The Art of Natural Wine
What do we mean by natural wine?
There is no legal definition for natural wine, so let’s start at the beginning…
The history of humanity and the history of the grapevine are fundamentally interwoven – so much so that historians mark culture’s transition from “nomadic” to “civilized” at the moment that the grapevine was cultivated (which happened as far back as 7,000-9,000 b.c. in the Caucasus Mountains of present day Georgia). Ancient civilizations were sure to cultivate grapes as one of the first crops due to it’s adaptability and ruggedness to thrive under poor conditions. It was the one fruit that didn’t spoil after harvesting, in fact, it transformed into something magical all on its own.
So goes the legend from Persia, The Epic of Gilgamesh, that pertains to the notable discovery of wine. King Jamshid finds that the bucket of his favorite grapes is frothing over and smells funny. He believed that it has clearly gone bad, so he set the bucket aside and deemed it unsafe to eat and that it must be thrown out. Then came along a woman who suffered from severe migraine headaches. In an attempt to end her life, she drank this poison only to find that her headache improved, and that she actually felt good and in a joyful mood!
This, to us, is the crux of our philosophy: naturally, grapes have all of the components (acids, sugars, aromatic compounds, pigments, yeasts, and even preservatives) needed to make wine. We find the definition of wine beautifully simple: “the naturally fermented juice of fresh grapes” (this is according to Hugh Johnson).
Now, to make great wine, it is not exactly as simple as leaving the grapes in a clay pot buried in the ground and digging it up a year or so later (or is it?!). Modern technology has given us insights into the bacterial world of fermentation and advancements in farming; thus, we can make a lot more wine and we can make it taste consistently better using this trial and error. But, this is the fork in the road where “natural wines” and “conventional wines” diverge.
We feel that too many of the wines made today are made in much the same way as a soft drink or other mass-produced, processed product. Beginning with subpar ingredients (bad grapes) and additions (many are naturally occurring in the grapes, such as: water, sugar, acid, tannin, color boosters, enzymes, nutrients, yeasts, etc.), and chemical additions (this is where it can get ugly - all the way to arsenic and other real poisons that are proven carcinogenic - over 200 allowed in the US other than grapes). Needless to say, if you have good healthy fruit grown on good healthy soils, then you don’t need any of that bullshit to make good healthy wine - just grapes, and the knowledge that has been passed down for thousands of years resulting in a pure, living, real wine that is actually healthy for you.
We strongly believe that wine made in this way is the most delicious and balanced. We thoroughly research our wines and only carry wines that we love, and are wholly dedicated to the philosophy of natural wine. The wines that we like to drink we call “super natty” or “øø” (zero-zero) or "vivant" (living) and these are wines that are very much alive (and, yes they do cure our headaches!).
Since there is no legal definition of “natural wine”, we have decided to define it and share what natural wine is to us based on our experience of studying wine (yes, unabashedly, there is an International Masters Diploma in Wine Science, and a certified Sommelier pin kicking around in a drawer somewhere) coupled with our years of experience working in wineries and feeling the burn of actually making wine! Anyways, all of the wine in our shop meets our criteria that we set forth, that is our promise to you.
-No use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides in the vineyards (especially Round-Up which has been tested and found in 100% of the finished wines where it is used in the vineyards)(we don't want to drink Round-Up!). The vineyard is part of a healthy living ecosystem with a diverse, symbiotic relationship to other life. The vineyard needs to embody environmentally sustainable practices – including practices like dry-farming which not only conserves water (especially in drought stricken Cali), but also yields higher quality grapes.
-Throughout the entire process, no adding or taking away (this includes all of those additions from the naturally occurring to the chemical ones). What is “taking away” from wine? Well, it is using tricks including excessive fining, filtering, reverse osmosis, spin cone, Velcorin® and other weird processes that we can’t even pronounce and don’t want to - not natty.
-SO2 sterilizes wine. All wines have naturally occurring sulfites. Some of the wines in our selection have sulphur added, but we do our best to make sure that these additions are minimal. Worldwide, winemakers may add up to 400 mg/L added SO2. In general, we shoot for wines that come in at under 20 ppm or less (there are a few exceptions). We’re averse to the (over)use of sulphur in winemaking for many reasons, but mainly because we have worked in wineries and have had exposure to sulphur in high concentrations. Over time, exposure results in sensitivity to sulphur (not immunity), so if we get a whiff of a wine with too much sulphur, it gives us an instant headache (we don’t like instant headaches…). Many people have (often unknown) allergies to to sulphur, and mining sulphur is not an ecologically sustainable practice, therefore, low to no SO2 in all of our wines. The wines that we personally drink have none added!
Now, we understand that we are not winemakers as a profession, so we will let the winemakers choose for themselves the way they want to make their own wines and we’ll continue to do and support what we love. We are just stoked that in these small pockets within the big world of wine, it does exist to have these heroes taking the risks and making wine in this natural, ancient way. Some are young and idealistic, sometimes rebellious (maybe even anarchist?!). Some do it because it is simply the way their family has been doing it for centuries. Some act alone in their regions, and are considered quite radical among their more commercially-driven neighbors. Whatever it may be, there is a coalition that exists of like-minded people who are working hard to expand the natural wine movement and share in what we all believe is right: the desire to make wine for reasons other than the commercial value of the product – the kind of love you can taste and link to how and why wine has been around since ancient times. This is how we do it and what we like to share (oh, and we like the way it makes us feel - MORE THAN A FEELING!).
Viva Les Vins Vivants!!!
~D.C. & Lisa & The Punchdown team