To be perfectly honest, I find the subject of natural wine really quite tedious, but I’m on a panel about it at the EWBC Conference in Turkey next month, so am having to give it some thoughts. Here’s one of them…

 Is smoking salmon aceptable to natural wine fans?
And what about that lemon?

most wines sold in the United States contain “color enhancers,” preservatives, chemical stabilizers, Mega Purple™, “oak essence,” sugar, acid and the like.”

This direct quote from the Natural Wine Co website is wonderfully revealing of the tone that is being taken by at least some members of the natural wine community.

Let’s try a similar concept 

most women in the United States like to read books containing bondage, cookery tips, slushy romance, women detectives, female business icons, reality TV stars and the like

If you think both quotes are acceptable, I recommend that you stop reading now and find something else to do.

What I love about this kind of thinking is its all-embracing quality, the casual use of the word “most”, followed by the lumping together of a set of disparate words. Do “most wines” sold in the US really contain “Mega Purple”? (I’d presume that its use in Chardonnay is pretty limited”. And is “oak essence” use really that widespread? (I find it hard to detect in most Pinot Grigio). 

If “preservatives” includes SO2, then this at least has the smack of truth. And is at least some use of sulphor dioxide that might give a wine stability and the potential to survive for a decade or so in the cellar, really that bad an idea?

Sugar – for which one might read rectified must, which is actually concentrated grape juice – must be a bad additive. As must acid (especially the tartaric acid that is naturally to be found in wine). The very idea of adding stuff like this to make wine taste better is totally unacceptable. Isn’t it? 

So here are a few simple questions for the wine naturalistas. 

  • Do you add salt and/or pepper to your meat?
  • Do you sprinkle lemon juice (and possibly a little pepper) on your fish?
  • Do you add sugar to your rhubarb, gooseberries, crab apples?
  • Do you eat olives directly from  the tree?
If so, why?

And, a late addition from Michel Smith, “Do you smoke?”
(possibly more likely to get an affirmative in some parts of Europe).

  1. It's horrible that all the white wines in the US are now purple!

    I enjoy natural wines and was once a vegetarian but I'm not a zealot. The concept of “less harm” (to the earth, your body, etc) is probably what most natural wine fans subscribe to. The zealots get the most airtime but the movement is actually really boring. Yes to all of the above questions except for the olives. I like them cured with lye.

  2. Although my favorite wines tend to fall in the natural wine category, I hate this kind of writing. I am going to agree with Steve. There are many wines that aren't a member of some natural wine club or group that are perfectly fine but they don't pay for the label. It is all marketing. That being said, I myself like a wine that tell sme something about where it is from and who made it. I am not a fan of barriques in Italian wines.

    I am looking forward to this panel at the EWBC.

  3. Thanks… I hated apartheid and I distrust partisanship wherever I come across it. The organic and biodynamic producers have quietly got on with making wines in their own ways (with accreditation, incidentally) allowing consumers to decide for themselves whether their wines are actually finer in any way.

    It is only the “naturalistas” who set themselves apart by casting aspersions on “conventional” wines. And then getting upset when supporters of those conventional wines resent their comments.

  4. Interesting to note that marketing got a kick in there by Tasting Rome. I'd wager a tad that “naturalistas” would disagree with an association attributed to them as marketers.

    Wouldn't they just let the wine make and sell itself?

  5. The health argument is just silly by the naturalists, they should look at what they eat instead, the only dangerous substance in wine is the alcohol… and for alcohol to be harmful, we need to drink quite a lot…

  6. Andreas, we both agree 100% on this. I'm fascinated how much the Naturalists behave like a thin-skinned political lobbying group.

    Lots of us have pulled the tails of the biodynamic producers (re bured cowhorns, witches' potions and energised water) but never had the angry wasp responses that accompany ANY criticism of “natural” wine.

    But the Naturalists are VERY quick to point their guns at everyone who isn't in their gang.

  7. Who are the “Naturalists”? I suppose the organisers of the two fairs in London and Alice Feiring in the US. There are a lot of producers of course, but how vocal are they? There are wine bars (especially in France and Japan) but are they really that influential?

