This story is not going to be a summary of the French associations for natural winemakers. The lately officially recognized by the Institute for Origins and Quality (France) natural wine certification — “Vin Méthode Nature” won’t be discussed. Let’s talk about how you’re probably missing out on beautiful wines, places, people, and their stories.
Maybe you already know some of those natural wine extremists. These people will only drink wine if it’s 100% natural, no intervention, zero additives, made with unknown grapes, unknown locations, and by unknown winemakers. I was very much into that hip natural-wine ephemeral (mostly online) community. The pursuit was real — we were after the most nothing-added, hardcore, down-to-earth wines one can find. I wanted to try all the big names and of course all the unknown ones as well.
Natural wine is pretty much Wabi-Sabi → it’s a celebration of imperfection.
That’s the funny part about that. Even thou, the pursuit is after what is not-known and not-discovered, most of those natural-wine zealots aren’t in the reality that keen on experimenting, as you might think. They tend to stick to the known names and known hardcore natural wines, which are pushed the most by the retailers. Or, eventually, will turn to those bottles which availability is strictly controlled and limited by the winemakers themselves.
I don’t think anything good can come from limiting your perception. Of course, being a subject matter expert takes time and patience, and hours of exercise or challenging yourself, but this specialization will never result from ignoring any broader perspective. Specializing means also, that one had to spend time learning the difference and appreciating something outside their field.
Natural wine is, of course (among others) about natural methods of production, it’s about living and working in harmony with nature, it’s about leaving it as it is and allowing to work its magic on its own. It’s about limiting human influence in the process and around it. Natural wine is pretty much Wabi-Sabi → it’s a celebration of imperfection (read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi).
After starting with the WSET education, I was initially a bit skeptical about the curriculum and its strong focus on French wines. I learned to appreciate it, and tasted many french wines I would probably not try if not for the WSET classes. After the exciting course and the talks with my fellow students — I understood it very clear that I might have been missing out. I was missing out on many fantastic wines, on many different tastes, stories, terroirs, and all that what comes together with the wine bottle, if you’re interested enough to learn more.
Now, after some time, doing another WSET level, after visiting natural wine festivals, both smaller and more prominent, I understood that I was indeed missing out myself. I was missing out by closing my eyes and my mind before new experiences. Of course, there is a large wine industry focused on pushing a product made in bulk, but the wine world is amazingly vast. I would still rather go for a nice biodynamic wine over conventionally made one. Again, I would be damned if I ever say “no” to a beautiful Meursault, only because there might be some SO2 or stabilizers added.
It’s such a pleasure when you get to enjoy a good bottle of wine with a beautiful background-story. Two winemakers from Franconia in Germany — 2naturkinder, are doing it right. When in 2014 they had taken over a Müller-Thurgau vineyard, they’ve noticed an old shed just standing in the middle of the field. They reached out to Christian Söder, who runs a local foundation for helping bats (yes, bats), and decided to use the abandoned shed in the 2naturkinder’s vineyard as a refuge for local bat colonies. The guano collected from the shed is used to fertilize the soil in the vineyard, and a part of the revenue from the “bat wines” goes to the Landesbund für Vogelschutz (which translates to State Association for Bird Protection), that protects among others the bats in the region. Isn’t that a perfect harmony in a fully holistic approach? The wine is also delicious, by the way.
When you’re very committed to finding that fantastic natural wine, there’s a good chance in the meantime you’re missing out on the vast amount of beautiful wines that not necessarily carry the “natural” tag. Some winemakers don’t even want to play along; they’re too tired, too old, or just plainly not interested in the pursuit of certifications and logos. Their primary desire is to carry on doing what they love the most — to make excellent wines. Just like 2Naturkinder, who care about the environment and their wines. They are not paying much attention to the logos, and the consumers, myself included, also don’t seem to mind.