• France's news in English
 

Natural wine draws supporters — and critics

Published: 02 Dec 2012 12:25 GMT+01:00

With a desire for healthy, sustainable food stimulating trends like the farm to table movement and Slow Food, natural wine is positioning itself as the perfect accompaniment. But according to some experts, the unregulated use of the term 'natural' is
misleading gullible consumers as well as polarising the wine trade.

"These are all things that don't exist - natural wines, the tooth fairy and Father Christmas," says Robert Joseph, a wine trade veteran who is one of the most prominent naysayers. Natural wine does not exist as a legal category in the European Union,
despite flourishing movements in Italy or France, the two biggest producers in the 27-nation bloc.

"At present, the compound noun 'vin naturel' (natural wine) has no definition on the national level," said Aubierge Mader, a spokeswoman for France's fraud protection agency (DGCCRF). Yet hundreds of wines today are advertised and sold as 'natural,' appealing to consumers on a variety of levels.

"I think consumers also respond favourably to the image of 'natural' wines as being not just more authentic, healthy or artisanal but also being fun, easy-drinking and separate from the pretensions of the wine elites," said David Lillie, owner of American retailer Chambers Street wines. Alice Feiring, author and de facto spokesperson for the natural wine movement, describes the loosely organised group's manifesto as "nothing added, nothing taken away."

Natural wine producers eschew synthetic chemicals and fertilisers, cultivated yeasts, corrections for acidity and sugar, fining and filtering. Purists reject sulphur dioxide, widely used to control oxidation in the wine-making process. The wines range from pristine expressions of terroir to cloudy, smelly, off-colour micro-bacterial disasters.

"Yes, they're a bit crazy sometimes and their flavours can be a bit challenging, but they are the sorts of wines that I like to pop the cork and drink," said Dr Jamie Goode, author of "Authentic Wine". "They've got personality."

Nor, supporters add, is there confusion on the part of the consumer. "In New York, the term is very well used and not at all confused," said Arnold Waldstein, a New York business strategist. "It creates interest."

But critics lambaste the 'naturalistas' - as they are known, on two fronts. First, the term 'natural' appears to undermine the integrity of wines not produced by naturalistas. "It's almost like by using the term natural, there is a subtle implication that the people who are not in this club, who are not making natural wine are somehow unnatural and that's a shame," admitted Goode.

"Even what we call industrial wine is still a pretty natural beverage." What really irks authorities and winegrowers, including conventional and organic producers, is that the term has no legal meaning, thus no accountability.

"It's meaningless nonsense," says one DGCCRF official. "Organic wine has a definition. Natural -- we don't know what that means, it's too vague. It could mislead the consumer."
   
In theory, anyone advertising their wine as 'natural' must be able to justify the term. But first, one must avoid confusion with existing wines which are legally entitled to use the term 'natural' — French fortified sweet wines (Vin Doux Naturel) for example.
  
On the French website www.vinsnaturels.fr, 15 natural wine fairs are listed between now and April 2013. Shops from Paris to Hong Kong to Copenhagen are listed as selling natural wine.

Last summer, Italian agricultural authorities descended upon Enoteca Bulzoni in Rome and fined owner Alessandro Bulzoni for selling 'natural' wine, which has no legal certification. Undeterred, Bulzoni paid the fine and continues to sell natural wine.

But some retailers like Lillie, while fans of the high-quality producers, only half-jokingly referred to the products as "wines formerly known as natural." Winemakers are also rethinking how to speak to consumers without misleading them.

"All of the honest winemakers, trying to make a minimum intervention wine, we still don't know what to call our wine," said Zeynep Arca Salliel, a partner in Arcadia vineyards, in Thrace, Turkey. 'Low-manipulation' and 'light-handed' wines are entering the lexicon.

"We call our style 'light-handed winemaking'," said Salliel, who practices sustainable viticulture and uses gentle,
gravity-led vinification. "We stay true to the grape."

Feiring regards more regulation as inevitable but remains opposed to the idea. "That will open the door to 'industrial' natural, just as the EU organic wine rules have opened the door to industrial organic wines," she argues.
  
Goode echoes the theme. "People say we really need a strict definition of what natural wine is otherwise it's meaningless," he says.
"Well, I disagree. I think that if we define natural wine, it kind of goes against the spirit of this really exciting, emerging movement."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Réunion's plane debris to be probed in France
Policeman and gendarmes with the piece of unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion. Photo: AFP

Réunion's plane debris to be probed in France

UPDATED: Plane wreckage that washed up on a tiny Indian Ocean island will be sent to France for investigation, as hopes mounted Thursday the mysterious object could unlock the riddle of missing flight MH370. READ  

Migrant dies in botched Eurotunnel crossing
Ten migrants have died at the Calais post in the past two months. Photo: AFP

Migrant dies in botched Eurotunnel crossing

French authorities said on Thursday that a migrant had died from head injuries suffered in a weekend attempt to cross the Channel into England, bringing the number of such deaths to ten since June. READ  

