Did you know that not all wines are made equal? Wines can be produced commercially, conventionally, or naturally, and each has its own approach to winemaking and a philosophy that affects the product’s taste, quality, and experience you have while drinking it (and the next day too).
If you're looking for a delicious, unadulterated wine to drink, natural wine is a great option. It has several advantages that make it a superior option than other types of wine. In this article, we'll clarify what natural wine is, the many benefits of choosing natural wine, and where you can find them in Australia.
What is natural wine?
Natural wine is made with grapes that are grown organically or biodynamically, without the use of chemicals. The grapes are hand-picked and wild-fermented, with no added yeast. No additives or processing aides are used during the winemaking process, and no modern industrial methods are used in the winery. This results in a wine that is unrefined and has a more natural flavour.
Beyond these basic criteria, there are a few contentious points in the natural wine world about what can and can't be used to make natural wine. One is the use of sulphur, which is often added as a preservative. Sulphur can cause headaches, skin rashes and other side effects in some people. Some natural wine producers add a very small amount of sulphur to their wine just prior to bottling, while others don't add any at all.
As sulphur and sulphites naturally occur in wine, most believe adding a small amount of SO2 prior to bottling is acceptable. However, some purists disagree and believe it goes against the ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’ edict of natural wine. At Feravina, some of our wines have no sulphur added at all, while others have minimal sulphur added at bottling. We cap the total sulphur content allowed to 50ppm, so those with sulphite/sulphur sensitivities can drink our wines without the usual headaches.
Another point of contention is the use of new oak barrels. Purists believe that new oak barrels add a flavour to the wine which renders it non-natural. Others have no issue with it. Here at Feravina, we believe that new oak barrels can be used in natural winemaking, since there’s nothing inherently unnatural about ageing wine in an oak barrel, new or otherwise.
Finally, some purists believe that fining and filtration are unacceptable practices in natural winemaking. Others argue that natural products can be used for both fining and filtration. Here at Feravina, we believe that both fining and filtration are acceptable practices in natural winemaking, as long as they are done using natural products that are vegan friendly.
Is organic wine the same as natural wine?
Often people confuse organic wine with natural wine, yet there is a difference. The term "organic" just implies that the grapes were cultivated without using organic farming methods. Depending on the location, organic certification standards in Australia allow for huge-scale farming of grapes. The wines can then be high in sulphur and other chemicals, and produced similarly to a commercial wine.
Organically grown grapes are just the starting point for a natural wine. It’s also important to make sure the grapes are attentively and sustainably farmed, not just farmed in a way that allows them to be rubber stamped as organic.
Essentially, “organic” refers to what happens in the vineyard, while “natural” refers to what happens to the wine the entire time, from grape to bottle.
The benefits of drinking natural wine
Natural wine makes us feel good, not just because it comes from a beautiful biodynamic/organic vineyard that's full of vitality and life, and is produced by a passionate winemaker in an independent winery. There are actual measurable advantages to selecting natural wine over conventional, and especially commercial wine.
Natural wines have more antioxidants
On a general level, natural wine is made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes. This means that the farmers don't use any of the myriad of agricultural chemicals employed in factory farming. Even if these chemicals don't end up in the finished wine (which is far from guaranteed), they still create weaker plants that produce less nutritious fruit, particularly when it comes to antioxidants, according to study after study (this is the case not just for grapes, but other plants as well).
Antioxidants in grapes aren’t just there for our benefit. They’re an important defence for the vines against pests that want to feast on the juicy grapes. This is why natural wines generally have higher levels of antioxidants than their conventional and commercial counterparts, because pesticides aren’t used in their farming and the antioxidants the grapes contain are their only defence against pests.
When pesticides are used on grapes, they discourage the vines from investing in their own pest-control. These grapes end up with lower levels of antioxidants, because they aren’t needed. The chemical pesticides are already taking care of the problem.
As is the case with other fruit, organically grown grapes, and thus wine made from those grapes, contain higher levels of antioxidants, in particular polyphenolic compounds and resveratrol, long shown to have beneficial properties. Red wines contain more polyphenols than white and rose wines in general, since these compounds like resveratrol and quercetin are found in the skin of the grape, and red wines are made from whole grapes including the skin, while most whites are made just from the juice. Certain varieties have more polyphenols than other varieties, but once we control for these variables, natural wines come out on top.
