Wineology: Making sense of natural wines

Check out Okanagan sommelier Shanyn Ward’s wine column

What defines a natural wine? It is a hard question to answer because there isn’t technically a definition for natural in the wine world.

So here is my opinion:

Natural starts with farming. There are hundreds of inputs you can use in a vineyard. From sprays to counter pests and disease, to machinery that mow, till and work the earth. I believe naturally farmed vineyards will use minimal sprays- yes it is okay to spray sulphur to protect against mildew which turn our grapes in to a moldy mess. But allowing nature to thrive is not a bad thing.

There is a philosophy called Integrated Pest Management, where use of beneficial insects and cover crops (such as clover and mustard) can discourage infestation of harmful insects or weeds. Have you ever seen beautiful rows of yellow mustard growing in a vineyard? Mustard actually helps deter nematodes from burrowing in the soil, captures nitrogen and attracts bees. Just like our preference to eat organic food, grapes can definitely be grown in the same way.

In the winery “natural” seems to have many different definitions. I had the opportunity to present 14 “naturally” made wines to a group of winemakers from the valley last week. One commented that it was a rollercoaster of a tasting because some of the wines were so interesting and well made and others seemed to be very faulty and just plain weird.

This is the struggle with natural wines. There are some key decisions to make in the winery when deciding how to produce naturally. One would like to think that no manufactured yeasts would be used and instead naturally occurring yeasts would be responsible for fermentation. However, natural fermentations are often described as being funky in their aromas or having a flavour profile that is not as enjoyable. They often do not have that freshness and fruit-forward balance that consumers seem to appreciate.

And then there is a conversation of whether wines should be aged in barrel or concrete, both of which are porous and allow oxygen exchange. Temperature control is considered by some winemakers to be unnatural. But the winemaker who allows fermentation to happen naturally could be waiting much longer than one who uses heating or cooling.

The next topic could be talked about in great length and I may just write a separate article on it soon. Filtering the wine.

Most natural wine makers will not do this. It is believed it strips wines of flavors and natural components. When a customer picks up a bottle, however, and sees sediment in the bottom of it they automatically assume there is something wrong with it.

And finally sulphur. Do you add a little at the time of bottling? SO2 protects wine from oxidizing. With it there is comfort that a wine will withstand some aging, but without it we never really know.

So here is the thing about ‘Natural” wines: They are always going to be more of an expression of winemaking style and decisions made in the winery. I would dare say they will be much less expressive about terrior or regionality. They will always be strangely different in a wonderful way. They will be consistently inconsistent. They may age well or they may not.

Wines will always contain sulphites; even if they are natural (it is a part of the wine making process). You may really love them or you may hate them. Until we can create a clear understanding on what natural means in the winemaking world – it is all about experimentation. So take the plunge and risk buying a bottle, you just may be pleasantly surprised.

Related: Wineology: Let’s talk organic wine

What I am loving this week:

2017 Sebastian Laurent Zweigelt

The 2017 Sebastian Laurent Zweigelt is made from 100 per cent Zweigelt from the Similkameen Valley. The grapes were picked early, alongside other grapes that would be used for rose production. Older oak was used in the aging process of this wine, which results in this wine being very fresh with flavours of red cherry, blueberry and currant.

I like to serve this wine slightly chilled. It is a perfect red wine for summer, as it is not too heavy and can be drunk on its own patio side.

Cheers!

shanynward@gmail.com

To check out past Wineology columns, click here.

 

Shanyn Ward is a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Diploma graduate and wine buyer for Cask & Barrel Liquor Store. (Photo: Carmen Weld)

Just Posted

Hoss happy to find a forever home for the holidays

SPCA South Okanagan-Similkameen Branch helps pup find a home

Council votes to take action on problem property

Mobile home was damaged in Aug. 15 fire

Police dog tracks down counterfeit suspect

Cop vehicle rammed, and pooch steals a chicken dinner

Parking study coming back to Penticton city council

Parking study lays out options to solve parking problems around SOEC

Penticton not an unsafe city, according to RCMP superintendent

RCMP superintendent says statistics are misleading

VIDEO: Ex-NASA engineer pranks mail thieves with glitter bomb trap

Package thefts are common this time of year, but YouTuber Mark Rober used his engineering skills

‘Laverne & Shirley’ star, ‘Big’ director Penny Marshall dies

Marshall died of complications from diabetes on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, at her Hollywood Hills home. She was 75.

B.C. Court of Appeal to rule in terror case that centres on RCMP conduct

B.C.’s appeal court is scheduled to release a decision today on a couple whose guilty verdict over plotting to blow up the provincial legislature was thrown out by a lower court judge.

Trump backs off on demand for $5 billion to build a border wall

Congress and President Donald Trump continue to bicker over his demand that lawmakers fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Canadian detained in China, not clear if related to two other detentions

Reports suggest the person is not a diplomat or entrepreneur doing business in China.

Trudeau sees 2019 election as choice between positive Liberals, divisive Tories

Trudeau is drawing much the same battle lines that propelled the Liberals to a come-from-behind victory in 2015

Snowfall warning issued for Coquihalla, Highway 3

Make sure to equip winter tires if travelling

Lightning top Canucks 5-2 in feisty battle

NHL’s No. 1 team too much for Vancouver

UPDATE: Coquihalla reopens between Hope and Merritt

The highway is closed in the northbound lane

Most Read