Why natural wine and organic wine are not the same

Wineries across Australia, both large and small, are swinging more and more towards organic regimes.
Wineries across Australia, both large and small, are swinging more and more towards organic regimes. Photo: Shuttershock


The opinion piece on organic wine in last week's Milk Crate totally confuses "organic" and "natural" wines. Natural wines and organic wines are not one and the same thing. In fact organic wine has to adhere to tight delineation as to what's in it to be called "organic"; there is no regulation at all about what constitutes a "natural wine".

Natural wine can be anything. Wines that trumpet their "natural-ness" are sometimes sound and admirably fault-free. I've enjoyed sulphur-free wines that are astonishingly clean and fresh, for example, but others are often appallingly faulty. Any sense of place, varietal origin or individual identity is destroyed by faults such as microbial spoilage, very high levels of volatile acidity, aldehyde, maderisation or yeast issues. "Natural" wines can be a Pandora's box of nasties.

Wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell.
Wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell. Photo: Supplied

Organic wines are grown and produced according to organic guidelines. I have never heard anybody criticising organic wine. Never. On the contrary, most people I encounter are nothing but completely positive about organic viticulture, its potential for positive impact on the environment, and its contribution to wine quality. On the other hand, I have heard a lot of expert wine people, from diverse backgrounds, being very critical of natural wines.

Wineries across Australia, both large and small, are swinging more and more towards organic regimes in vineyard and winery, and some have always been so. "Low-intervention" winemaking is very popular, too and it's not a new thing. Many don't trumpet the organic fact, and don't have their products certified as organic, but it's commonplace and stakeholders talk about these directions with enthusiasm. Some so-called "natural" techniques in the winery are mainstream, too, when they make positive contributions to wine quality. Thankfully, for most Australian winemakers the focus remains quality in the bottle.

I take issue I think it's also worth taking issue with the idea that consumers should readily accept faulty wines, because that's what natural wines are like. It's worth remembering what faults do to wine. A wine that's badly oxidised tastes just like every other oxidised wine, without making any statement about its origins. A wine that is completely taken over by acetic acid is the same as all other acetic wines, and a wine dominated by spoilage yeasts has no character other than that derived from spoilage yeasts. We choose wine for its individuality, identity and quality. To expect consumers to part with their hard-earned for wines that are so far from these parameters is very cheeky indeed.

Ralph Kyte-Powell is wine columnist for Fairfax Media.