The Real Wine Fair is an independent festival of growers, comprising those who work organically and/or biodynamically and with few or zero interventions in the winery. That said, natural wine (and real wine) is relative rather than an absolute or precise term and embodies a certain spirit of endeavour in the vineyard and the winery. We therefore hope that the fair will represent a broad spectrum of practices, all of which are encompassed by this spirit. We understand that each grower has a highly specific approach; we should celebrate those differences.
The term “natural wine” is by no means precise, but is intended to highlight growers who work in a particular fashion, with minimal mediation, ideally to obtain the purest articulation of terroir, fruit or vintage in the wine. The expression implies that there are wines which are either unnatural, or less natural. This distinction is fundamental to the debate about the way that the wine proceeds from the vine to the bottle.
Natural wines tend to be made in small quantities by artisan or independent producers from organically (or biodynamically) grown grapes in low yielding vineyards and then vinified without sugar, artificial yeasts or enzymes, or recourse to acidification or other adjustments. Most natural wines are neither filtered nor fined. Those that are will either be filtered lightly or fined with organic egg-white. Many are made with only tiny amounts of added sulphur and some with none at all. ‘Nowt taken out and nowt put in’, as the saying goes. The motivation is to rediscover the true flavour of wine by capturing the sense of place (terroir) and the nature of the vintage.
One would have thought that wine would be natural by definition, however, there’s many a slip (or intervention) between grape and bottle, many choices that can be made, and additions and manipulations that push the final wine further from its origins. But the word natural does not mean “produced by nature without human assistance”, it is the very nature (sic) of assistance, the degree of human interference that distinguishes a natural wine from a conventional one.
Over the years the wines themselves have progressed massively in terms of quality and consistency. It is probably fair to say that early attempts to make wines without sulphur produced variable results. There is still certainly plenty of debate about whether naturally-made wines are inherently faulty. If you don’t use certain controls in the winery you will undoubtedly achieve different results; wines which are fermented with indigenous yeasts have wilder flavours and those which are not filtered or fined are cloudy. Sometimes the flaws make the wine what it is, and, like the people who make them, they are alive, mutable, unpredictable and individual. And that is what makes them natural. And thrilling.
The producers originally sold their wares directly into Parisian wine bars and cavistes. This wine bar scene in Paris was, and still is, the beating heart of the natural wine movement. Festivals such as La Dive Bouteille
and La Remise sprang up, dedicated to the exposition of natural wine, whilst small “alternative” salons began to appear off the major wine fairs. Groups of growers with similar ideals came together in Italy and Spain; sales markets, meanwhile, germinated in Scandinavia, Japan (in particular), Holland, the States and Australia. Like any counter-cultural movement it grew organically through word of mouth and blog until the cause (such as it was) was espoused, and further publicised, by small handful of journalists and writers including Eric Asimov
, Max Allen
, and Alice Feiring
Two years ago saw the UK’s first ever Natural Wine Fair
, a three day event featuring 115 growers at London’s Borough Market with 2,000 visitors attending, whilst a promotion was run simultaneously in over 130 restaurants across the country featuring natural wines by the glass. Last year The Real Wine Fair and RAW respectively created two powerful artisan wine (and food) events attended by thousands, exhibiting collectively over 350 growers and around 1500 wines.
The success, furthermore, of natural wine bars and restaurants such as Terroirs
, Soif, Duck Soup and The Green Man & French Horn illustrates that consumers are open-minded and more than willing to experiment with (and obviously drink) wines with different, sometimes very unusual, aromas and flavours. In an age of homogeneity and mass-production these wines don’t just simply offer a choice, but they also appeal to drinkers who are interested in provenance, believe in protecting the environment and don’t want their wines full of chemicals and other additives.