    The movement is of course logically flawed only because of the use of the word “Natural” as “Naturalness” is a continuous spectrum. It would have made so much more sense if they called it the “Minimalist Wine” movement. By accepting the fact that it is impossible to draw a line in the sand, and yet you will know it when you see it, it would be like Japanese architecture, modern Scandinavian restaurants or hand crafted wooden surfboards — it will all just be … well … cooler.

  8. I agree 100%. Minimalist has a much better ring and does not presume to be better. I'd suggest it if I could but I haven't found many naturalistas who are ready to discuss this kind of thing rationally. I feat that oxidised wine and Brett may have a negative impact on
    The ability to hear or think logically.

  9. Robert, don't you think it's a rather easy target, to make fun of the hardliners – and to pick badly crafted and ill-thought prose from a retailer's site?

    It would be a shame if the debate at EWBC can't focus on the wider issue, which is more interesting.

    Would you have been able to poke similar amounts of fun at Isabelle Legeron's mission statement (taken from the RAW fair site):

    “RAW is leading the charge for transparency. We believe that in an ideal wine world, any processing and additives will be clearly communicated to the drinker so that you know exactly what is in your glass. RAW is a first step in this direction – we will clearly list all additives and processing on both the website and fair catalogue. We are proud to be leading the way.”

    To me, this is much closer to the nub of the issue. Many of us just want to know what we are drinking (and eating). Then we can decide how “natural” or not, we wish to be.

    I would argue that the natural wine movement is really just part of a larger-scale reaction to mass-produced “industrial” or “commodity” wines. There is an increasing audience that wants and demands “artisanal” or “low-intervention” wines, with regional characters and idiosyncracies. Isn't that what keeps wine interesting for us all?

    I've often said publicly I feel the term “natural” and its compartmentalisation is creating a problem for the sector. Although it has created a term that consumers can latch onto, it's also fostered the slightly extremist behaviour that you're railing against.

    For me, a more useful discussion at EWBC would centre round whether more of the wine industry, and the wine drinking world could be converted to producing/consuming what Jamie Goode calls “Authentic Wines”. In other words, can we continue to increase quality and regional typicity/character, whilst also keeping these wines accessible to wide audiences, both in terms of price and style?

  10. Simon, you make some good points, but I'd respond by saying that it has been the hallmark of the natural wine lobby to point accusing fingers at everyone who isn't in their gang. Use of the term “authentic” dances to that tune, implying that everyone else is in some way “in”authentic. I have no problem with people wanting to make their wines in different ways; my complaint is with the adoption of a divisive term. (I greatly prefer Andreas's “minimalist”.

    A small number of enthusiasts and sommeliers may have become aware of “natural” as a term, but believe me, its penetration of the general wine-drinking public is tiny. I was in O'Brien's, Ireland's best retail chain a few weeks ago, and was told that “almost no one” ever asks for natural wine. Some consumers DO request zero SO2 wines, however, which is why the chain lists Gerard Bertrand's Naturae wines. NOT because of their natural status.

    The “wine drinking world” has neither need nor desire to be “converted to consuming what Jamie Goode calls “Authentic Wines”. Most are quite happy with what they are getting right now.

    Why should they want to switch to unstable, unpredictable and quite possibly downright faulty fare?

  11. On Natural Wine – Here's an excerpt from the latest HMW post:
    “We eat local organic produce, then buy a “natural” wine that traveled here on a boat in a refrigerated container spewing waste into the ocean, was driven by a huge truck down traffic-infested highways to a warehouse, where it was driven again by a giant truck belching carbon into the atmosphere to our local Whole Foods, and we buy it because the guy didn’t spray insecticide on his four acres. And, of course, it tastes better. It should, it tastes like self-importance”

  12. Sergio, “self importance” describes everything I object to about “natural” wine. I have absolutely nothing against the concept or indeed the practice (some of the wines are great; many are not, but that's not the point). All I resent is the holier-than-thou casual finger pointing at “conventional”, “manipulated” wines.

    And as some of the twitter reactions to this post reveal, any voicing of this resentment is treated as an attack on “natural” wine per se.

  13. I can't help but wonder how you fail to see your very own blog post and comments, as committing the same mistakes as the so-called naturalista hardliners.

    You point your finger at people who like natural/minimalist/authentic wines, by calling these wines “unstable, unpredictable and quite possibly downright faulty”.

