The alcohol industry is undergoing a sea change.
Since the 1980s, the craft beer movement has gradually eroded the market hegemony once held by the likes of Budweiser and Miller. More recently, craft distillers have shouldered their way into the spirits game. Many of these craft producers found footholds by emphasizing their devotion to small-scale and artisanal modes of production, and now some of these same trends are stirring up the wine business.
While not everyone likes the term or agrees on its definition, “natural wine” is the de facto name for what could be viewed as craft wine. “It’s wine made from organic grapes that are fermented naturally with no additives or filtration,” says Bradford Taylor, a natural wine advocate, wine store owner, and organizer of Brumaire — one of the Unites States’ most popular natural wine fairs.
By “fermented naturally,” Taylor is referring to wines made using yeasts that are native to a winemaker’s vineyard or cellar — as opposed to commercial yeast strains that are selected because they bring out certain flavors or aromas in a wine. “When you let wine ferment without intervention, there’s a huge range of unpredictable things that can occur,” he explains. “These wines can taste different than what you expect wine to taste like.” Depending on a person’s wine-buying budget, natural wines can also induce some sticker shock. Affordable options are out there, but not many under $20.
Yeasts aside, producers of natural wine tend to eschew additives and processes that are commonplace in commercial winemaking. “I think the generally accepted definition of natural wine is ‘nothing added, nothing removed,’” says Bianca Bosker, author of Cork Dork, a book that explores some of the techniques used in mass-market wine production.
“I think most of us live in this collective fantasy where wine is made with grapes and yeast and love, and that’s it, and there’s a lot of reluctance in the wine industry to pierce that fantasy.”