This is obviously a crucial question for us, so we looked for answers everywhere. We found out that there is no simple definition of what natural wine is, but there are several elements which we keep on reading or hearing while discussing with people.
Here is a fair take from Jon Bonné, in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
A quick, imperfect answer: Natural wine isn’t as simple as organic or biodynamic. As with food, there’s no official decree. Yes, sustainable farming (potentially organic or biodynamic) is a departure point, but natural wine concerns itself more with what happens next.
For instance: only indigenous yeasts to ferment the wine; no additions (sugar, acid, yeast nutrients) with the possible exception of sulfur dioxide; no manipulation using technologies like reverse osmosis. Get as close as possible to putting in the bottle exactly what the vineyard gave – a goal that potentially takes the line “great wine is made in the vineyard” and shunts it back to pre-cliche significance.
Remy Charest, in his tribute to Marcel Lapierre, defines it succinctly as:
organic in the vineyard, and wild yeast fermentations with nothing taken out and nothing added in, including SO2.
The article on Wikipedia has it like this:
Natural wine is wine made with as little chemical and technological intervention as possible, either in the way the grapes are grown or the way they are made into wine. The term is used to distinguish such wine from organic wine. Organic wine is organic in the sense of having been produced made from organically grown grapes, but it may be subject to technical manipulation in the winemaking process.
Additionally, the requirements for natural wine are as follows:
- Hand-picked, organically or biodynamically grown grapes.
- Low-yielding vineyards.
- No added sugars, no foreign yeasts.
- No fining or filtration.
- No adjustments for acidity.
- No other additives for mouth-feel, colour, etc.
- No micro-oxygenation or reverse osmosis.
- Little or no added sulphite.