Until recently, many in the natural wine movement, including its champion, independent wine writer Alice Feiring, were firmly against any form of definition, certification or rules. The New York Times critic, Eric Asimov spoke for many in 2020 when he said that “it’s difficult to arrive at a definition, and to make it meaningful to the public.” Anyone who self-identified as a natural winemaker was accepted into the fold.
The problem, of course as with most movements, is that this presumption of goodwill was abused by carpetbaggers who recognised an opportunity to cash in on a fashionable trend. There were even stories of non-organically grown wine being sold as ‘natural’.
So, perhaps inevitably ‘Vin Méthode Nature’ was born in France, with a logo and 12 rules that far exceed the ones applied to biodynamic viticulture.
Apart from including mandatory organic viticulture, the Méthode Nature charter insists on hand-picking and wild yeast fermentation and – while allowing the addition of up to 30mg of SO2 before bottling - forbids its use before or during fermentation. Producers who take advantage of this allowance are required to print the final SO2 content on their label.
By March 2020 some 223 French producers had signed up, with some releasing 2019 Vin Methode Nature wines.
Another model called S.A.I.N.S goes further. The initials, which conveniently mean ‘healthy’ in French, stand for ‘Sans Aucun Intrant Ni Sulfite. To adhere, producers have to make wine with ‘No Added Chemicals or Sulphites’.
Reluctantly, Feiring acknowledged that while “In my heart of hearts I don’t love” rules and so far has seen no need for them. But “that was before natural wine became worthy of imitation. Legislation on it is [now] unavoidable…”
Curiously, in the days when natural wine supporters seemed unconcerned by the threat of small producers abusing the term, many seemed more bothered about the prospect of large wine businesses getting in on the act. Natural winemaking, it seemed, had to be a family affair.
Not any more.
In 2021, Philip Cox, the British-born owner of Cramele Recas, Romania’s biggest wine exporter, produced some 300,000 bottles of certified organic, natural orange wine, using recently acquired amphora,
The combination of certification and large wineries like Recas seems almost certain to do for natural wine what Demeter and the arrival of brands like Benziger, Gerard Bertrand and Seña did for biodynamic viticulture.
The big French producer, Gérard Bertrand has already launched a zero-SO2 wine brand and sold large volumes into French supermarkets. How long will it be before we see a multinational brand of Pet Nat?
How the natural wine pioneers will feel about this remains to be seen