The Controversy Over Natural Wines: Moral Purity or Moral Preening?

by Dwight Furrow

Natural wine squeezing grapesIf you are one of the billions of people on this planet who avoid the wine press you might never have heard of "natural wines". Yet, they are the source of great controversy in the wine world, dividing brother from brother and tearing at the delicate fabric of overwrought sensibilities. It's not quite civil war but it's serious enough to generate plenty of creative insults. To select one example, a Newsweek article was entitled "Why Natural Wine Tastes Worse than Putrid Cider" which, as you might imagine, caused natural wine proponents to launch diatribes against smug, snobbish, closed-minded apologists for "frankenwines". That's the tenor of the debate.

What is this debate about?

Natural wines are wines made without cultured yeast, minimal (or no) use of the preservative sulfur dioxide, no modern winemaking technology such as reverse osmosis or micro-oxygenation, no additives such as mega purple, enzymes, or additional acid, no filtration, and using only grapes grown organically and/or sustainably. Natural wine producers often advertise an aspiration to make wine the way it was made 120 years ago.

So what is wrong with modern winemaking technology? Well, environmental issues such as soil depletion and potentially harmful chemicals to start with, but natural wine enthusiasts also claim modern industrial winemaking destroys flavor, creates generic wines that lack freshness and complexity, and that no longer reflect the unique characteristics of the grapes' origins.

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