What is natural wine? You may have heard the term ‘natural wine’ before… it has become something of a catch all for a school of hardcore winemaking that eschews many common winemaking interventions. Predominantly 'natural wine' means wine made with either organic or biodynamic agriculture, indigenous yeasts (preferably those from the vineyard), little if any oak, no additions such as acidification, and as little sulfur as humanly possible.
We believe term 'natural wine' is problematic. It infers that wine made in any other way is not natural and somehow less authentic or true. We think this is far from the case. It also implies that wine (a product which is grown and made only through human intervention) can even be natural in the first place.
Unfortunately, natural wine has got a pretty bad rap in some corners of the wine world and the term turns off a lot of consumers. This is exacerbated by the fact many consumers first natural wine was a poor one, leaving them uninterested in trying more. There are at least half a dozen kiwi producers whose wines are regarded as the best of the best who just happen to make so-called 'natural wine' but would never use the term to describe their own wines. There are lots of other descriptions the natural wine community use: real, raw, living... and all of these have their own problems. We at Cult Wine choose to use the term 'lo-fi'. This term gives us more room to acknowledge real sustainability both in the vineyard and the winery. It also allows us to support producers into moving from more intensive agriculture and winemaking to much less intensive without an arbitrary, binary divide between wines that are natural and wines that are not. If you want a full explanation of this you can read this here.
So what does lo-fi wine mean to us? It means winegrowing with integrity. It is much more than sustainability. It is a holistic approach to growing, making and even selling wine in the most authentic way possible. Likewise, hand picking and dry farming are ideals to be celebrated. Lo-fi means unfined with minimal if any filtration. We can put up with a little haze if it means the wine is more vital and alive.
Organic/biodynamic viticulture is desirable, but for us it is not the be-all and end-all. Where wines are grown organically and biodynamically we have taken pains to acknowledge this but we also want to actively encourage producers (through supporting their wines) to move in this direction.
Next, we have the winemaking. Our mantra isnothing added and nothing taken away. What does this mean in a practical sense?
Fermentation on indigenous yeasts, ideally those cultivated from the vineyard, is non-negotiable.
Next comes some less obvious stuff... no adjustments: no chaptalization, acidification, tannin additions or overt use of oak.
Certainly no mechanical interventions such as reverse-osmosis and micro-oxidation.
While none of these techniques are ipso facto wrong, or even problematic, all of these interfere to some extent with a grape's ability to convey a sense of place and a sense of itself.
So... what about sulfur dioxide? Firstly, it does occur naturally in the winemaking process and secondly, we are nothing if not pragmatic. We would much rather drink an amazing wine that has been stabilised with a lick of sulfur dioxide as it was bottled than to wax lyrical about how amazing a wine could have been without it.
We love wines that have had absolutely no preservatives added at all but know that this is not realistic for every producer. We are especially proud of the close-to-home examples of these wines and make sure any preservative-free imports are shipped chilled (as you can imagine this adds a bit more to the price of a bottle of wine).