Low intervention wines: what does it mean?
What is low-intervention wine (or natural wine)?
Natural wines are wines produced, vinified and bottled without any chemical additives. Everything revolves around the use of grapes grown with organic or biodynamic methods, keeping human intervention in the vineyard and in the cellar to a minimum.
This means spontaneous fermentation and no addition of sugar, enzymes, acids or powdered tannins. The result of low-intervention processes is a taste that is closer to the original flavours of the grapes. Natural wines are full of personality, so much so that you may feel the terroir the wine comes from and especially notice the producer's touch.
Making natural wine is extremely difficult and requires extensive enological knowledge (how to make wine) and -as well- requires the winemaker to know very well her/his terroir (soil, climate, grapes, season exc.)
Natural wines - like organic food - are less harmful than mass-produced wines because there are no chemicals involved in the process.
Is it true that drinking natural wines do not give you any headaches?
No, it is not true that natural wines do not give you headaches or make you not feel bad the day after. The reason why people get headaches from drinking wine is two:
1. Allergic reactions to sulphur dioxide (sulphites).
Some people are allergic to sulphites as they are allergic to anything else (pollens, shellfish, gluten...) Sulphites are naturally present in wine. Some producers (also natural winemakers) add a minimum amount of sulphites to increase the stability and preservation of wine. Still, way below the EU guidelines: 30 mg/l of total sulfur for whites and 40 mg/l for reds as permissible.
Of course, as for everything, it is important that sulphites are used with concern. Mass-produced wines contain up to 10 times more sulphites than natural wines (that could give some headaches even to people who are not allergic). Packed-meat up to 15 times, fries up to 100 times more sulphites than natural wines.
2. Drank too much wine ;)
What is the difference between organic wine and natural wine?
Simply said, for a wine to be commercialised as organic, it is required that the winemaker avoids the use of pesticides in the vineyards. The organic label is given to the plant and not to the transformation process of the wine.
A wine can be organic but often is not natural. This is because natural winemakers do not limit themselves to not using pesticides in vineyards. They -as well- do not use any chemicals/additives in the cellar during the fermentation and maturation process of the wine.
Winemakers who made wine naturally are normally more pushed by sustainable and 0 chemical tolerance ideologies. The use of chemical fertilisers is also a big topic. Natural winemakers are using principles of biodynamics. Basically, they replace the use of fertilisers with natural bio-composites.
Where can I read on the label if a wine is natural?
This is perhaps the most controversial topic. While organic wine is falling under the EU organic farming certification label, natural wines do not have a certificate label.
There are some independent organisms like Demeter in Italy that help navigate and regulate the wine scene. As a consumer myself, I tend to trust a lot the importer or the distributor I buy the wine from. In Vineria we have a direct relationship with winemakers. We want to make sure that all their production methods follow the most natural course.
That is why many distributors of natural wines are starting to add their own labels on the bottles. Because they want to put their own name as certification of the quality and natural nature of the wine; an example above all Triple A in Italy.
Natural wine if not done properly and correctly can be - paradoxically - more harmful than conventional wine. So it is important to buy from a person you can trust.
Why natural wine is still so dividing?
More and more people are paying attention to what they wear, and - above all - what they eat. In recent years, the level of awareness is rigorously higher regarding the origin of the food and drinks we allow in our bodies.
When linking the words organic and natural to food and beverages, few would argue that this denomination means more ethical and healthy. When talking about wine made naturally (both as pesticides in the vineyards and as additives in the cellar), there is clearly more scepticism and people are definitely more divided on whether low-intervention wines (or natural wines) are overall better than conventional.
Why is that?
Well, as a consumer myself, I have my personal opinion and answers.
1. First of all, in my personal opinion, the fault is to be given to many natural wine importers in the Danish scene that in the past years have been selling wines with a strong and marked production mistake. Natural wine that is properly made does not smell badly. Any bad smell is the result of wrong winemaking process.
2. Since organic or biodynamic vegetables and food are not processed food, that means that the taste between organic and non, is approximately the same. When we talk about natural wine, even the one made properly, requires a slightly more open mindset as the taste is not intensified and modified by chemicals and additives.
I hope this helped you understanding better the difference and importance of avoiding mass-produced and commercial wines out there.
Feel free to reach out if you have any further questions and doubts.