Natural wine is likely to raises heckles and cause controversy for a while to come. A term with no strict definition, and sometimes defined more as a movement or ideology than a strict set of processes, natural wine makers tend to come in clusters; Loire Valley, northern Italy, a band of like-minded vignerons making wine more or less to the principle of ‘nowt added and nowt taken away’.
In practice this means “wines made from grapes that are, at a very minimum, farmed organically or biodynamically, harvested manually and then made without adding / or removing anything during the vinification process. Ideally nothing is added at all but – at most – there might be a dash of SO2 at bottling” - Isabelle Legeron, thatcrazyfrenchwoman.com
"Whatever these wines stand for, there’s no doubt that there were a number of damn good wines at the fair, wines that tasted fresh, bright, sometimes exotic, sometimes traditional, sometimes fascinatingly weird." - Jane Parkinson on RAW Artisan Wine Fair
Organic is a knotty term but in essence it upholds principles of farming that minimise the human impact on the environment, while ensuring the agricultural system operates as naturally as possible. Artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are banned or limited and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover.
Although strict standards govern ‘organic’ farming, EU regulation still permits up to 50 undisclosed additives in ‘organic wine’. Organic alone does not guarantee a low-intervention, natural wine.
Based on scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical theories, biodynamics is a “holistic and regenerative farming practice”. As with organics (it is sometimes referred to as organic plus), chemicals and pesticides are eschewed for natural systems. There is a huge focus on composts and manures. Each farm is seen as an individual parcel of land with its own needs. There’s a large variety of planting – and no monocultures.
Growers are famous for planting according to the phases of the moon and burying cow horns filled with “preparations”. Actually there’s method in both these forms of madness: research shows that plants respond differently to different moons, absorbing more water during the full moon, for example. As for the animal horns, silica is extracted from them as the elements break down, maintaining soil fertility.
Beginning in the 1950s Maria Thun subjected Steiner’s principles to controlled trials on her farm on the outskirts of Darmstadt in Germany, Over years of research, she discovered planting crops when the moon was in different constellations resulted in their growing into different forms and sizes. Fruits did better planted under fire signs.
Though sceptics dismissed biodynamics as hocus-pocus and were wont to point out that movement’s guru, Rudolf Steiner, had arrived at his theories after consulting telepathically with unearthly spirits, biodynamics has attracted some prominent adherents.
Several leading supermarkets ensure that their wine tastings are held when Maria Thun’s moon-related biodynamic calendar dictates that wines will be at their best, as does Les Caves de Pyrène, the leading proponent of natural and organic wines. Other followers include such respected gardeners as John Harris at Tresillian House Gardens in Cornwall.