The new natural: Decoding the 'natural' wine boom

Illustrations by Anieszka Banks

Find out why everybody's talking about natural wine and who's leading the way in Auckland.

‘Natural’ wine is appearing on more restaurant menus and wine-store shelves. But what does the term actually mean? We talked to Dan Gillett of wine distribution company Wine Diamonds to get a primer on natural wine.

What makes a wine natural?

In short, a wine is natural when the grapes are farmed naturally and the wine is made naturally. So at the least it should be organic, and then be made without anything being added or taken away.

Is natural winemaking a new thing?

Not at all. If anything, it’s a return to how wine was made before fungicides, pesticides, preservatives and additives became widespread. Take France for example – ‘natural’ doesn’t even get mentioned, it’s just accepted as normal practice.

What do you like about this style of winemaking?

Firstly, it’s more socially and environmentally conscious, just the same as organic or free-range is in a food sense. Second, if you consider what ends up in the glass, I enjoy the much wider spectrum of flavour this bracket of wine has to offer. Nothing else comes close.

What is sulphur and why is it added to wine?

 Sulphur dioxide (220) is a preservative and in a commercial sense is added to wine to prevent it from changing state and to ensure the homogeneity of every bottle. What doesn’t get mentioned enough is there are several natural preservatives in wine that don’t always require additional sulphur to be added.

How can you tell if a wine is sulphur-free?

It’s not always as simple as looking at the label, but some winemakers are beginning to add “no added sulphites” to theirs. Once you’ve tried enough of these wines you’ll begin to taste it. Conventional, sulphur-added wines have a hardness to the palate that becomes less and less enjoyable once you’ve gone down the natural road. Perhaps next time you order a bottle at a restaurant you could even make a point of asking.

Who is leading the way in natural wine in Auckland?

Pasture restaurant in Parnell. They have led the way from the very beginning and have been solely natural from day one. There isn’t anyone else who is as committed as they are.


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