Drinking outside the box

Michael Ellis
By Michael Ellis
about 5 years ago
3 min read

What is natural wine? Is it actually wine? Is it any good? Is it true that it’s sponged from the furrowed brow of a fixie pedalling hipster heading uphill? So many questions... 

There’s plenty of talk about natural wines at the moment. In recent years we’ve seen more venues pouring them, retailers are re-arranging shelves to meet demand and events such as Rootstock are bringing them live and direct to thirsty drinkers. There’s a spirited discussion taking place too, with detractors just as vocal as those championing them. So, what’s it all about?

Definitions of what constitutes ‘natural wine’ are problematic and confusing for most of us. For the purpose of this article I’ll refer to natural wines broadly as those made with minimal human and mechanical intervention, typically this would be via commercial addition of sugar, acid, tannin, enzymes etc. Think live, unplugged and lo-fi.

While the binary of good vs bad, clean vs faulty, purity vs stinky hippy juice generates passionate discussion, rather than getting bogged down in definitions I’m more interested in why we’re seeing a growing awareness and appreciation of natural wines.

I reckon it’s got a lot to do with the fact we’re caring more about where our food and wine comes from, who makes it and how it’s made. Due to economies of scale and as the produce we consume becomes increasingly faceless, industrialised and homogenised, it’s difficult to really connect with the source of our food and wine. That’s a shame.

Personally, wine has always been about connection, whether that be with the person I’m sharing it with or the producer who made it.

In a retail and commercial landscape that’s becoming increasingly bland, I’m drawn towards the outliers - those that push boundaries and colour outside the lines, it’s exciting.

A disruptive, freestyle approach is a welcome contrast to some of the sterile, predictable and safe winemaking practices we’ve become familiar with. Validity of the process and the results are polarising and this is a good thing - it stimulates discussion and reflection.

The rise of natural wines in the marketplace has introduced drinkers to a less structured way of drinking and thinking about wines and has engaged a younger demographic who may have previously felt alienated by a perceived elitist culture of wine.  Speaking with Brendan Carter of Unico Zelo recently, he talked about these being wines you taste with your stomach as opposed to your head - wines for drinking, not thinking.

The enthusiasm of such producers who’re making interesting, challenging and carefully considered wines is contagious and as an expression of creativity and philosophy it’s inspiring. More importantly these can be great wines to drink - ideal with food and catalyst for conversation.

Call it stinky hippy juice, hipster fuel or faulty fruit punch, I call it fascinating and a whole lotta fun.

If you’re a fan of natural wines or just simply want to explore and learn more, get your hands on our latest mixed case here
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