Real Wine Guy: How to Make Natural Wine

Old traditions in winemaking have, unfortunately, been replaced by modern manipulations that render many wines alike, no matter their origin – manipulations and additions that sterilise a wine, taking away any sense of place.

I was raised in California, where it was not uncommon to eat organic food back in the 1970s but, ironically, the last place on earth to produce natural wines. In 2003, I moved to Norway and soon began running a popular wine bar. In 2008, I studied at the Gastronomic Institute in Oslo. I tasted, tasted and tasted again, until I understood what wine was saying to me. I soon noticed a pattern. My favourites were the ones produced by small, independent winemakers working traditionally and without chemicals or additives.

In January of 2009, I began to work for a small restaurant where I focused exclusively on natural wines – the first wine program of it’s kind in Norway. It was controversial as hell at first, but by the end of 2013, dozens of restaurants in Norway were trying their hand at natural wines.

What is an organic, biodynamic or natural wine anyway? A brief description of a commercial wine is needed first. A commercial ‘winemaker’ strives to produce a consistent wine each year and for financial gain. The use of pesticides in the vineyards is an acceptable and common practice.

Once these grapes are machine harvested, they are sulphured to kill any bacteria or unwanted yeasts. The ‘winemaker’ selects a yeast to control the fermentation of the grapes, often based on the flavours and aromas it will ultimately give the wine.

Sugar can be added to increase potential alcohol, gum arabic can be added to round out tannins, acetaldehyde for colour stabilization, dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC) to sterilise and stabilise the wine, and sulphur (the only additive allowed to be listed on the wine label) as a preservative. In the EU, over 100 additional ingredients may be added to your bottle of wine. And they are not allowed to list them on the label.

real wine1Comparison of a standard vineyard (left) with a natural wine vineyard (right)

The photo above demonstrates the visible difference between a natural wine vineyard (right), where no chemical pesticides, fungicides or herbicides are used, and a standard vineyard (left).

A natural winemaker will always harvest by hand. The grapes will be left to ferment with native yeasts (yeasts that are everywhere; on the grapes, airborne and in the winery). Natural winemakers will NEVER add a yeast to begin the fermentation.

Some will add a bit of sulphur, but these wines usually end up in the bottle with about 10% of the allowable sulphur dioxide levels. Natural wine makers do not filter – they take nothing from the wine.

Natural wines complement food very well. You can taste for yourself at Zazie Bistro, Ancora, Portobello or at Karma, serving an innovative vegetarian tasting menu on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings paired exclusively with natural wines.

Ingredient labels are not allowed on wine bottles in the EU, so how do you find a natural wine? My job each month will be to introduce you to winemakers and their wines.

Meet Joseph Di Blasi at:
Naturaliści Wine Shop
ul. Nowa (between Plac Nowy & Józefa)
www.naturalisci.pl

5 thoughts on “Real Wine Guy: How to Make Natural Wine

  • August 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm
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    great.. I used to tell my friend and the restaurant if they have bio wine,, they always said.. all wine is bio and mad in small farm or house, no factory at all..but i was sure that there is some thin they added to the wine as you mentiond…

    now we are waiting to your second article about this tite :)

    Reply
  • August 30, 2014 at 8:34 am
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    Hello Omran

    And you were right. Not all wine is bio and not all wine is good
    Thanks for reading – more stories to come!

    Reply
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  • September 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm
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    Hi Joseph, I’m surprised to read that “Ingredient labels are not allowed on wine bottles in the EU” and “100 additional ingredients may be added to your bottle of wine. And they are not allowed to list them on the label.”, can you provide a citation for this because in the UK some shops do have an ingredient list.

    Toby

    Reply
    • September 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm
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      Hello Toby!

      Thank you for reading my column and for commenting. I apologize for my delay in replying to you and my readers. I have been trying to search for the correct answer to reply with. Years ago, when I first started to write about natural wines, it was illegal to label the ingredients on a wine. I have been searching over the last few days to find this in writing to share with you. I have checked with 2 well-respected (and “famous”) natural winemakers and 1 natural wine journalist (also famous) and according to their replies, this is what’s allowed today regarding labeling. (I decided to not name these persons):

      “You are allowed to write the analysis on a label, but not the ingredients.” Natural winemaker quote

      “No ideas of the written law but the use of the word INGREDIENTS is not allowed, according to Fraud Repression.” Natural winemaker quote

      “I don’t know for a fact but I think it’s legal. They don’t regulate that sort of thing in the EU like they do here (in the US)” Natural wine journalist

      So, I hope this shed some light on your question

      If it was legal to write the ingredients on a wine label, than more and more producers of natural wine would do so. And yet, I have seen it only once on the back label of a natural winemaker which in following vintages was told not to and therefore no longer does..

      I have seen analysis written on the back of quite a few natural wine labels.

      If you need some documentation to the additives allowed in winemaking in the EU, I would be happy to send some your way. But, you can also Google this as it is widely available on the web..

      cheers,

      Reply

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