Is It All Over For Natural Wine?

Is It All Over For Natural Wine?

Natural wine generated thousands of words online and in the mainstream press following the inaugural Natural Wine fair in 2011.Yet there is still a dearth of hard factual  information  about this style of wine,  there are however  a lot of misconceptions, according to London resident and Natural wine advocate Isabelle Legeron.

She aims to  set the record straight in her 224 page, new hard back.


Don Ryan Reviews: Natural Wine, An Introduction to organic and biodynamic Wines Made Naturally.

The layout is simple yet stylish, with black print on sage and white pages. The case for Natural Wine is made using both words and images. Multifarious photographs and racy, non- technical text, highlight a winemaking process different from the supermarket norm, that produces wines to match the farmers market style foods currently very much in vogue.

 The book is split into three parts, each one subdivided into several sections, an easy to read two to three pages in length. Every page has at least one photo, many fill up a whole page

jpegThe reader is taken on a rollicking journey through the natural winemaking process, from the vineyard to the cellar. Passing on the way, topics like Natural Farming, Dry Farming (making wine without wasting water), then on to Living Wine. Included also is a critique and examination of perceived Wine Faults, and lots of other fascinating farming stuff. The stability and aging potential of Natural wines are also probed.  Bread making, mushroom growing, salads, horses and an element of silliness are shown to be part of the rich tapestry that is natural wine growing.

The third and final  part lists, with a small biography, one hundred and forty Natural Wine growers and one of their wines, but does not alas mention any outlets where the wines can be obtained.

Reading the book no one can doubt that Isabelle Legeron is a hardworking, globetrotting campaigner, possessing comprehensive knowledge of the Natural Wine movement. However “she is not a winemaker nor does she pretend to know everything about the science of winemaking”, she declares.  She does however know a lot of men and women who are and who do. 

Interspersed between pages containing her personal views and anecdotal storytelling, is “hands on” expert testimony from around the globe; mainly from farmers and wine makers who produce the style of wines she supports. One by one they firm up her belief that great wine is made by those who work  with a living vineyard. We meet numerous winemakers who steadfastly refuse to take the conventional winemaking route of monoculture farming, armed with a cocktail of manmade pesticides and fertilizers.

As the book progresses, the reader is introduced to a posse of skilled, opinionated  natural farmers who possess, or are seeking to acquire an intimate knowledge of their grape growing  land and most importantly, the creatures and organisms that live on and  within it .  The objective is to understand and work in harmony with nature, in order  to growButterflies grapes that will in due course, with little, or hopefully, no intervention by the winemaker, turn into good wine in the winery. The quality of the finished wine is fashioned in the vineyard by the grape grower before the grapes reach the winery and not in the vat by technicians, utilising a range of corrective or enhancing modern additives and techniques.

 Many of to-days most desired and expensive wines acquired their renown countless years ago, long before modern scientific methods were invented. It is Legeron's contention that natural winemakers do nothing more radical than produce wine in the tried and tested ways used until recently by countless generations of talented artisans.

Natural winemakers are not Luddites however. Several scientists are quoted in the book. Modern science is not ignored by the Natural winemaker, instead scientific endeavour is redirected back to its core function of study and analysis rather than aggressive intervention.

The profile of Natural Winemakers is steadfastly advancing in the UK and elsewhere, but the book highlights some gathering storm clouds. Winemaking, unlike banking, is highly regulated and one section in the book tells of the trials and tribulations faced by Wine professionals from bureaucratic authorities.

An established Italian wine retailer is fined for using the term Natural Wine, while a South African with a market in Europe for his natural wines, that includes Michelin starred restaurants, struggles to get a licence to export. Others around the world face detailed investigation and even threats of prosecution.

In Legeron’s home country the French Natural Winemaker can stand accused of undermining the hard won collective will and attract censure from, not only the regulators, but also fellow winemakers, who are his neighbours, perhaps even his friends.

IMG 0001Another problem according to Legeron is the lack of certification; currently there is no clear definition of what actually constitutes a natural wine. The problem she writes is how to get, what she refers to as “a rainbow army of curious bedfellows” to come together and at least agree on basic parameters for natural wine making.

Then there is the name, Natural Wine, this in itself, has upset a lot of wine folk who believe it arrogantly and wrongly implies that everybody else’s wines are unnatural. However within the pages of her book there may be an answer to these problems. 

Legeron relates that when examined under a microscope Natural Wines team with microbiological life, supermarket wines usually don’t. She highlights one test, where, when looking at the label (both were white Sancerre) “there was little to distinguish one bottle from the other”. Yet inside was chalk and cheese, “the taste profiles were different and the natural wine was full of microbiology”.

“Natural wine is a lot more alive than the rest”, she concludes. It will change and develop like great wines with aging ability are supposed to do and some established high end modern cuvees are no longer doing. Here perhaps is the answer to Natural wines certification issues and perhaps even top white burgundy’s current woes.

If a simple test under a microscope can determine how a wine is made, along with aging potential,  maybe there is no need for Natural Wines to be subjected to complicated, form ticking , bureaucratic certification declarations. Instead of a tasting, perhaps wines should be subjected to a testing.

Then there is the little Natural Wine shop at Bezier (pictured above left) in deepest South of France, pictured in the book with signage declaring, Vins Vivants, (living wines). So perhaps its good bye to Natural, hallo Living Wine

Visit Isabelle Legeron's web site

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