    You also make the rather strange assumption that because there is no great consumer demand for “natural” wines there is no need for it, yet you also state that very few people have heard of it.

    Most (but by no means all) of the wines I drink are natural/minimalist/authentic, but I taste lots and lots that aren't, and feel no desire to point fingers at anyone – except for people making bad wines, of which there are plenty (nevermind the natural status of them).

    In my country I feel the finger pointing often goes the other way, often with the (very valid) points about health that you and others have made here. The problem is that I have never actually met someone who prefers wines with little or no so2 because of health reasons, but because they find them to be tastier than heavily so2'ed wines. As for pesticides, surely there is nothing wrong with wanting fewer pesticides in your wine and food, is there?

    Just like wine, the debate on natural wines does not necessarily need s02 to give it stability and potential to survive, and it certainly does not need finger pointing.

    Why not discuss the wines or the winemaking or the problematic terms instead of focusing on the few missionaries, who refuse to talk about those very subjects?

  14. Robert: I struggle the most with the word “natural” (used arbitrarily by few) which presumably makes the rest unnatural. As mentioned previously by Andreas “minimalist” is a far better description.

  15. Very good responses Simon and Michael to what I thought was a rather disappointing post that misses the important and truly interesting issues related to natural wine and how it impacts on the wine world in general.

    Robert, no offense intended, but I feel that focussing on the linguistics and semantics of the word 'natural' is interesting in its own right, but better discussed in a linguistics forum. (btw, I've actually done that, and found out that the Oxford English Dictionary (1991) gives the following as one of the many meanings and uses of 'natural': “manufactured using only simple or minimal processes; made so as to imitate or blend with the naturally occurring article.” )

    Also I think it is counter-productive to set up a group called “the Naturalistas” and then criticize what you've decided that “they” stand for. I assure you that there's no such group and no such agenda. What there is, is a number of people each with their own opinions. Unfortunately some have greater exposure to the media than others and it's their soundbites that are picked up. The reality on the ground is completely different. In fact it's rather similar to any wine world niche and not newsworthy at all really!!!

    A topic worthy of discussion and debate, imo, is that of transparancy and labelling, ie why should wine be exempt from labelling requirements? Whether the ingredients are harmful or beneficial or indifferent, is not the point; the point is that consumers should have the right to know, and then they can decided for themselves.

    Another interesting topic is that of terroir, ie do minimum intervention wines express their terroir 'better' or 'more faithfully' than heavily intervened wines (ceteris paribus)?

    Lastly, it's evident that poeple like wine that tastes good (and that producers go to great lengths to make them taste good) but I also believe that more and more consumers are interested in HOW the wine got to be so delicious. It's part of the general long-term greening of the zeitgeiist, ie more and more people are starting to be concerned about the environment and their health and would like to know exactly what ingredients and processes were used to make that delicious wine.

  16. Michael, the point about the potentially “unstable, unpredictable and quite possibly downright faulty” character of wines made with little or no SO2 is acknowledged by the movement's keenest apologists.
    I'm glad you don't point your finger at others but examples are far, far too easy to find. I just googled “natural wine” and “conventional wine: and within the first eight responses, got “Conventional wines taste of the same few manufactured flavours” on the “” site along with an assertion that conventional wines don't survive once opened as well as natural ones.”
    I also found: “Natural wines unlike conventional wines actually tastes of the grapes from which they are made and the location in which they are grown, where as conventional wines are more than likely to taste of similar other manufactured flavours.” on

    You may not have met people who want unsulphored wines for health reasons. I have. Note Fiona Becket's comment (on that “I have an above-average interest in the subject, having started a natural wine blog,, a couple of years ago, largely due to the fact that my husband, who is particularly sensitive to sulphur, had taken a keen interest in them.”

    As I say, I have nothing against producers exploring different methods of winemaking and have enjoyed a number of “natural” wines (and hated a fair number of others). What I object to is the implication that these wines are intrinsically “better” than “conventional” ones.

    Live and let live.

    If I hadn't come across that – and the other – anti-conventional comments, I'd never have written this post.

  17. Fabio, thanks for the lengthy note, but please note my previous comments (particularly in my response to Michael M) My objection is not to natural wine, but to the holier-than-thou attitude of its supporters.

