As Jill Barth, another Forbes.com contributor, reports, the French wine authorities have codified what should be called nature method wine. The designation approved by the National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), the French Ministry of Agriculture and the French Office for the fight against fraud refers to wine produced as close to natural as the French think it possible. However, when applied to wine production, what does the word “natural” mean?
This was in part the subject of a recent Zoom meeting in the Real Business of Wine series. The meeting brought together wine producers, writers and wine sellers. Among them, a Loire Valley wine producer, Jacques Carroget, played a decisive role in the movement that led to the new appellation of French wine. Carroget said he had been growing grapes for almost a decade before he started producing natural wine – because organic or biodynamic in the vineyard only accounts for half the effort.
To claim the new wine method nature appellation, French vineyards must be certified organic and the harvest must be done the old fashioned way, by manually cutting the grape clusters from the vines – without machines – and starting fermentation commercial yeast is not allowed. The juice must ferment alone, from yeast suspended in the air. After fermentation, interventions such as filtration, reverse osmosis, flash pasteurization are prohibited.
Some are protesting the new designation and some would like some adjustments applied to it.
New york times writer Eric Asimov is not crazy about the new rules, saying “… it’s hard to come up with a definition and make it meaningful to the public. “
Independent screenwriter Alice Feiring isn’t crazy about the rules either, saying, “In my heart, I don’t like it. She also said, however, even though she saw no need for regulation, “… that was before natural wine became worthy of imitation.” Legislation on this subject is inevitable… ”
Among the meeting participants who welcomed the new regulations was freelance writer Simon J. Woolf. When another meeting attendee, writer Birte Jantzen, expressed dissatisfaction with what she claims are many flaws in natural wine, Woolf replied, “The only way to counter the natural idea [wine] our garbage is to set standards … “
A particular winemaking process that triggers multiple conversations when it comes to codifying wine has to do with sulfur dioxide (SO2). Oenologists have argued about its use for decades, but the history of the use of SO2 in wine dates back to the Greek Homeric period, a subject that cannot be addressed in this space. SO2 has been used as a preservative to prevent wine from becoming vinegar or something just as offensive. SO2 is one of the byproducts of fermentation and others can be added in gaseous or powder form.
Not all SO2 in wine is available as a preservative. A fraction dissipates as a gas and 50% to 90% can bind to other compounds in the wine. The rest of the SO2 acts as a preservative – it is called “free SO2”. As SO2 is added to wine, the bound molecules accumulate, adding the free with the bound of a sample in the laboratory, you get the total SO2. Under the rules applicable to natural wine, the addition of SO2 is prohibited before and during fermentation, and the analysis must reveal less than 30 milligrams per liter of Total SO2 (30 parts per million).
A wine can exceed the authorized limit of total SO2 during fermentation. It is also conceivable that a wine could exceed the total authorized but not contain enough free SO2; there are two reasons for establishing a rule because it is certain not to make everyone happy. Others are completely against its use.
Isabelle Legeron, founder of the Raw Wine movement, said at the Zoom meeting that in her opinion, natural wine contains no addition of SO2 – period. Some people think SO2 shouldn’t be added for health reasons, but it’s another long story that can’t be told here.
The last discussion at the Zoom meeting focused on natural wine with regard to the production of large and small wines. Carroget told the group that the fear that large producers would co-opt the designation had been taken into account, but that the guidelines ended up ignoring it. He added, probably as consolation, that harvesting by hand alone could keep large wineries away.
Simon Woolf asked, “How do we determine a large or a small cellar?” He thinks the new designation could and probably should apply to any size of production.
For now, the wine method nature the designation is only French, but the rest of the EU countries will certainly take a look. While the designation of natural wine generates substantial profits, some large wine companies in the EU and the United States will either launch their own natural wine programs or buy small wineries with proven success in the segment. It may be natural wine, but in the end, it is strictly business.