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The Vegans Are at it Again: A Quick Breakdown of Natural Wine

Updated: Apr 29

The elusive “new” beverage that’s taking the wine industry by storm is raising a lot of questions. With the rise in popularity of veganism in recent years, consumers are demanding a “cleaner” alternative to their vino. But what exactly is this divisive drink?

Natural wine’s definition has immensely changed over time but stripped down to its core, it is a wine made from unaltered fermented grape juice. Fingers are often pointed at sulfites as the contributing factor of change to a wine’s natural state.

Sulfites are a range of sulfur compounds that contribute to the fermentation process. It works as a preservative against yeast and bacteria and helps slow down chemical reactions to give you a better bottle of wine. And contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not what is causing your wine headache. Unless you have asthma. Then, yes, it probably is.

So what’s up with this new trend?

Natural wine is the latest fad in the wine industry, and it’s quickly gaining popularity. Even though technically, it’s been around since people have been consuming wine. And, like any new trend in the wine industry, it’s causing a huge controversy. Old stuffy wine people are desperate for traditions to carry on as they were, regardless of how good the drink tastes. Of course, natural wine disrupts this agenda, opening the door to an entirely new wine technique. Some experts even consider the term “natural wine” inaccurate because it’s often not wholly stripped of sulfites. It just uses, like, a lot less than traditional wine. Since it’s an ongoing and complicated controversy, let’s break down the social taboo that is the latest vegan technology trend.

How it’s Made

The winemaking process is long, complicated, and arduous, and I could reserve a whole post just for its explanation. But for the sake of time, I’ll break it down into a few steps. Put in layman’s terms, the tried and true method of making wine involves harvesting and picking the grapes (known as viticulture), then bringing them in for fermentation once they’re ready (known as viniculture). For natural wine, vintners do not use pesticides or herbicides on their crops during harvest, unlike traditional winemakers. Rather than artificial yeast, they rely on wild yeast to encourage fermentation. Instead of using a machine to pick the grapes for them, natural wine growers handpick each bushel. And lastly, they don’t throw in any additives (like oak chips, natural acid, or sugar) during the winemaking process. These small but significant changes are the sole contributors to the dramatic change in natural wine’s taste and appearance. A lack of pesticide use during harvest means that natural wine is often very hazy in complexion.

The rules are bent from grower to grower. But that’s the skeleton outline of what it takes for your wine to be considered natural. Click here for a more in-depth explanation of the process.

But why is this such a big controversy?

In the 1980s, a dude named Robert Parker established the 100 point wine rating system. It’s a rubric that evaluates the overall quality of any particular wine and is still very much used today. But this wack-ass system was based on one guy’s “expert” opinion on wine, and vintners noticed that it was significantly affecting their sales. Because of this, winemakers started crafting their wine in the style that pleased Parker, to yield a higher score. So, like most other things in this capitalist society, the wine industry quickly became nothing more than a money game.

As you can probably piece together, the concept of natural wine completely goes against this traditional system. It’s a style that redefines a lot of what we think about when we think of wine. A high rating wasn’t at the forefront of natural winemaker’s minds, but rather a “new,” completely clean drink and a different wine approach. It not only looks different but also has a unique, slightly sour taste that you won’t get from filtered wine. These changes infuriated traditionalist winemakers, resulting in nasty, mean girl-Esque rumors about natural wine to start spreading. Which leads me to my next point:

Breaking Down the Natural Wine Myths

Many think that because the wine is typically hazy in color, it’s considered “dirty.” “Dirty,” in a lot of people’s minds, translates to low quality. Now that we know what goes into producing a natural wine, we understand that it’s quite the opposite of dirty. Yes, it is hazy in color, but by removing additives and pesticides, it’s actually the cleanest way of making wine. And yes, it will taste different to you if you’re used to grocery store wine, but the taste of natural wine is far from bad. Don’t let your preconceived notions on wine deter you from trying this style. That’s precisely what the old wine guys want.

Another common misconception is that this “trendy” new wine comes with a hefty price tag. But a quick search on Total Wine’s website proved that wines under the label of “kosher,” “organic,” or “natural” can be as little as $10.00 a bottle. If you are a natural wine beginner, start with these bottles. If you have a little extra cash, upgrade to a $15-20 bottle. This small price jump can really elevate your natural wine experience.

I want to challenge all of you to try a bottle of natural wine this month. Once you do, let me know which kind you got, and what you think of it!

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