  18. Robert, yes, that's what I was trying to say about generalizing what “naturalistas” think and say! I don't think it's possible to say that “naturalistas” have a holier-than-thou attitude or in fact that they have any attitude you care to mention. You're just extrapolating what ONE holier-than-thou person says to a whole supposed group. It's just like saying that the “Fine Wine -istas” have a snobby elitist attitude, because Mr.Whoever, (a fine wine supporter) is in fact snobby and elitist!!!
    Attributing attitudes and opinions to “naturalists” is just as absurd as attributing attitudes and opinions to groups like, say taxi-drivers or Frenchmen or younsters!

  19. No, Fabio, if you read what I wrote to Michael M, those kinds of comments are rife, as I proved when I googled “natural wine” and “conventional wine”. I've also had the anti-conventional propaganda from several natural-wine-fan sommeliers. You may not want to acknowledge this phenomenon, but just go looking with an open mind and maybe you'll see what I mean.

    Interestingly, there has never been this kind of language from the organic producers.

  20. OK, I'll get back to you on that one. But like I said, is it really productive or useful or interesting to focus on what supposed naturalistas supposedly stand for? What about issues like transparancy, terroir, environment, health, and maybe others?

  21. As someone who is comfiortable with the “natural wine” brand (and that is all it is) surely it is now too far gone to adopt the more appropriate term of “minimal intervention”. The “natural wine” brand is not a slur against conventional winemaking and people should just accept that.

    I do however believe the concept of “real” or “authenitic” wine is a little bit rich. Surely if anyone is too decide it is up to the consumer. For writers and evangelists to condemn good sound wine producers who use cultured yeasts or small to moderate amounts of SO2, is just blunt predjudice.

    I applaud some of the natural wine voices for bringing some very niche and interesting wines to the table, however…..

    A wine is not better becuase it is natural, nor is better because it isn't natural. A good wine is so because it is made with care, attention, expertise, even a little help from mother nature but above all else it's something that the drinker is satisfied with.

  22. Robert,

    I have to disagree with you. Wines produced from organically grown grapes started out as a tiny niche-sector a few decades ago, and was indeed positioned as something of a lunatic fringe. We have to remember this was in an era (1970s?) when systemic/routine spraying of vineyards with pesticides and fungicides was far more prevalent (and acceptable) than it is now.

    The quality of many of those “organic” wines was of course highly variable, and seemed packaged/marketed to appeal more to the tie-dye wearing, lentil-eating sandal-wearing brigade – rather than anyone who actually wanted a high quality bottle of wine.

    However, look how that sector has developed and become a valued part of the market – despite the labelling conundrums, which just got even more complicated with the new EU regs.

    I would argue that the “natural wine movement”, if indeed we can call it that, is still in an early phase, where it is attracting and fostering extremists. But give it time to settle down, people are quite capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff. I think in 5 years time or so, we may well all be quite comfortable with a sector which encompasses “low-intervention” or “minimalist” winemaking.

    I'd further suggest that there's absolutely no harm in shaking things up a bit.

    Surely, our role as wine communicators is to continually encourage consumers (or anyone else we may be able to influence) to trade up to more interesting, well-made, high quality wines.

    Looking at the positive points of the “Natural wine movement” (I'm sorry, I hate this term but have nothing better to use for the moment), such as the call for more label transparency, the call for more typicity of regional and varietal wines, and the urge to use the minimum amount of processing or additives to get in the way of the finished product, isn't this a positive message for the industry?

    It would be a shame if this discussion just gets bogged down in semantics or becomes unnecessarily polarised.

    To return to your food theme: I think that the raw food movement is a bit bonkers. I've not yet seen any proof that people are really healthier on a long-term basis when they only eat raw foods.

    But that doesn't stop me enjoying crudites or yearning for a nice salad on a fairly regular basis.

    I'd like to think that the same variety of offering and opinion is available in the wine world.

  23. I readily concede the positive aspects of the natural movement. Anything that challenges the status quo (as I love to do) has to be a good thing. However, apart from throwing too many brickbats at those who might share some of their views but stand outside the movement, I think that many of the “naturals” are not truly ready to question their own programme. Reducing SO2 use favorises the developments of characteristics – brett, oxidation etc – that may be acceptable (to some) but are NOT reflections of terroir. And if reflection of terroir is perceived to be an absolute vinous good. What about the potential to age? If I open a 1961 Latour, it has survived 50 years and still has the quality and character of the place it came from. How long will an unsulphored or lightly sulphored, unfined, unfiltered wine survive? Does this matter?

