Put simply natural wine is made from organically farmed grapes which are allowed to ferment with as little intervention as possible. However, as there is no certified definition there is some confusion as to what this means in a practical sense. One aspect of this is adding or removing the least amount as possible during the winemaking process. (sometimes interventions must be made, such as the addition of a small amount of sulphur just before bottling to prevent the darker side of nature taking hold, and to allow natural wines to journey around the world safely). All natural wines allow the fruit from which the wine is made to express itself naturally in its purest form.
However, the philosophy behind real natural wine goes deeper than this; natural wine deviates from conventional wine in terms of the intention behind the product that is produced. Conventional wine is, first and foremost, driven by commercial interests namely to create a product to be sold and consumed in great quantities, for example, wines found in supermarket chains. The other end of the spectrum is conventional wines that are crafted to fit a specific profile, for example, wines that are heavily manipulated in order to achieve high ratings from certain wine critics (such as Robert Parker).
In order to do this, conventional wine producers try to get the maximum yield from the vines as possible. Not only does this take a heavy toll on the environment, but this kind of mass production also causes grave harm to the soil on which the vines grow as it is subjected to a host of chemical treatments such as herbicides, fungicides and others, regularly sprayed on the vines.
Furthermore, in the production of conventional wines, up to sixty different additives can be put into the wine before bottling (with no evidence of this on the label). These include commercial yeasts, large amounts of sulphur, wood chips, colour enhancers, flavour enhancers, lactic (dairy) fining agents, amongst others. Heavy manipulation techniques are also routinely used to control the winemaking process and the end result such as cryo-fermentation blocked melolactic fermentation and others. This raises health concerns, quite apart from those sixty extra additives not doing your hangover any favours, the effect of drinking this consistently over a lifetime is being studied.
Natural winemakers on the other hand hold a philosophy that promotes life; natural wine producers would argue that good wine comes from healthy vines. In practice, this means vineyards that support a flourishing bio-diversity and are cultivated without any use of chemical treatments. Natural producers have everything from wildflowers to free-roaming sheep living between their vines. Overall natural wine is a philosophy that tries to do as little harm to the environment as possible and create a product that reflects its unique origins.
The UK has a small but rapidly growing natural wine culture. Some online shops and wine merchant has begun to stock a small natural selection. However, Pure Wines, a London based online shop, is one of the very few with an all-natural selection. Specialising in natural producers from France, Italy, Spain, England as well as a considerable selection from further afield.