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Natural Wine – Qu’est-ce-que c’est?

Natural Wine - Qu’est que c’est?

By Victoria Gilbert

Can tasting a wine change your life?

Maybe, maybe not, but it can certainly set your mind on a new course. Wine is like music: we have our favourite bands, our beloved artists who move us or make us dance; as we have our favourite wines we gravitate to. Then one day, a piece of music plays that you’ve never heard, and you stop, captivated by the beauty of it. You’ve found a new sound to thrill you, to make you feel different.

Natural wine is different. It’s made with little to nothing added from the vineyard to the bottle. These are wines created without chemical intervention and with minimum manipulation. From growing to bottling, there is as little intervention from the winemaker as possible. Grape growing and winemaking is precise, conscientious labor, and it is particularly so in natural wine.

Natural wines started 70 years ago in the Beaujolais region with French winemaker and chemist Jules Chauvet, who stopped adding sulphur to wine and embraced fermentation with indigenous yeasts. Interest in natural wine grew in France and slowly made its way to Canada.

“We’re going back to the roots of winemaking,” says Andrzej Lipinski, owner and winemaker at Big Head wines in Niagara-on-The-Lake.

“We do not want to interfere with mother nature,” says Lipinski who makes his wines without adding yeast during the fermentation process, a method few local wineries take. “With added yeast we are changing the profile, we are changing the flavours of that wine,” he says. The Polishborn winemaker recently launched a line of wines called “RAW” which never touches oak. Instead Lipinski uses concrete tanks and, in the future, massive orange terracotta pots which he recently acquired for the RAW series. “With these wines, we just want to show the fruit.” The fruit is the star of his RAW wines. Maybe it’s because Lipinski vibrates with energy or maybe it’s the passion he exudes which transcends into the glass, but these RAW wines certainly make a drinker think.

“We are influenced by lots of companies. Everybody wants to make money. You have a chemical company, they want to sell you all those chemicals to spray on the grapes,” says Lipinski with a note of anger. He likens grapes to people. “You go to a doctor, they want to sell you all those tablets, the medicine you have to take, they aren’t really helping you. We get used to those drugs, the vines get used to them too. The vines will protect themselves if you don’t give them as much; their immune system will be stronger.”

In 2005, The New York Times wrote natural wine making was “almost a secret world, a shadow wine industry … catering to a tiny but fervent band of consumers.” That notion is changing as people become interested in the details behind the wines they consume.

“I’m drinking my own wines, why would I want to put all that garbage in there? All those chemicals?” says Lipinski. Manuel Gonzalez, sommelier at Big Head sees “natty” wines (slang in the industry for natural wines) as a relief. “We’ve been bombarded with these commercial wines,” he says as he pours an unbelievably aromatic 2017 “RAW” Pinot Noir. “These wines show an incredible potential and pleasure - they are super complex, they are very pleasant to drink, and they don’t have any of that heaviness or feel manipulated with a ton of oak or acid - we see these wines as wow! This is refreshing.”

Top Ontario wineries with natural wines to try now: Pearl Morissette, Beamsville, ON Big Head, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON Tawse, Vineland, ON

Although a natural wine is organic and sometimes biodynamic, not all organic and biodynamic wines are always natural. Unlike organic wines which have been certified by a licensed third-party organization and have been grown, harvested and processed according to set standards, there is no official classification for natural wines, making them trickier to find. The LCBO often rejects natural wines because they don’t meet certain requirements so heading to a winery or a restaurant with a solid local wine list is the best way to discover your favourite bottle.

Just as our interest in more “naturally” produced food continues, natural wines have been gaining popularity in Canada’s restaurant scene.

“Natural wine is a great portrait of what happened in the vineyard in that vintage,” says James Peden, Head Sommelier at Treadwell Restaurant in Niagara-On-The-Lake although he is “not a huge fan of the term ‘natural wine’.”

“Some people shout from the rooftops that they are this or that but you have to know who the producer is and what they value and the kind of viticulture they practice.”

Finding all that out by the label alone is not possible and so Pedenencourages people to ask questions.

“We have tourists coming from all over the world in to our wine country asking ‘what are your wines all about?’ We’re not going to pour them a wine that is going to taste the same every single year, like those huge 100,000 case productions of generic wine. The less you intervene in the winemaking process, the more I feel the wine can reflect where it came from and that’s a big selling point for our guests.”

Pairing food with natty wines follows the same reasoning as all food and wine pairing: “Certain foods go well with certain styles of wines,” says Peden. “Our wines need to reflect the change of seasons. If I need to draw on a natural style Pinot Noir, so be it, I will. The creativity that comes out of the kitchen is never ending so the more of a diverse portfolio of each varietal we have is crucial.”

Be it for taste or be it for health, natural wines are different and are as exciting as discovering not just a new song, but a new genre of music. Santé. TM