Natural, Lo-Fi, Minimal Intervention, Sustainable… these are all terms that you would have heard in relation to wine at some point in the last fifty years (unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, in which case - welcome to 2020! The plague is back and we still don’t have flying cars, we’re so SO sorry).
Many of the above terms have historically been used interchangeably, without much clarity around what they mean in a concrete sense, and thus many grey areas into what actual practices go on in the vineyard and cellar before the wine lands into your glass.
Here at Blackhearts, we’ve gradually leaned more towards terms like ‘Lo-Fi’ or even ‘Eccentric’ over ‘Natural’ when it comes to wine - as we’ve found the overarching meanings of both lofi and eccentric to be more broadly encompassing of what you may be able to expect in the glass. That said, one thing we’ve learnt over years of trial, error, and a multitude of tastings (it’s a hard life), is that there is no one box that will fit the lot.
For a long time, Isabelle Legeron - author of ‘Natural Wine’ and founder of the prolific RAW Wine fair - was the go-to for the hardline definition of ‘natural’, outline that “Natural wine is made from grapes that are, at a very minimum, farmed organically or biodynamically, harvested manually and then made without adding/or removing anything during the vinification process. Ideally nothing is added at all but - at most - there might be a dash of S02 at bottling.”
And now, according to the voluntary ‘Vin Méthode Nature’ charter that the French have only recently set out (gotta love their trailblazing bureaucratic proclivities) - grapes must be certified organic, hand-harvested, spontaneously fermented (using natural yeasts found in the vineyard and wine cellar), and made without mechanised intervention (ie reverse osmosis or cross-flow filtration), and only a small amount of sulphur dioxide may be used.
Of course, not everyone has the resources, time, or interest to make wine in this manner - and there are a few folks who would argue that not everyone should. While a winemaker’s cellar practices will fit the Lo-Fi bill, they may only be able to purchase grapes from conventionally farmed vineyards with non-organic or biodynamic practices - leading to some grey areas in definitions.
We’ve got to say though: wines made in line with the practices outlined in the Vin Méthode Nature charter, when done well, can be absolute beauties to behold. You’ll find these sorts of wines from the mid-$30s realm in the Lo-Fi section in the fridge all the way up to those higher priced cuvées sitting on the Premium shelf - so as the old adage goes, you can’t judge a wine by its label. Some sulphur-free wines need a bit more love and care in their storage, and can be an adventure, everchanging in the bottle and even in your wine glass as they open up (which could be said even for those wines which do have sulphur added, to be honest!).
In our range & stores, we’ve made an effort to demystify the differences between these wines somewhat, by creating a symbol-led category system. You may have seen these in store or online, with symbols highlighting which wines are sulphur free, which use skin contact, which are farmed sustainably (whether it be organically or biodynamically), which are vegan, nutty and oxidative, which reds that go great with a chill, or are broadly Lo-Fi.
If you’re ever unsure of what a wine or winemaker is all about, how they manage their vineyards, how they work with growers, or what winemaking techniques & additives they use in the cellar - just take the time to ask! Whether it’s asking our staff, the importer, or the winemaker themselves - having that conversation opens the whole industry up and demystifies it for everyone across the board.
Looking for somewhere to start? Dip your toes in the water with some of our picks of the bunch at the moment, or chat to the friendly staff at your local Blackhearts next time you’re in store and try some of their favourites.