Natural wine is a niche, but its signature styles are becoming common in California


This week I have a story about zero-zero wine, which is a subset of natural wine that – if you can believe it – is even more radical. While some natural wines are made with small amounts of sulfur, a preservative, and other minor interventions, zero-zero wines are characterized by a commitment to add nothing at all. “Nothing added and nothing taken” is the motto of the movement.

It’s not a new concept at all, but I wanted to explore the zero-zero scene now because there seems to have suddenly been a proliferation of Philosophy-respecting Northern California winemakers – over 20 new ones in the last few years. years, by my account. With the advent of a new bar in San Francisco that exclusively serves zero-zero wines, it seemed like we had reached an inflection point.

Working on this piece made me think about how the influence of natural wine has exploded in recent years in California. I’m not just talking about the popularity of natural wine itself. It’s also that unnatural wineries, aka the vast majority of wineries in this state, seem to be showing signs of having been swayed by the rhetoric of natural wine. Visit any artisanal producer in the Bay Area and they’ll likely brag about their preference for “low intervention”. To me this clearly reads as a response to the feeling that more and more wine drinkers have been willing to salivate at terms like these. “Clean” and “pure”, which have been co-opted by some seriously industrial wineries, also fall into the bucket.

The styles of wine popularized by natural winemakers are also diversifying into the mainstream. Natural sparkling wine, piquette, chilled reds and multi-fruit cofermentations are all categories closely associated with natural wine, but are now appearing in non-natural cellars.

Bonterra from Mendocino County (which cultivates organically and biodynamically but is not strictly a natural producer) produces a wine called Young Red, which, according to a press release, “answers the resounding call for affordable reds and lighter ”- an appeal that originates from the cool, early release, lightly extracted reds that are ubiquitous in natural wine bars. In natural language, this style is often referred to as “glou glou”, an onomatopoeia meant to invoke nature to drink from these easy-to-drink bottles.

In Napa, Anarchist Wine Co., which does not identify itself as natural, recently launched a piquette, a drink that has become synonymous with natural wine. Picket is made by soaking leftover grape skins at the end of harvest with water, essentially creating something like grape skin tea. When fermented, it tends to be very low in alcohol (Anarchist clocks are at 7%) and channels some of that easy-going glo-glou energy.

One producer who really works with this concept is Obsidian Wine Co. of Sonoma, which has released a whole line of experimental products called Down the Rabbit Hole. This winery – which touts its penchant for low intervention but is, again, not explicitly natural – now makes a piquette, several natural sparkling wines (the crowd’s favorite sparkling wine style) and a cuvée that blends grapes. Sauvignon Blanc with Bartlett pears. (The latter was one of my recent wine of the week picks.)

At this rate, it won’t be long before a large company like Gallo starts producing mainstream orange wine.

What I like about this trend is that it clarifies the distinction between method and style. Natural vinification is defined by the method: if you inoculate grape juice with yeast to start fermentation, if you treat a wine with an excess of acid. Style, on the other hand, is a separate silo, and any correlation between natural wines and styles like piquettes and pet-nats is just a correlation. Theoretically, there is no reason why an alcohol-rich, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon cannot be a natural wine, just as there is no reason that a refreshing glaucous red cannot be. conventional.

Borrowing stylistic influences – like what we see in Bonterra, Anarchist and Obsidian – is a good thing, an example of people who think creatively, take inspiration from others, take on new challenges. But the conversation about the method can be a little trickier. There is always a danger that people will capitalize on buzzwords and use them irresponsibly. We saw it fully last summer when actress Cameron Diaz released her brand of “clean wine” Avaline, the marketing copy of which was full of terms that implied natural, low-intervention protocol when it wasn’t. not true.

Yet if the wine industry manages to speak honestly to its audience, I hope this blurring of stylistic lines can promote more bipartisanship. In the past, it was often felt that the natural wine people and the anti-natural wine people were divided into factions; lately, one can get the impression that zero-zero people have turned into another. Obviously, however, people are learning from each other. Maybe it shows they’re not that different after all.


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