naturally, so here’s our primer on the wine that’s good for you, and good for the world.

If there’s one trend in the wine world to follow today, it’s the natural wine movement. But what exactly is natural wine? Essentially, it’s a genre of winemaking that ascribes to a philosophy of making better wine while being more environmentally conscious. Across the world, many smaller-scale, artisanal winemakers are beginning to adopt techniques that require the least possible human intervention - using indigenous yeast instead of manufactured yeast for fermentation, or relying on natural predators instead of insecticides to rid of pests, for example - during the growing of grapes or during winemaking.

wine

Photo: Drunken Farmer

When it comes to a proper definition for natural wine though, award-winning sommelier Gerald Lu says there isn’t really one. “It’s an attempt to define wines by people who want to classify their wines to a certain philosophy or style of winemaking that’s healthier for the vine and make wines that taste better,” says Gerald, who is also owner of Praelum Wine Bistro.

But consumers are beginning to respond to the ideal, and natural wine bars have sprouted worldwide to help quench the thirst for such wines. In Singapore, wine bars like Wine RVLT and Le Bon Funk have in recent years captured the imaginations of wine drinkers with their extensive range of natural, organic and biodynamic wines. Then there’s Drunken Farmer, a new travelling pop-up natural wine bar concept that brings a range of natural wines on the road around town.

“We love the core values of producers who just want to make great wines with minimal inputs to the wine and the vineyards,” explains Ian Lim, co-owner of Wine RVLT. He and fellow owner Alvin Gho created their wine bar three years ago as a space to showcase underdogs of the wine world, and it just so happened that many of them were making natural wines.

wine and spirits

Photo: Drunken Farmer

From 13 to 15 April, we’ll see Vivent Les Vins Libre in Singapore, a three-day natural wine festival that will see producers from France and Australia present their wines to the public. It’s definitely a great place to be if you want to learn about minimal intervention wines.

But if you’re concerned about asking the wrong questions, here’s a cheat sheet of things to ask during the festival that can help you navigate the world of natural wines:

“What do you mean exactly when you say yours is a ‘minimal intervention’ wine?”

grapes white wine

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Minimal intervention wine is probably the most nebulous definition of them all, and can encompass any or every organic and biodynamic practice from grape to bottle. The basic idea here is to make a wine with the lightest human touch as possible to let the grape and terroir truly shine.

It’s also probably one of the more accurate ways to describe natural wine!

“What most people don’t know is that most great wines appreciated by connoisseurs are, in fact, very close to natural with very little treatment or manipulation,” shared Philippe Chin, Operations and Wine Manager of Drunken Farmer.

 

“How do you ensure your wine’s longevity without the use of sulphur?”

wines

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If there’s one thing you need to know about the making of natural wines, it’s sulphur. Or rather, the absence of it. Natural wine is essentially wine made without the use of sulphur dioxide.

While sulphur dioxide is naturally occurring during winemaking, it is also added at different points of the winemaking process as a preservative; sulphur dioxide helps kill unwanted yeasts or bacteria, and prevents oxidation in wine. But excessive use of sulphur in wine is the reason you can get a bad hangover the next day; it can even set off potentially fatal allergies.

 

“What organic practices do you follow in the vineyard?”

organic wine

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You’ll hear the term 'organic wine' a lot at wine events, especially those focused around natural wines. Organic wine refers to wine made with grapes grown using organic viticulture methods where no artificial pesticides or fertilisers are used. For example, rather than manufactured fertilisers, compost and manure are employed.

Certified organic wines generally also limit the use of sulphur dioxide during its winemaking, although not to the level of natural wine where it’s not added at all.

 

“Can you tell me more about the biodynamic practices you follow during the planting/harvesting of grapes?”

harvesting wine

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Biodynamic wines are wines made using the principles of biodynamic agriculture, where the planting, pruning, harvesting and even processing of grapes are regulated by a special biodynamic calendar (think the feng shui of winemaking!) Here’s where it gets slightly mystical too, and where you hear of winemakers burying horns filled with cow manure pointed in specific directions in a vineyard as fertilisers!

But biodynamic wine is also a stricter form of organic farming and needs to be specially certified by a governing body as such.

 

“Does your family winery follow sustainable practices?”

distillerie cazottes

Photo: Drunken Farmer

Some winemakers may also bandy about the term ‘sustainable wine’. Sustainable wine has the lofty but loose goal of protecting the environment during viticulture and winemaking. The general idea here is to leave the land in better condition for the next generation. As you can probably imagine, family-owned wineries are the strongest proponents of sustainable winemaking.

“Many winemakers have realised, after decades of using chemicals on their land, how it has affected their vineyards,” explains Wine RVLT’s Ian. “They’ve started to change the way they manage their vineyards in order to pass (their business) to the next generation.”

All this winemaking mumbo-jumbo aside, drinking natural wine is pretty much an individual discovery.

“Just keep in mind that just because a wine is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it will taste good to you!” warns Wine RVLT’s Ian.

Taste them for yourself, natch.

 

Vivent Les Vins Libres Singapore 2019, 13-15 April 2019. Find out more here.

 

ALSO READ: FOR THOSE WHO LOVE THE VINO, HERE'S A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO LOOKING LIKE A WINE EXPERT

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