Natural wine bubbled up from the simple belief that there was a uniquely different and more natural way to produce, enjoy and celebrate wine.
That there was a new language, more common to us all, to articulate our tastes and understand winemakers as part of a natural process.
That wine, personal wellness and the popular embrace that we are stewards for our planet are all connected in some way.
A dance between ancient methods and modern interpretations. A mashup between science and lore.
The power of natural as a category was its flexibility and openness. Its inclusiveness and diversity. Its very lack of definition spurred innovation in how wine is made and appreciated over the last decade.
As we look across the wine world today we see a huge uptick of innovative producers, an almost unimaginable number of excellent natural wines and a shared knowledge base across a global community of winemakers.
We are all the beneficiaries of this.
But something is shifting on the edges of this world.
An almost unfettered spike of diversity and bold innovation within the ‘traditions of natural wine’ (if I dare to use that term) and as well, very much out of that mainstream.
Spurred I think by a generational shift in the producers and the consumers alike.
There has been a huge influx of first generation winemakers across the spectrum of ages and backgrounds but as a rule—smart, innovative, knowledgeable of tradition but cut loose to push the boundaries on every front.
Natural wine was never a flag to be worn.
Never a slogan on a t-shirt or for that matter, up front and in your face from the most successful producers, importers, retailers and bloggers during the formative years.
Some of the most famous natural producers, disliked the word but embraced the idea in their craft.
But is was most assuredly a belief that bound a community together.
It was part of a continuum and a collective reaction to a world of wine that eschewed the modernization of its language, that fought against accepting change in the definition of the product itself and rejecting the wisdom of the market itself to define what it liked.
This is a formative period in the history of the natural wine market.
While percentage wise natural wine (if really countable) is small, it is economically substantial by the size of the total market itself.
It is influential beyond its size and has not only helped recalibrate what we consider good taste, but has impacted acceptance (and growth) of organic and bio-dynamically produced grapes worldwide.
Look at the spikes of innovation at the edges of the natural wine category today.
The truly exhilarating experimentation with skin-fermented white wines has taken over the imagination of the market this year. Quietly disrupting a host of preconceptions about what we taste, where it is comes from, and the role of intent in the hands of the winemakers themselves.
Open your mind and your tastes to the products that are coming out of the mostly millennial back-to-the-farm generation of winemakers.
This generation came of age when the natural market was already in place along with an infrastructure of distributors and shops, bloggers and financing.
They are making wine from mead, apples and fortifying traditional beverages like Vermouth in whacky and wonderful ways. Steeped in (literally) and brilliantly knowledgeable of herbal and botanical traditions, they are Apple farmers, apiarists and herbologists making fermented beverages.
Different, delicious and natural.
Selling into the same markets and sitting on the shelves in wine shops next to bottles of skin-fermented Grillo from Marsala or unsulfured Mouvedre from the highlands North of Sacramento.
I believe that the idea of natural for food and wine is just getting started in our markets and will continue to evolve at an even faster rate.
My bet is that a few years from now we will certainly be drinking herbally-infused grape wines and fermented Kvas sold in our local wine shops.
We will be seeing categories of natural foods coming from hydroponic factories growing kale for urban consumption in refabricated warehouses in Green Point.
As a population we don’t need clubs to feel wanted or to influence markets with our purchasing power, we need communities that are supportive of change and innovation.
We don’t need flags to exclude those with different ideas, we need open belief systems that are inclusive by nature holding forth on core ethics and lionizing innovation above all else.
I think natural in wine is one of those anomalies in the history of community movements that understands that its power is in its looseness of definition and its ability to encourage change.
There is no real debate on definition. It’s just an approach, an underlying ethical glue towards what we consume as food and drink.
People need language to think in, categories of beliefs to rely on and community to identify with.
Natural wine just works–and is organic enough as a construct to evolve with us as we and the product itself changes.
My bet it’s going to be here for a long time to come and we are better for it.