Natural Nonsense?

The current vogue in the consumer world of wine is to be as eco-friendly as possible. This is a laudable aim. However, I am ever the cynic about what actually contrives to be ecological.

I was reading a social media feed from a restaurant in Edinburgh that claims to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This feed was about some Slovenian wine they were getting from a London merchant specialising in Eastern European wines. Nothing wrong with this at all & I was intrigued by the Slovenian winery’s claim to produce “Natural wines”. This is a good claim, but what does it actually mean?

The technical definition of “Natural” is that the fermentation of your grape juice into wine occurs naturally, without the addition of winemaker yeast. The juice will spontaneously ferment, at least that is the hope, because there is a natural flor of yeast and bacteria on the skins of all grapes. The fermentation that results is quite varied in speed and resulting flavour because each tank, or barrel, will “naturally” be different, depending on what happened to be growing on the outside of the grape at the time. This sounds great unless your wine to taste the same from batch to batch.

Here is another problem. As fermentation is a variable reaction, sometimes it starts spontaneously, sometimes it doesn’t. You could end up with some barrels that just don’t ferment at all. What are you going to do with all those barrels of juice? Chuck them out? Also, the fermentation can often get “stuck” and you end up with a barrel of sweet juice that hasn’t quite finished fermenting into wine.

You are not going to tell me that the winemaker/owner isn’t going to wander past that “stuck” barrel and not bung in a packet of dried yeast to get the barrel fermenting again. Who is going to check that she/he has or hasn’t? There aren’t any yeast police. Certainly not in Slovenia anyway.

According to this particular Slovenian wine estate’s website it proudly proclaims that “out of the 12 hectares that the family farms, 5 hectares have wooden posts to support the vines” to help the environment. I’m presuming the other 7 hectares are concrete posts. I happened to do a bit of Forestry at Aberdeen Uni in my youth and I recall that all wooden posts are pressure coated in a lurid green substance called CCA. Copper is anti-fungus, Chrome is anti-bacterial, and the Arsenic is…, well, you can figure that one out. Maybe the wine estate should be prouder of their concrete posts after all. I’m sure the metal wires that support the vines are natural metal though.

I’m sounding a bit cynical here but these are all small details that aid in the marketing of wine. Each small estate is vying to make a living and if they can get a small marketing advantage over their neighbours then they are going to jump at it. The problems arise because we are all trying to make a small difference to the environment, myself included. Clutching at taglines such as “natural” without being aware that is just the type of yeast the winemaker did or didn’t use isn’t helpful. Sorry.

cheers, Richard


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