Natural wine is having a moment. Stocked in savvy bars, restaurants and bottle shops, these light, very drinkable wines are proving an appealing alternative to the often dense, high-alcohol styles we’re accustomed to. But with the category’s rising popularity has come confusion: what does natural actually mean?
The idea is that natural wine is wine made from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes that undergo a natural fermentation, with nothing added to or removed from the juice at any stage. Fermented grapes: that’s it.
With conventional and minimal-intervention wine (often called “lo-fi” wine), vineyards may be farmed organically (or not), but are usually irrigated and producers use chemical additions throughout all stages of the winemaking process, whether to kill weeds or to fine, filter or stabilise the wine. These practices remove much of the risk from farming and winemaking, helping to create a consistent product — something natural winemakers don’t prioritise. Instead, natural winemakers seek to create “honest” (that is, unaltered) expressions of different grape varieties, soil characters and ever-fluctuating growing conditions.
While there are many Australian winemakers using minimal-intervention techniques and many more transitioning towards fresher styles to accommodate changing tastes and capitalise on the hype, there are very few natural producers. Here are four to look out for.
This solo grape-grower and winemaker lives and makes wine in Margaret River, Western Australia. His first vintage was in 2015, prior to which he worked in the US and Europe, including on Mount Etna, Italy, a natural winemaking hotspot that informed Vinciullo’s ideas about farming and growing. Vinciullo recently ended his lease on Cowaramup vineyard, looking to purchase his own property and grow a new vineyard from scratch, exactly how he wants it. The vineyard from which his current wines were produced was dry grown, a method that encourages root growth into the most nutrient-rich depths of soil, and was farmed without herbicides or systemic chemicals. His wines are made without any additions, fining or filtration, such as added sulphur, relying instead on Vinciullo’s expertise to achieve clean, stable and delicious wines. samvinciullo.com
Farmers and winemakers Monique Millton and Tim Webber have created a vibrant ecosystem on their property in Forest Range in the Adelaide Hills. Their biodynamic vineyards surround their family home, which sits about 600 metres above sea level and has an incredible aspect. Here, Millton and Webber are working towards establishing an entirely closed-loop farm where all nutrients and organic matter taken from the earth are returned to it, regenerating soils, supporting biodiversity and minimising carbon outputs. Their wines are lively, complex and feel-good, drawing from their holistic farming for purity and minerality. manonwine.com
While working as a sommelier in Perth and Melbourne, Sydney-born James Madden saw a lack of understanding in the hospitality industry about how wine is made as well as a lack of quality wines without additions in the Australian market. Now, he is making some of the most exciting natural wines in the country under his label, Scintilla. While Madden doesn’t yet have his own vineyard, he works with small, organic growers in South Australia with whom he has close relationships to nurture grapes for his production. Madden makes a variety of very drinkable wines, many of which — such as his savagnin and chardonnay — mimic the moreish, high-acidity, semi-oxidative style of wines from the Jura, a natural wine mecca in the east of France. @scintilla_wines
Based in Mount Gambier in South Australia’s Limestone Coast region, Kyatt Dixon started his wine label, Limus, in 2017 and has quickly established himself as one to watch. Like Madden, Dixon doesn’t yet own a vineyard, but manages the vineyards of other growers to ensure they’re farmed according to his organic principles. The soils of these vineyards are enriched by ash from the eruption of Mount Schank and Mount Gambier about 5000 years ago — the most recent volcanic activity on mainland Australia. The resulting wines have a distinctive mineral quality, particularly notable in Dixon’s expectation-defying riesling and chardonnay. @limus_wine