So, essentially, if you want to eat organic, there's no reason why you wouldn't drink organic as well.
Natural wines are additive free
But it's not just about what's NOT in commercial wine – it's also about what IS in it. Commercial wines often have added sugar, colouring agents, and other flavourings, while natural wines let the grapes – and the terroir they come from – shine through. In addition, many commercial wines are made with grapes that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals. This not only harms the environment, but can also leave residues in the finished wine.
Natural wines are lower in sulphites
Natural wines are also typically lower in sulfites/sulphur than commercial wines. Sulphites are a common preservative that is added to wine (and other food products), but some people are sensitive to them and can experience headaches, hives, or asthma attacks after drinking wine that contains them. So, if you're looking for a wine that's less likely to cause these kinds of reactions, natural wine is a good choice.
Natural wines are better for the environment
Natural wines tend to be more environmentally friendly than commercial wines. The farming practices used to produce them are gentle on the land, and the wines themselves are often made using traditional methods that don't require as much energy or create as much waste as modern winemaking techniques.
Natural wines have a more alive flavour
So, there are plenty of good reasons to choose natural wine over commercial wine. But what about taste? Well, that's a matter of personal preference, of course. But many people who have tried both commercial and natural wine say they prefer the taste of natural wine. They find it more complex and interesting, with a greater sense of place – in other words, you can really taste the terroir in a natural wine. This is because the traditional methods used in natural winemaking allow the grapes to really sing. So, if you're looking for a wine that's not only good for you and the planet, but also tastes great, natural wine is a great choice.
A word of caution, though - unfortunately, some have tried to capitalise on the natural wine movement by making funky and weird wines that aren’t in fact natural because they’re often made with grapes that aren’t organically grown and contain lots of sulphites. At Feravina, we’ve done the hard work for you and hand-picked delicious restaurant quality natural wines, like Hochkirch Syrah, Domaine Laguerre ‘Eos Blanc’ or Proud Primary Produce ‘Up The Mountain’ Red. Check out our natural wine selection here.
Natural wine supports small independent businesses
Natural wine is usually made in small batches by independent producers, so you know you’re supporting local businesses when you choose it.
So if you care about your health, the environment, and supporting local businesses, then drinking natural wine is a no-brainer!
Why more Australians are choosing to drink natural wine
Natural wine is becoming increasingly popular in Australia, with more and more people choosing to drink it. In fact, a recent study found that Australians are now the biggest consumers of natural wine in the world! There are many reasons why people are making the switch to natural wine, but some of the most popular ones include its health benefits, its environmental friendliness, and the fact that it supports the small independent businesses that we mentioned above.
Where can I find natural wine?
Natural wine accounts for less than 0.1% of the wine that’s out there. That’s right. It’s pretty rare! However, if you live in a major city like Melbourne or Sydney, natural wine is everywhere, but it is lost in a sea of not-so-natural wine, and it can be hard to tell if a wine is natural, as it isn’t usually mentioned on the label.
You’re not likely to find any natural wines at the usual bottle shop chains. There are, however, smaller boutique bottle shops that specialise in smaller producers and they’ll tend to have some natural wines on offer.
Since natural wines are also a bit of an emerging trend, trendy restaurants (both higher-end as well as some more casual eateries) are filling their wine lists with more and more natural wines. Venues with 100% natural lists are still extremely rare, so it’s best to ask your waiter or sommelier which of the wines on the list are natural.
Finally, you can buy them online from businesses like ours. At Feravina, we sell nothing but 100% natural wines. And when we say natural, we mean it in the purest sense: organic or biodynamic, with no additives and only minimal sulphite use, if any.
Discover the benefits of drinking natural wine
In conclusion, natural wine is a healthier and more delicious choice than other types of wine. It's made without any harmful additives or chemicals, and the grapes used to make it are grown using sustainable farming practices.
If you're looking for a wine that's delicious, healthy, and environmentally friendly, then natural wine is the way to go. With so many benefits, it's no wonder that more and more Australians are choosing to drink it. So next time you're ready to drink, why not try a natural wine from Feravina? You won't be disappointed.