What the Wha is "Natural Wine"?
One might ask “What is Natural Wine?”
The answer is nebulous and utterly subjective. However, here at Shadow Puppet we’ve decided to embrace the ambiguity rather than pretend to play Judge and jury for producers and customers alike.
Seeing that the subject has already been covered extensively, and Joe doesn’t fancy himself God’s gift to writing, we’ll let the folks over at rawwine.com articulate the basics:
-"While there is no universally accepted definition of natural wine, it is generally agreed to be wine that is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology."
Here is an excerpt from Isabelle's book on this topic:
"“The most excellent wine is one which has given pleasure by its own natural qualities, nothing must be mixed with it which might obscure its natural taste” (Columella)
Given that the microbiological life of the vineyard is what enables both successful fermentations in the cellar and the creation of wine that is able to survive without a technological crutch, sustaining a healthy habitat in the vineyard for these microbes is fundamental for the natural wine grower. This microbiological life follows the grapes into the cellar, transforms the juice and even makes its way into the final wine in the bottle. Natural wine is therefore, literally, living wine from living soil. In its truest form, it is wine that protects the microcosm of life in the bottle in its entirety, keeping it intact so that it remains stable and balanced."
If you’d like to read the whole article, here ya go!
Now, how does Shadow Puppet create its own Northstar in this?
Well, life is complicated.
Some winemakers, while practicing organic and/or biodynamic, are simply too small to afford the often hefty fees associated with getting certified for either. In other cases, larger producers have the money but then begin to “scale up” production methods and means, such as using mechanized harvesters that simply scrape vines clean of all fruit, rotten or not, and any bugs field animals or anything else in their wake. This is the biome that creates the microbiome in the glass of wine! When you strip this away, or contaminate it with rot, it usually necessitates resorting to additives and chemical trickery in the cellar to compensate for broad sweeping choices in the fields. So which one is more “all natural”? This is just one conundrum in defining such a thing.
The other is on the consumer point. Some people will only eat organic cage-free eggs but still drink Coke. Others never drink soda but occasionally get fast food. Maybe a consumer in Boise, Idaho puts more importance on drinking a regional wine that might have some grape picked by day-laborers and machines vs DIY lo-fi raw wine makers that ship their wine from Australia.
With this brief primer of the quagmire that can quickly unfurl, Shadow Puppet attempts to tick as many of the following boxes as it can with varying wines, while almost always staying away from mass producers (unless those producers are trying to improve their ways with embracing less intervention and waste.)
-Fermented with native yeast and not a lab-created yeast
-Not aged in New Oak
-Dry Farming (meaning not irrigating)
-Organic and/or biodynamic farming
-little to no sulfur added in the cellar or at bottling
-No intervention in the cellar, barring temperature controls
-Fair labor practices and Pay
Do we require all of these to be met with every bottle? No. Simply put, putting all of that care into the wine takes time and that means money. Small producers barely make money as it is. They are working class folks and we respect the living hell out of that. But we also respect that our customers aren’t all swimming in cash, so we embrace a spectrum to accommodate everyone we can while doing our part to adhere to some basic tenets we feel will help us embrace what wine is intended to be, as well as encouraging better production practices so the industry isn’t adding to our already precarious fight for existence (i.e. climate change).