France's Réunion braces for volcano eruption
‘The Peak of the Furnace’ has been spewing out more gases than usual. Photo: Richard Bouhet /AFP

France's Réunion braces for volcano eruption

Le Piton de la Fournaise, one of the most active volcanoes in the world and a main tourist attraction on the Réunion island, was evacuated Thursday as authorities warned of an imminent eruption. READ  

Ten things you didn't know about gay Paris
Do you know where to find penis-shaped bakery goods in Paris? Photo: Legay Choc/Facebook

Ten things you didn't know about gay Paris

There's a lot more to the gay scene in Paris than just the Marais - so we asked the experts at The Gay Locals to come up with a list of ten things you probably didn't know about Gay Paris. READ  

French mayor 'to force artists to mind kids'
The National Front mayor in Fréjus doesn’t feel the town hasn’t received enough in return from the artists. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/ AFP

French mayor 'to force artists to mind kids'

A far-right mayor in the southern town of Fréjus is allegedly considering making a group of local artists mind children in exchange for the rent subsidies they receive. READ  

British press bashes France over Calais crisis
The British press is blaming France for the situation in Calais. Photo: Philippe Huguen/ AFP

British press bashes France over Calais crisis

British tabloids combined two of their favourite themes in covering the Calais migrants controversy Thursday -- French bashing and railing against the government response to illegal immigration. READ  

French nuclear giant Areva to sell unit to EDF
The headquarters of the French nuclear group Areva in La Defense near ParisPhoto: AFP

French nuclear giant Areva to sell unit to EDF

Atomic energy giant Areva on Thursday agreed to sell a majority stake of its nuclear reactor unit to electricity group EDF as part of an awaited reconfiguration of the French sector. READ  

Ex-Sarkozy advisor charged in fraud probe
French former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Patrick Buisson. Photo: AFP

Ex-Sarkozy advisor charged in fraud probe

A one-time advisor to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was charged on Wednesday with abusing his position to profit from state funds, as part of an inquiry into alleged fraud in awarding contracts to opinion polling companies. READ  

French far right wants Le Pen senior gone
Jean-Marie Le Pen. Photo: AFP

French far right wants Le Pen senior gone

An overwhelming 94 percent of France's National Front (FN) members have voted in favour of stripping ex-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen of his title of honorary president, the far-right party announced Wednesday. READ  

France eyes boost to holiday leave rights
People enjoy the sun by the seaside on a beach in the French Mediterranean resort of Argeles-sur-Mer, southern France. Photo: AFP

France eyes boost to holiday leave rights

Most new employees at French firms have to work for at least a year before they can take paid holidays but that could be about to change if one group of MPs have their way. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Learn more about the Bayonne festival - France's wildest party
Features
What's on in France: Ten things to do in August
Features
What to see and do at the Paris Plages this summer
Saudi royals 'bar' French policewomen from beach
Take a closer look at the 560,000-year-old tooth found in France
National
Swiss army pilfers French water to give to thirsty cows
National
'B**ch' and 'brainless': French shop slurs clients
Travel
French cops rebel over order to give kids sweets
National
New measures to stop migrant deaths in Calais
Travel
Here are some of the most ridiculous comments you'll read about France
Features
Life may be about to get easier for expats settling in France
National
Burning tyres and blocking roads is just the way the French do strikes
National
Muslim tourists visiting French Alps are reminded of burqa ban
Opinion
Slim and chic: Are French women fed up of the stereotypes?
French officials defend handing public beach over to Saudi royals
Society
French kiss: Should expats in France do 'la bise' among themselves?
National
Paris commuters and tourists face summer of travel trouble
This man learnt the entire French vocabulary in nine weeks, but why?
French speed cameras snare tens of thousands of British drivers
Gallery
What kind of expat in France are you: A lover or a loather?
Society
French tweeters reveal the trials and tribulations of #GrowingupFrench
Where to find the best (and worst) quality of life in France
National
Riviera rumpus as Saudi royals grab public beach all for themselves
What we know about France's foiled terror plot
Features
Here are ten places in Paris where you can escape the summer heat
National
Coup d'état fails in France after being snubbed by military
Are shoppers in northern France the most honest in the world?
French woman fined €90 for driving in flip-flops
Cyclists in Paris get the green light to jump red
'Adieu France': Angry mum's parting rant goes viral
Franco-German rift opens over Greece and it could take time to heal
The Megavalanche: The most spectacular cycling event in France
Ex-French PM's daughter creates a buzz by going topless for photo shoot
Could Parisians be bathing in the Seine by 2024?
Paris unveils new mobile app to help non-French speakers
France declares war on public transport sex pests
So where's the best place to live in France if you want to be happy?
Opinion
Paris: The City of Light, Romance, Style and the worst loos in Europe?
National
Eight ways living in France will change your lifestyle for good
International
Why French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Ten ideas that could improve the quality of life in Paris
National
Rules for taking selfies at the Eiffel Tower: No.1 Keep your clothes on
National
Paris's trendy Canal Saint-Martin is now more tip than hip
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,645
jobs available