    Semantics are an issue. From what I understand – based on responses to this post and elsewhere – the official line is “We've decided to call ourselves 'Natural' and everybody else should just come to terms with it”. No one has any right to that kind of arrogance – especially when the people who've chosen to adopt the term don't even have the grace to comply with any kind of standards but lambast those they term “conventional”.

    I find it even less acceptable when they casually go on to treat that term as a synonym for “industrial”.

    I work with wineries that produce certified organic and sustainable wines which sell in supermarkets. On behalf of those producers and myself, I'm sorry, but I DO resent being dubbed “industrial”.

  24. As I have just said in a response to Simon, I question your right – as “someone who is comfortable with the “natural wine” brand” to decide what “people” should or shouldn't “just accept”.

    But I do agree 100% with the rest of your response – and thank you for it!

  25. I find that many/most foodies and wine people have a holier-than-attitude regardless of being fans of natural wine. When it comes to questions of taste we tend to be a very passionate bunch. Hell, I''ve been known to wish a plague on Tuscany because of my passion for Lazio food, wine and culture.

  26. Thanks for that thought. And I agree about the holier-than-thou-ness. I'm guilty of it myself. But it's not a very appealing trait. Live and let live. If people enjoy eating McDonalds – or chocolate ants, so be it.

  27. I am speaking for what I find in stores in Italy. For example, I shop at a Bio shop near my house and they will only sell one that has the Demeter label. I have never had a good bottle of wine from this store. Meanwhile I head on over to a man I know that makes wine to sell from the barrel. Vino Sfuso. It is “natural” and “organic” but he can't afford to have regulators come and check or belong to the Demeter group. His wine is fantastic every day table wine. It is organic and natural without the use of sulphur.

  28. Chocolate ants, fine, but Mcdonalds and products with Palm Oil are literally killing us due to deforestation, so I am happy there are groups like Slow Food that speak out against Big Agro. I'd like to live in a world that has virgin forests.

  29. Robert,
    I said last week that I'd get back to you about what the imaginary “naturalista” group supposedly stands for and says, but in the end I've decided not to, because it would be a complete waste of my time, and wouldn't provide any useful information to anyone.
    It's your responsibility as a writer back up your statements with facts. If you believe that a group of “naturalistas” exists and that they have an agenda, and that have unilaterally decided to call their wines “natural wines”, then prove it with proper evidence, not just with a lame reference to a Google search for “natural wine” and for “conventional wine”. I hope you realize that this would be a puerile and useless waste of time anyway!
    I also hope that you start to focus on issues that are important and interesting to the wine world in general, such as that of transparancy and why so many natural winemakers and supporters are calling for publishing the ingredients on their back-labels so that consumers can make informed decisions; or why natural wines may express their terroirs better than a heavily intervened one; or maybe explore the grey area of wines and wineries which are neither industrial, nor have declared themselves to be 'natural' but are somewhere inbetween; or how about exploring the definition of “industrial” wines; maybe there are many grey area wineries that are closer to the natural end of the spectrum than they are to the industrial end; There are so many interesting avenues to explore and debate sensibly around the idea and actuality of natural wines! Or are you going to keep flogging that old 'semantics of the word natural' horse? Are you going to invent yet another new amusing anecdote showing how wine isn't natural? Or are you going to keep on about the objectionable attitudes of such-and-such a natural wine supporter? I look forward to seeing which path you take and seeing what class of writer you are, ie a serious, responsible one willing to truly explore and comment on the real issues around natural wine, or a superficial, boring, soundbite-generating one, who really has nothing of interest to say.

  30. Thank you Fabio.
    To take your response seriously – which I do – I'll deal with the points separately. My belief – and it is a personal one – that a group of people feel passionately and defensively – about natural wine is backed up by the volume and passion of the responses I get to anything I write on the subject. Fascinatingly and ironically, I wrote a post recently on the huge growth in the market for “wine cocktails” (commercial blends of wine and fruit flavourings) which I concluded by saying

    All I know is that, whether purists like it or not, flavoured wines, ciders and beers are as much of a commercial reality as other recent inventions ranging from pineapple pizza and avocado sushi to e-books and latte. And for that reason alone, I find it interesting how much less discussion there is of them than of the “natural” wines which will never be more than a sideshow.

