What you need to know
So, first things first: how can a wine be sustainable? “It’s not something I ever thought about or questioned until I got into it,” says Charlie - but like any mass-produced product, wine isn’t exempt from the potential pitfalls that often turn natural resources into highly-contaminated forms of their previous selves in the journey from seed to market shelf. As with any other crop, unsustainable, non-organic farming is the first issue when it comes to grape growing, with excessive amounts of chemicals from fertilisers and pesticides polluting the soil from which the vines grow. Alongside poor practice in vineyards and machine harvesting, these early stages can severely damage the natural quality of the end product.
Put simply, natural wine is that which is produced organically, without the addition of artificial chemicals or additives. Often, flavourings are added to wine to provide an artificial ‘woody’ or ‘fruity’ note - Charlie says to think of the blueberry flavouring added to boiled sweets, which you might be able to taste in certain reds for instance. It’s for this reason that a lot of supermarket wines all taste the same, he says, “as you can end up with something quite man-made.” Preservatives is another aspect where natural wines differ; typically, you find between 10-70mg of sulphites in a naturally-produced bottle, compared to the EU limit for white wine of 200 mg/litre. Although sulphites are a natural byproduct of the grape fermentation process, consumed in large quantities, it’s been found that they can also have adverse health effects.
Much as with sustainably produced clothes, there’s often a story to be found behind a bottle of natural wine. More artificial wines lack the “true, complex expression of that wine maker and where that wine has come from,” says Charlie: “you see these handmade artisanal products you can really taste the flavours that they’re infused with, and then people get it.” Two years ago (coincidentally to the week when I speak to him!), Charlie organised a natural wine festival in Bristol, bringing together venues and even vineyards in the local area for a four-day celebration of more unusual wines. It seems the world’s community of natural producers (and drinkers!) has thrived in recent years.