Collier and Lee Counties Edition

Natural Wines are a Healthy Option

America’s love affair with wine has grown so dramatically since the late 1980s that in many households, it has become a regular item on the dinner table. Along with this popularity has been the development of new science and technology for growing grapes and making wine. Although this advancement may seem like an obvious benefit, an increasing number of winemakers, sommeliers and wine lovers are questioning whether the advances have resulted in a net good for enthusiasts, as well as more casual wine drinkers.

The development of the Natural Wine Movement, a recent phenomenon, is evidenced on the wine lists of restaurants in cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco. While this movement is relatively new in the U.S., natural wines have been celebrated abroad in Paris, London, Tokyo and Copenhagen, Denmark, where Noma, one of the world’s best restaurants, serves them exclusively. According to Raw Wine, an independent wine fair that showcases growers with fundamental farming and cellar philosophies that make natural wines possible, the scene is exploding, with approximately 400 natural wine producers just in France.

Despite the novelty, natural wines have been with us since the first grape was crushed for the purpose of making wine, some 8,000 years ago. Unlike today’s conventionally made wines, Old World wines contained no additives such as packets of yeasts, vitamins, enzymes, Mega Purple (concentrate) or powdered tannins. Also missing was reverse osmosis and cryo-extraction for force-freezing grapes to extract sweeter concentrated juice.

Ancestral growing and production methods began to disappear in the 1950s and 60s as the petrochemical industry searched for new markets after WWII. Their targeting of agriculture in general and grape growers in particular resulted in producers using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides as solutions to solve virtually every viticultural challenge, thus making it a standard practice. Throughout the years, chemically treated vineyards required higher and higher doses of chemicals, and wine growers suffered the highest incidence of cancer among all French agricultural workers.

Such farming and environmental impacts, coupled with the teaching of naturalist winemaker Jules Chauvenet in the 1970s, spurred a new generation of French winemakers to reformulate wines the ancestral way, without additives during fermentation, altering the wine’s structure with manipulations in the cellar, filtering or fining the wines with foreign agents such as egg whites and gelatin from fish bladders, and with minimal or no sulphur dioxide at bottling. The results of their efforts inspired other farmer/winemakers. Paris wine bars and restaurants eagerly jumped on board to help to spur interest and demand, thus birthing the Natural Wine Movement.

Natural wines made with only organic grapes are of particular interest to individuals that have difficulty drinking conventionally made wine. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that natural wines induce fewer side effects than their conventional counterparts,” according to Raw Wine.

It is possible that the rebirth and rediscovery of natural wine is the most exciting development in wine since Burgundian growers such as Henri Gouges and the Marquis d'Angerville decided to \ bottle their own wine by domain (place of origin) instead of selling it off in barrels to middlemen to be blended and frequently altered. It is perhaps a blessing for wine drinkers that winemakers once again care about what is in their bottles, and make the kind of wines they want to drink. But budding oenophiles must still be cautious researchers that do their homework before shopping. Just because a wine claims to come from organic grapes does not mean it's made naturally. If it's made with industrial/cultured/commercial yeasts to begin fermentation, it is not natural, regardless of how the grapes were grown.

Peter Rizzo is the founder and proprietor of Natural Wines, located at 4949 Tamiami Tr. N., Ste. 102, in Naples. The store is dedicated exclusively to wines from smaller producers in Europe and America. For more information, call 239-228-5890 or visit Natural Wines Naples on Facebook.

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