Why you should care about natural wine

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      By Brittany Hoorne

      Wine captivates many—potentially because it is uniquely positioned to communicate to us the intricate relationship between soil and plant, time and place.

      Our fascination with the mystique of terroir takes us further down the rabbit hole. This privilege to explore these libations becomes naturally elevated with the exposure to wine that has energy, life, and nothing to hide behind. Natural wine represents a return to the core of winemaking: thoughtful and regenerative farming practices, traditional methods, a rejection of additives and interventions, and a “less is best” mindset in the cellar. The practice of these standards results in wine that speaks with honesty.

      Regrettably, this ethos isn’t a universal standard. Much of the wine we see on our shelves is mass-produced, coming from sterile vineyards that bestow fruit in greater quantity and lesser quality. As consumers, we continue to develop a better understanding of what is on our plate—how our food is grown, cared for, and processed has become a common curiosity and focus—yet we lack a collective base knowledge in regard to what’s in our glass.

      It’s a shame that a list of ingredients isn’t required for all store-bought consumables. Imagine if wine was held to a similar standard of transparency as packaged foods: would we witness a shift in the products that thoughtful consumers choose? In turn, shouldn’t this influence the products that these stores offer?

      The contemplative nature of natural winemaking is not only a process, but a philosophy. It’s an embodiment of respect for the earth and the intricacies of wildlife and energy—a dedication to a lifestyle that takes less and gives more. It’s painstakingly long days, seasons, and years of physical work with unexpected (yet consistent) challenges. The pursuit of truth and the intensely romantic nature of the process drives the winemaker to push through.

      “By emphasizing holistic agricultural practices, regenerative farming seeks to restore and enhance the health of the soil, promote biodiversity, and eliminate the reliance of synthetic inputs,” says Scout Vineyard owner Murray Fonteyne, who has played an integral role in setting the benchmark for regenerative viticulture and natural winemaking in British Columbia. “In the context of natural wine, regenerative farming becomes a crucial foundation. Healthy, fungal-dominant soils result in healthy and resilient grapes, which lead to healthy and predictable ferments. The result is a wine with more authentic flavours and a true reflection of place.”

      Informed consumers will make enlightened choices. Yet, the dialogue surrounding wine as a whole has remained a conversation for so few for too long. Even within Vancouver, the concept of natural wine stands as a somewhat elusive topic: a category often misconstrued, synonymous with “funky” flavours, eye-catching labels, and “barnyardy” aromas. In truth, there is so much more elegance and nuance, indescribable energy, and pure, simple delight that can be encased within these glass vessels. With broader exposure to the vast spectrum of choices and open-minded, judgement-free discussions, those who hesitate to explore natural wine can hopefully start to feel welcome.

      Here are a few BC gems to keep an eye out for. These producers are doing their best to offer you something nice to sip, while accepting Mother Nature as a guide.

      Else Vio ‘22

      Let’s begin with bubbles! The explorative side project expertly executed by Kelsey Rufiange of Echo Bay Vineyard, Else has recently released a delightful sparkling Viognier, called Vio. This golden-hued sunshine sipper delivers bright character: think pear juice and lemon candy, with a touch of verbena. It’s a wine with a glass-half-full kind of attitude.

      Sage Hills Pinot Noir Pet-Nat ‘22

      Carrying forward the theme of sparkly treats, let’s take a moment to celebrate Sage Hills’ Pinot Noir Pet-Nat: a delicate fizz bursting with sunbaked strawberries, fresh blueberries, and thimbleberries, and decorated with pretty violet tones. It’s a summertime-in-love kind of wine.

      Thorn & Burrow RG+ ‘22

      Thorn & Burrow has been up to a few new things recently, including a fresh look and the welcome addition of pinks and reds to its colour wheel. If you’re already drinking the natty Kool-Aid, the anticipated release of RG+ might be what you’re after. A skin-contact blend has remained the flagship wine for the last four vintages; this time around, you can look forward to fuzzy peaches, candied nectarine, and charred lemon rind along with lightly spiced apricot—brought to us by a wonderful marriage of orange riesling and gewurztraminer. It will still be a bit before you see this stocked on shelves (but if you were in attendance at Farmhouse Wine Fair, you may have already had a sneaky taste!).

      Scout Vineyard Rose NV

      Of course, we need to mention Scout Vineyard, which is picturesquely nestled within the Similkameen Valley. Each release of Rose has been a knockout. This dark rose is made with cabernet sauvignon along with bright white varieties that give it life: gewurztraminer, pinot gris, muscat, and riesling. This wine confidently expresses ripe red berries with body, texture, and a savoury edge.

      Delicious, shareable, splashable. We already know that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, but at least we are trying to do better. Let’s celebrate good practice and support those who are producing this magic juice thoughtfully, fashionably, and with sustainable actions and positive vibrations in mind.

      Brittany Hoorne is the wine director at Bar Susu, which has an impressive and ever-changing natural wine list.