    That post received immeasurably fewer responses than this. If I see a significant number of people wearing a particular type of hat and extlling its virtues, I'm entitled to group them as the “hat group”.

    I also contend that the only people who believe that the semantics of calling a particular type of wine “natural” is unfair and “flogging a dead horse” are the people who support it. It is as though I open a burger bar on your street and say “get over it” every time you voice your objections. “Natural”-wine fans have every legal right to the term and a significant number of people who disagree with them have every right to disagree with them. In blunt terms: get over the fact that some of us can't get over having our wines dishonestly calumnied by people who – by setting up shop with a name like the Natural Wine Co – can reasonably be seen to represent others who share their views.

    Regarding wine labelling and “industrial” wine, I'll be posting on both subjects shortly. I'll be glad to get off the subject of “natural” wine; I only raised it after being asked to speak on a panel at the EWBC, taking a look at what was being said online and coming across the comments on the Natural Wine Co site that made me want to respond.

    Get the people who are doing so to stop generalising about non-“natural” wines and you'll find far fewer of the negative responses from people like me that seem to annoy you.

  31. Robert,

    I think we are applying slightly different meanings or connotations to the word “group”! Of course I agree that there is a group or community of people involved in natural wine, and you are of course perfectly correct refer to it as such, in the same sense are your “hat group”. The point I am trying to make is that this group of Naturalistas is just a collection of individuals, or loose cannons rather, each with their own agendas and opinions, and some with bigger mouths than others! But there is no spokesperson, no official dogma or doctrine. It’s utterly meaningless to write something like “The Naturalistas believe that….” or “The Naturalistas always say/do this or that” or “The Naturalistas have decided…to do whatever”. Sure, you can trawl the internet and find a number of Naturalistas that are all “holier-than-thou”, or dishonest marketers, or who have said this or that, or whatever you care to search for. But firstly, these people that are visible on the internet just do not represent the rest – in fact I believe that they probably MISrepresent the rest. Secondly, I don’t believe that they’re even a significant percentage of the natural wine group even in terms of numbers, let alone in terms of their opinions. Lastly, I believe that this issue should not be given undeserved importance, when there are so many other interesting issues that could be of benefit to the whole wine world.

    Another topic which I think is over-debated is the semantics. Your analogy with the opening of a burger bar is not appropriate or valid, because that is a legal and well defined issue – there are applicable laws, authorities, and procedures that can be followed and in the end the burger bar will either open or close. End of story. But languages don’t work like that! Languages evolve over time and words and meanings are created bottom up by the people who speak and write them. That’s why the 1991 edition of the OED gives as one of the meanings of “natural” “manufactured using only simple or minimal processes;but earlier editions do not! It’s because a significant number of people were using the word natural in that sense already in 1991 and the OED picked up on it and included it in the dictionary. It wasn’t the Naturalistas who decided to call their wines natural!!! You, and others, of course have every right not to get over it and complain and debate about how inappropriate the term is – and an interesting debate it is too, but in linguistics forum, not in a wine forum!!!

    I don’t believe that the comments, opinions, viewpoints and soundbites you can find online about natural wine is a true reflection of the reality on the ground. I can assure you that many people are bored to tears by the semantics debate and by the utterances of individual naturalistas that don’t represent the rest of us.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on labelling and on “industrial” wines. Now those really are two issues related to natural wine that are interesting and worthy of exploration and debate, and which could be beneficial to the whole wine world! Other issues could include: “When is a flaw not a flaw?”, “Are natural wines better for the environment?”, “Are natural wines better for consumers’ health?” “Do natural wines express terroir better?”, “Do natural wines taste better?”

    Lastly, I’m a bit concerned when you say that you’ll “be glad to get off the subject of “natural” wine; if you’re on a panel at the EBWC, surely you should be delving into the subject even more!!! Wouldn’t you be doing your audience and the organizers a disservice if you just rehash the old semantics issue and/or focus on what some online Naturalistas have said or done?

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