INGREDIENTS: GRAPES, SULPHITES (SOMETIMES).
I love this summation from Sardinia's Tenute Dettori. In a way, it says it all. Especially to those of us who care about what we ingest. Natural wines are grapes, fermented by native yeasts, with nothing, or nearly nothing added. Since you've come to this page you're probably curious to learn a little more. Here's my view.
At one end of the wine biz, wine is simply a product. Vines are managed with the aid of chemical supplements, and grapes are transformed into a beverage with the help of additives and technologies. It's simply manufacturing. Big brands rely on these conventions because they're the most cost effective way to manufacture. As long as they don't have to list ingredients on labels, they really don't care about what's in the juice.
The next tier is a large swath of wines which aspire to craftsmanship and distinctiveness, but which still lean on conventional growing and processing methods. Unfortunately, too many in this tier are driven by wine ratings, and will frequently manipulate wines with additives and technology to modify their body, texture, structure, and flavor profiles. Some call this "recipe winemaking". Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these producers don't reveal how their wines are grown, or how they are made. For these reasons, I shy away from producers who hide behind generalities and wine ratings, and won't address the "how" issues directly. What they don't say, says a lot.
Beyond this mass of hard-core-conventional and conventionally-leaning wines is a small but passionate world of wine growers who are "minimally interventionist" in both the field and in the cellar. More specifically, these growers are committed to both organic or bio-dynamic farming, and to additive-free wine-making. This, to me, is the core ideal of Natural Wines. Some of these growers are drawn to healthier vines and wines because they live in a country (e.g., France) where viticulture has the highest cancer incidence among all agricultural workers. They simply want cleaner wines and a safer environment. Others convert to natural because they've experimented with chemical free grapes and low or non interventionist wine-making and have preferred the results.
Still others embrace natural wine on a more artisan, even philosophical level. They see the natural model as simply the best way to give voice to their vineyards...and convey a wine's singularity of place. Among these are many of the world's finest growers: Burgundy Domaines Leroy and Romanee Conti, Spain's Pingus, Italy's Bartolo Mascarello, Sardinia's Tenute Dettori, Corsica's Abbatucci, and Champagne artisans such as Egly Ouriet, Vilmart, Pierre Peters and Jacques Selosse. Along with new generation visionaries such as Frank Cornelissen on Mt. Etna, Steve Matthiasson in Napa, and a who's who of the finest Loire and Beaujolais growers, they understand the relationship between healthy soils and the wines that spring from them---and that anything foreign to wine compromises not just its purity, but also its honesty of expression. Wine's uniqueness is simply too important to them.
Regardless of the path taken, or how new or established the name, respect for the land and its produce unites all of these Natural Wine growers. Each of my core selections on-line and in my shop is from within this small but passionate slice of the wine world. Some of these growers will take the admirable step of not adding any sulphur at all, even at bottling. While many will add a small dose of sulphur after wine is made to help stabilize it for transit, their wine growing and wine-making is otherwise completely natural.
A final word. Natural Wines are not just cleaner and purer wines, they're easier on our body chemistry. And as many of you already know, even the more modest ones taste alive and delicious.
I'll end with a quote by Alessandro Dettori, from Sardinia's Tenute Dettori, which celebrates the zeal of Natural Wine in its purest form:
"I do not follow the market; I make wines that please me, wine of my local area...They are what they have to be and not what you want them to be."
Enjoy in Good Health.