Next weekend sees the Raw Wine Fair return to London for its sixth year. Over those years natural wine (plus organic and biodynamic wine) has gone from being an unknown quantity to a growing movement. This year Raw Wine will feature artisan growers from 18 countries and its sister fairs in New York and Berlin have proved hugely popular. Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron, creator of the Raw Wine fair, tells us why drinking bog standard wine is like eating battery chicken.
"Even those who are big foodies, who watch what they eat, don't actually think about what is in their wine glass. The wine industry is full of the same big brand issues that exist in the rest of the food world, it's just that most people have never thought about it," says Legeron, who has written one of the definitive books on natural wines.
Thanks to somewhat opaque legislation, what goes into mainstream wine is often undocumented but includes a range of sulphites.
"Dozens of winemaking additives, processing aids and manipulations are permitted by law. Anti-foaming agents (which are added to wine vats so that the liquid can be pumped faster), for example, are regularly used and in some countries even the use of hydrogen peroxide is legal!" says Legeron.
Credit: Raw Wine Fair
And then there's the environmental cost, which often sees drought wrecked areas like California draining water tables to water vines, that can thrive perfectly well without irrigation.
"Vines can absolutely thrive with dry-farming," explains Legeron. "As one producer told me, 'They're like the cockroaches of the plant world and isn't that wonderful? Natural wine can only be born of the living as you need a healthy, biodiverse microflora in the vineyard to help produce healthy grapes and a healthy fermentation, so clean, pesticide-free farming and natural wine are obligatory bedfellows."
There's no getting away from it thought, natural, organic or bio wine can look and taste different. That shouldn't put you off says Legeron - it's about relearning your love of wine. Forget the Tesco aisle stuff and crack open a cloudy bottle.
"Makers of low-intervention wine tend to force things less - they let aromas develop naturally over time - so you tend to find wines that are a lot less oaked, and often a lot lower in alcohol," she says. "And since natural wines are usually unfiltered and unfined, the resulting wine can sometimes be cloudy, which certainly is no bad thing, just think about how we've got used to cloudy apple juice being a sign of quality."
For more info on natural wines and to learn the difference between natural, organic and biodynamic click here.
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