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3 things that make natural wine controversial

The origins of natural wine may date back to 1960s France, though it often feels like a more modern phenomenon. The last decade or so has seen natural wines catch the attention of the wine trade and media, and dedicated natural wine bars and retailers are on hand to answer consumer demand. Despite its popularity, natural wine remains something of a fringe movement, and is a little controversial to say the least.

What makes natural wine controversial, then?

There are few aspects of the modern wine environment more divisive than natural wine. This might seem unfair, considering the seemingly noble goal behind sustainable winemaking in general, of which natural wine is a part. Nobody really wants un-natural or artificial wines, right? The reality is not black and white, and there are certainly some aspects of natural winemaking that have been known to raise eyebrows among consumers and professionals alike.

 

  1. There’s no legal definition for “natural wine”

The most common – and perhaps legitimate – gripe against the movement relates to the term “natural wine” itself. It has no universally accepted definition and has no legal protection. This opens up a whole host of potential problems, not least of which is its meaning.

Interpretation of what exactly constitutes “natural” can and does vary from one producer to another. Without a strict definition, the phrase can lose some or all of its meaning, becoming merely a buzzword or marketing term.

  1. There is no official certification body for natural wine

While there are independent organisations charged with certifying organic and biodynamic wines, the same independent standard does not (yet) extend to natural wine.

This lack of independent oversight can lead to honest mistakes in the vineyard and winery, as well as open up the possibility of decidedly less honest tactics on the part of a small minority of producers. Rare as they may be, there are unscrupulous wine producers out there, ready and willing to mislead or misinform consumers as to what’s actually in the bottle – and no guarantee that it meets the self-imposed natural standards.

  1. Variable quality

Wine is supposed to give pleasure, first and foremost. In order to do that, you’d hope that it – at the very least – tastes good. While there are plenty of beautiful natural wines out there, there are unfortunately no shortage of those that – intentional or otherwise – don’t taste quite so good.

Natural winemakers add only miniscule amounts of sulphites – if any at all. Sulphites have a number of important roles to play in wine, not least as a disinfectant and stabilising agent. Removing this line of defence can leave a wine particularly susceptible to faults big and small, resulting in wine that can range from tasting a little off all the way to totally undrinkable.

What can you do about it?

Before you write off natural wine outright, there’s a simple solution to overcoming all of these problems: Familiarise yourself with reputable producers that do things transparently, are passionate about natural winemaking and are known to make quality wines.

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