A definition for natural wine? For years, wine drinkers have been asking the question, "What is a natural wine?"
There have been many answers. For some, no sulfite additions has been the main criteria. Many objected to that definition alone, saying that the intent was to use organic grapes as well. And no other additions.
Quoted in the French wine magazine Vignerons du Val du Loire (use Google translate to see the article in English), the leader of the certification effort, Jacques Carroget, said the certification was needed to prevent the use of non-organic grapes in natural wines.
Carroget said testing for pesticides in natural wines made the standard necessary and that he and others were shocked by the results of testing.
“We realized that some wines had levels of pesticide residues such that it could not have been caused by the neighbors. Clearly, these were not organic wines. It was unthinkable that natural wines were not organic. So a few decided to launch the Syndicate for the Defense of Natural Wines, with a real commitment charter," he's quoted as saying in the Loire publication.
|Jacques Carroget, Loire winemaker|
and head of the Natural Wines Union
The designation comes just three months after Alice Feiring, the American wine writer who paved the way for French natural wine producers in the US and championed their cause, began publicly criticizing the natural wine movement in an article published in the New York Times in December.
"The movement, built on honesty and simplicity, is being corrupted by opportunists," the article's subtitle read.
But in an article published on Wine-Searcher last week, Feiring applauds the new certification standard, which allows the use of the logo for "Vin methode nature" to be applied under two different standards.
One standard is zero sulfites. (The logo pictured above is for the no added sulfite category). A second allowed standard, with a different logo, allows the addition of sulfites up to 30 ppm.
In addition the standard prohibits mechanical harvesting. No filtration is allowed.
For many, the new French certification comes at a time when boundaries on what is "natural" are needed. In the U.S. many natural winemakers would not qualify to use such a standard as they often do not use certified organic grapes and some of the purchased grapes they use are mechanically harvested (typically in order to make prices lower).
[Current standards in the US for organically grown wines allow for two different sulfite levels. Zero sulfites qualifies a wine to be designated "Organic Wine" while a wine with up to 100 ppm can be labeled "Made with Organic Grapes." While only certified organic grapes are included, natural wine enthusiasts often do not like that these wine standards permit a limited number of additives to be used.]
Another longstanding value in the French winemaking movement was that the winemaker also be the winegrower. In the U.S. natural wine making community, this is rare as most wineries are buying grapes from growers. A few are in transition to growing the grapes and exercising more control in the vineyards.
A few natural winemakers in the U.S. do have estate vineyards that are certified organic or biodynamic. These include AmByth Estate and Powicana Farms, both of which make Biodynamic Wines that are certified sulfite free and additive free. Johan Vineyards in Oregon also makes a Zero Zero Pinot Noir that fits this definition and Cooper Mountain Vineyards has one Pinot Noir (Life) as well.
Frey Vineyards also makes some wines at this standard, but in the past Feiring has claimed that Frey's winemaking process (they make 7,000 cases of biodynamic wine and more than 150,000 cases of organic wine, the latter partly from purchased grapes) is "too industrial" to qualify under her own natural wine definition.
I looked in vain online for a website for the certifying body, the Natural Wine Union, but could not find one. If you find it, can you let me know?
Also, although I found several articles on this new natural wine standard (in Forbes, Decanter, Wine-Searcher and Wine Business Daily), none mentioned the pesticide testing issue. I only found that in the Loire publication. And the Loire story mainly mentioned the pesticide testing alarm bells.
Viva la difference?
Note: In the Wine-Searcher article, Tony Coturri is quoted as saying there are many organic growers who are going off certification. I do not see any evidence of that in my research and so if Tony has examples or data to share, I'm all ears.