France tries to define natural wine

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Natural Wine has become official in France. The government approved a charter, a professional union and a label for low-intervention wines. But is the free spirit community of natural winemakers willing to follow a formal set of rules?

“It was important to create a real framework for this type of wine, so that when a consumer opens a bottle of so-called” natural “wine, that is what is in the bottle,” explains Isabelle Perraud, member of the administrative direction of the syndicate of natural wines. as well as a biodynamic farmer and trader in Beaujolais. “It is also important that winemakers are recognized for what they do. “

The charter and label are supported by the INAO, which oversees French appellations, as well as the French Ministry of Agriculture and French consumer protection inspectors at the DGCCRF. The label will read “Vin Method Nature” rather than “natural wine”, a nickname that was popular with some, but a lightning rod for criticism from others, not to mention illegality under strict French labeling laws.

The official designation only applies to French wine, but supporters hope that other European countries will adopt similar regulations.

“Hopefully this will be the start of the certification of natural wines more generally,” said Isabelle Legeron, author and founder of Raw Wine, a series of international wine fairs. “I imagine now that the INAO has adopted this charter, this will make it easier for other countries, even if it may well be with their own versions of labels. What we really need is an EU-wide system, similar to the EU is the green leaf for organic products. “

What is in the bottle?

While natural wine has gained popularity in recent years, there is no concrete definition. Even advocates of natural wine do not always agree on an acceptable definition. What does this new label mean for consumers?

The wines packed with the logo are made from certified organic grapes, handpicked and fermented with ambient yeast strains (native aliases). The winemaker cannot use any additive or several modern techniques, including reverse osmosis, filtration and flash pasteurization.


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Producers are allowed to add a small amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) before bottling, as long as the final wine contains less than 30 milligrams per liter. If they add sulfur, they must use the “Vin Method Nature” logo which indicates added sulphites. There is one for no sulfites added. The grapes can be PDO, PGI or table wine (Vin de France).

Why certify?

“What I sincerely hope is that by having the category officially recognized by the INAO, this will allow producers of natural wines to be part of the [formal appellation system] once again, rather than being forced to enter the Vin de France category as has so often been the case, “said Legeron. “It would really solve a lot of the injustices that have happened in recent years.”

It refers to natural wines which do not respect the existing naming rules. French winemakers were mobilized when Sébastien David, biodynamic winemaker in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil in the Loire, was forced to destroy more than 2,000 bottles of his 2016 Coef cuvée after an audit by the DGCCRF found that three bottles had excessive levels of volatile acidity, possibly the result of low sulfur levels.

“Several times, natural winemakers have been confronted with similar situations, their wines called into question,” explained Perraud.

For many in the movement, what appellation authorities regard as defects are an integral part of natural wine. “I like wines that have personality … that are not filtered. I like the reduction, I like the imperfection, I like to hear about the vintage, “said Perraud. For others, they are off-putting. But the label will make it a matter of taste rather than legal status.

“The biggest challenge was to get the DGCCRF to accept the existence of this type of wine and to agree to validate the specifications,” explained Perraud. “We had to compromise. The French authorities balked at the use of “natural”, which led to the term Vin Method Nature.

Resistance

And within the natural wine community, there was resistance to joining the establishment. “Some do not want to hear about a legal framework because often they have left the framework of controlled appellations and do not want to respond to anyone – which is understandable,” said Perraud, who has been making low-intervention wine for 18 years . “But first and foremost, think about consumers. They get lost and no longer know what to trust. I have seen too many so-called natural wines which were not even certified organic. I don’t force anyone to make natural wine, but don’t say it is natural when it is not. “

Isabelle Legeron
Isabelle Legeron, founder of the RAW Wine salons, thinks that French rules are a good start. (Photo courtesy of RAW Wine)

An important step towards the label was the creation of the natural wine syndicate last October. Membership is open to the community of winegrowers, traders, sommeliers and consumers, all passionate about natural wine. The union is defending the designation against counterfeiting and will audit the producers and grant certification.

“Overall, the criteria set for the Vin Method Nature label seem healthy to me,” said Legeron. Wine Spectator. “My only caveat is that some are extremely difficult to verify. This is something we know first hand at Raw Wine, since we check the SO2 analyzes of each wine submitted, I taste them and we check the backgrounds of the producers and wines like But unfortunately things like wild fermentation , or if SO2 was only added at bottling (and not during fermentation), for example, can be extremely difficult to confirm. “

As the movement gains fans, increased attention and regulation could be vital to business growth. COVID-19 has hit the industry hard, reports Legeron. “Some growers are even worried about being able to harvest all of their grapes, since they’ve had to give up part of their team and cash flow is tight, and some even worry about what it will mean for stocks in 2021. “

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