AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s out with the new and in with the old for some wine enthusiasts, as “natural wine” production is seeing a resurgence in popularity, according to October reporting from the Associated Press.
Alcohol delivery service Drizly’s 2023 BevAlc trend report revealed more wine drinkers are seeking prioritization of organic and natural options when it comes to wine selections, alongside increased transparency in ingredients used and lower calorie options. In comes “natural wine,” a process that taps into the ancient history of winemaking that goes back thousands of years.
“There is no clear definition or legal definition for that matter of natural wine,” said Dr. Andreea Botezatu, an associate professor and enology extension specialist with the Texas A&M University’s Texas AgriLife Extension Service. “Broadly speaking, natural wine is wine made with minimal intervention.”
Botezatu said many natural wine producers lean into the use of organic grapes, or those grown without synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Natural wines are often then fermented without the addition of commercial yeasts, or those selected based on their fermentation properties.
“With natural winemaking, the winemakers would just let the wines ferment with whatever yeast is naturally found on the grapes coming in from the vineyard,” Botezatu said. “And the idea is that that will allow a better expression of the terroir or a sense of place, a sense of vintage.”
Post-fermentation, Botezatu said natural wine producers typically will have minimal intervention in the process, such as limited filtration and as little fining — or the addition of compounds to the wine to help stabilize or clarify it — as possible. She said these processes are typically done to improve both the quality and stability of the wine, so consumers can enjoy the finished product for a longer period of time.
Within natural winemaking, Botezatu said producers will often minimize the addition of sulfites, a preservative used to maintain the quality of the wine. She said these sulfites aren’t harmful for humans to consume in wine.
Therein can lead to some misperceptions with conventional versus natural winemaking, she said. Sometimes, she said there’s an idea that conventional wine features a lot of sugar, color and aroma additions — all of which aren’t legal, Botezatu said.
“Conventional wine, most of the time, is made as close to the natural wine as possible,” she said.
She said she’s seen messaging from certain brands that conventional wine includes additives that will give drinkers headaches or allergic reactions, or that feature additional volumes of sugar and color additives to make the wine appear more enticing. That, she said, is false.
“Most wines, especially dry wines, anywhere in the world have no sugar added to them because the grapes have enough sugar naturally found on them to ferment and to produce the wine,” she said. “So the idea that somehow, all these wines on the shelves have sugar added to them, it’s just not true. But people don’t know that and they take it at face value.”
“Natural” or “clean” labeling on products are often used to evoke this idea of them being healthier or more sustainable, Botezatu said. The reality, she said, is that foregoing processes like adding sulfites to wine can aid microbial activity and formation, which can lead to bacteria that can be harmful to a consumer’s health. These biogenic amines formed during wine fermentation can cause side effects like allergic reactions, she added.
“There’s a connection in the consumer’s mind between natural wine and sustainability, and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of sustainability,” she said. “I think that’s something that all wineries should look into, should consider as much as possible. But natural doesn’t mean, necessarily, sustainable — and there’s no guarantee about that.”