• Karl Schnabel

What is Natural Wine? (06/20)




Historical Aspect


Originally, wine was an alcoholic drink made from fermented grape juice. Even in the times of the Romans and the Ancient Greeks, preservatives were being added to protect against oxidation to increase the storage time and stability of wine. Sulfur and resin were used at that time, and they are still used today.

Looking back, the approach to manufacturing wine was very “natural” until into the 1960s.



“Modern Wine“


Eventually, the “modern revolution” fell across Europe in the 1970s across a broad front. Tried and tested methods were rejected, completely new materials were introduced into nearly all areas. Plastic windows and furniture displaced the dignified oak, plastic patent shoes were considered chic, ready-made baby food replaced mother’s milk etc.


In the wine world too, nothing remained as it was. Wine was no longer socially acceptable without “high” cellar technology. Wine tartar in the bottle was a no-no, unfiltered wine was unthinkable, tastes and styles became idolized. How wines should look and taste was specified. Wine was, and is, thus “made” to these specifications.


An incorrect perception of pure and clean became more and more established. In truth, it was a pseudo-cleanliness and a pseudo-purity, because the only way to achieve this new ideal in wines was to “contaminate” the wine with foreign substances.



Glycol Scandal – a Child of the Ideology of “Wine Design“?


This craze for wine design led some producers to the idea of making wine (almost) without grapes: Glycol wine and then, luckily, the glycol scandal.


After the glycol wine scandal there was no 180° U-turn in the wine industry. It was just recognized that adulteration, that is, production of wine from raw materials other than wine grapes, should be absolutely rejected.


After the introduction of the so-called strictest wine law, the ideology of “purity“, “cleanness“ and “guarding of tastes“ of the wine was given more weight. That said, it should be stated that this wine style can only be achieved using foreign substances (fining agents) and high-tech.



Wine as a Uniform Industrial Product


This new wine philosophy had the effect that the cultural commodity of wine became a uniform product. How the wine had to look and how it had to taste, a so-to-speak “lemonadisation”. The global “lemonadisation” was reinforced and cemented through the elevation of Parker to being the “God of Wine“.


Such wines are an industrial product. Such wines can no longer be spoken of as a cultural commodity. Wine as a cultural commodity reflects the soil, the vintage and the signature of the vintner. All wines should be different and discovering them should be an adventure.


The new style direction naturally played into the hands of the supplier industry.



Strengthening the Resistance


Winemakers who felt obliged to the cultural commodity of wine and saw no advantage or meaning in the new trend, either to them or to the consumers, did not play along and set themselves against it. In time, resistance started to crystallize.


It started primarily in France with “vin natur“- associations in various formats and with different definitions. Many things give rise to the spirit of the counter-movement to uniform industrialization. The breakthrough of the return to wine being a cultural commodity has been made easier by networking via the internet and international natural wine exhibitions.



Natural Wines on an Upward Trajectory


The acceptance of “natural” is currently so strong that nearly everyone wants to be “natural“. The reasons for this are also varied. For consumers, this brings the problem of recognizing what natural wine actually is.


Is organic wine / Demeter wine the same as natural wine?


You could argue that it is ultimately a matter of definition. In a certain way, this would of course be true. There are definitions with clear guidelines from every association and every organization that you can look up. It can be seen that quite a lot is allowed in the manufacture of organic wine, much less, with Demeter wine, although still some.


Then there are wines that are even more puritanical than Demeter wines. People have started to use the term “Naturwein”, “Natural Wine” and “vin natur”. This term was not regulated for a long time and is still not clearly regulated. Definitions like “as little as possible“ or “only as much as necessary“ are in truth no regulation at all and allow products that deviate greatly from what the customer associates with the term “natural” to still be described as natural.


The problem in this case is the “misappropriation” of the term. In human communication, I am bound by language and therefore by words. If the designations “natural“, “pure“ or “puritanical“ get diluted, it is difficult to find words to designate a real natural wine.



What do I consider to be a real natural wine?


Vineyard


Wine is manufactured from grapes which grow on a vine. Therefore I have to start a definition of natural wine in the vineyard.


The minimal requirement in the vineyard must be adherence to organic guidelines. That is, no use of mineral fertilizers, no herbicides and no use of systematic fungicides.


In relation to insecticides, there must be a deviation from organic guidelines. Absolutely no insecticides may be used in the manufacture of natural wine


For information: In organic wine-making, certain substances for dealing with animal pests are allowed.


Why are these substances not permitted in “natural wine-making“?


Animal pests are only a problem in wine-making if the vineyard is too much a monoculture with too little biodiversity. Above a certain level of biodiversity, animal pests are no longer economically damaging because for every pest there is a natural adversary.


Furthermore, galvanized steel posts have no business in the vineyard of a natural wine producer. At our latitudes, oaks, chestnuts and acacias grow in great numbers, supplying the ideally suited wood for vineyard posts. Just think of all the unnatural and destructive processes involved in the production of galvanized posts. On top of that, it is a shame to use the raw material steel for something for which there are better substitutes in the sense of sustainability.



Vinification (Wine-making)


The grape, or berry, contains everything needed for the grape juice to become wine. Nothing needs to be added to the wine, nor taken away, to get a light, good-tasting wine good. Neither is pure culture yeast necessary to get a clean fermentation nor do tannins need to be smoothed out with fining agents, nor external acids added to give the wine a “spine“, etc,....


The vintner is just the points operator and gives the wine the time needed on its path to “maturing“.


In my view, “rough” technical interventions should also be rejected. The wine should be handles gently to maintain the natural structure. This does not just mean interventions such as reverse osmosis, ion exchangers etc., but also the use of filling machines that “whip“ the wine through to get as many bottles filled in a short time as possible.


Maintenance of the natural structure is very important for the wine to retain its lightness and for the storage life of the wine. It is empirically very clear that the “vibrancy“, that is the usable energy content (bio-availability) of foods, with scientifically equal nutritional content can be different.


It is known, for example, that the usability (bioavailability) of plant and animal protein is different. Although plant and animal proteins have the same protein content, the proteins are absorbed very differently by humans.


A further empirically confirmed fact to support the importance of gentle handling is the storage life of the wine. Why are storage lives and stability without using preserving agents such as sulfur basically no problem for natural wines, yet inconceivable for other wines?


What I say to this is:

“in vino nulla veritas, in sulfure veritas“

In free translation, truth is not in wine, truth lies in the use of sulfur.

What this means is, the more I manipulate the wine, the more I “flog“ it and the more fragile it becomes, meaning that more corrective and preserving agents are needed. A high total sulfur content in wine is associated with a lot of fining interventions.


Real natural wines do not need preserving agents (SO2). We know this from many years of experience.

We have made all our wines over the last thirteen years without adding sulfur or other preserving agents. These wines still always brim with vivid freshness.


How strictly you take the definition of natural should be left to the individual.

We point out though that high quality, light good tasting (natural) wine is fermented wine juice and nothing else!!


Natural wine in this sense is an Olympic discipline.


Or as a professor at the Klosterneuburg Wine-making School once said:

"The production of puritanical wine without sulfur is like freeskiing. It is great fun for those who can do it, but those who can’t will fall after only a few meters."
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