By Sylvia Tomczak
Temperamental, inconsistent, and wild. It isn’t surprising that with descriptions like these, natural wine has managed to captivate a whole new (and youthful) audience of drinkers.
Bursting through every mainstream media outlet at the moment, these sediment-sprinkled bottles of raw wines are often found on the shelves of funky, niche bottle shops across Canada, like Toronto’s Grape Witches, Ottawa’s Le Vin Papillon, or Edmonton’s Garneau Block.
While the pandemic has undeniably transformed life all around us, it seems like the liquor landscape has been particularly affected given the ever-increasing consumer demand for alcoholic beverages. Consequently, it’s no surprise that neighbourhoods have become peppered with boutique bottle shops and wine bars. Offering a more personalized experience and a sense of community, these local bottle shops cater to customers looking for something unlike anything else, most of which can be found in natural wine.
Red, white, orange, purple, or pink, natural wine tends to fall into a category of its own. Lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than your typical wines, an exact definition is hard to pinpoint, but most agree these types of wines are low-intervention, meaning grapes are left to ferment naturally without the addition of extra yeast or sugar.
Farmed organically or even biodynamically (which recalls the holistic philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, who pioneered farming methods drawn on lunar cycles), grapevines are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers, relying instead on natural solutions.
This just-the-grapes approach often yields funky and almost barnyard aromas, which a conventional wine drinker might classify as volatile acidity. A tell-tale sign of a living wine, aside from its strange colour and out-of-this-world bouquet, would be signs of cloudiness or sediment floating around the bottom of the bottle. It might also be fizzy, following a pét-nat style that bottles wine mid-fermentation.
While natural wine movements have been happening in Europe since the 1980s, North America is catching up. In the early 2000s, natural wine importers grew and gained traction in the U.S., especially with efforts made by writer and raw wine advocate Alice Feiring.
Many small-scale winemakers in the U.S., (especially California, Vermont, and Oregon) have started to make a name for themselves in the world of natural wine. But it’s by no means just south of the border; there’s evidence of blossoming raw wine production from Ontario’s Pearl Morissette, British Columbia’s A Sunday Night in August, and the cult classic from Quebec, Pinard et Filles.
Though the exact figures on fringe wines are difficult to identify — mimicking the very essence of the beverage — data from distributors suggest success in revenue despite natural wines totalling a mere one per cent of total wine sales. However, this is expected to increase based on global trends for organic wines, of which natural wines contribute. Research shows that in the last year, global production of organic wine alone has grown 20 per cent. That is expected to steadily rise, reaching $15 billion in revenue by 2025.
Factors like increased consumer awareness due to mainstream media outlets like Bon Appétit, Vogue, and GQ have launched the natural wine revival this last year through a rebranding that touts it as the preferred beverage of the cool kids.
Likewise, the demand for niche products that reflect sustainability also shows huge potential for raw wine. Produced with mother nature in mind, it appeals to eco-conscious consumers (mainly Millennials and Gen Z) that find themselves interested in eating sustainably, locally, and seasonally.
Given the shift towards plant-based diets, natural wine certainly seems to piggyback on the longstanding trend of healthier living, which is why natural wine could soon appear on restaurant menus as well. Plus, since these types of wines are small-batch, they may just keep consumers eager to keep visiting to see what new minimalist wines are on this week’s wine list.
Due to its unique composition and attributes, natural wine is also proving to have staying power because it attracts a wider audience of drinkers that drink more unconventional beverages like craft beer, small-batch cider, or homemade kombucha. Even those in search of low-alcohol options can find happiness in a glass of vin nature as alcohol levels tend to average a modest 10 per cent.
While natural wine isn’t anything new, it’s certainly making headlines. With movements like Slow Wine, festivals like The Big Glou, and apps like Raisin that help bring global consumer awareness to the wide world of natural wines, it’s a matter of time before you too are swirling and sipping a glass of cloudy, cotton-candy-coloured, pét-nat!
Sylvia Tomczak is an alumna of the University of Gastronomic Sciences studying food culture, communication, and marketing. With a love of words and all things enogastronomy, she is passionate about learning new things through a foodie-focused lens and sharing them both on paper and online. Find her on Instagram at @honeyandtruffles.