For us Flâneuse Natural Wines is a project through which we can be part of the growing culture of natural and organic wine making that is not a marketing trick to sell wine, but a whole new culture in terms of how to make wine, transparency of the process and a critical, conscious approach in general.
Although we have great respect to many producers who make excellent wines without calling them natural or organic, in general we see many significant problems in the conventional wine industry in general. Because of personal experience in the conventional, globalised wine industry with vast use of toxic chemicals and unjust labour conditions, just to name a few problems, we see natural and organic wine making culture as a move towards a local, ecologically sustainable, more transparent and in general more respectful wine culture. Moving towards ecologically conscious and sustainable practices is crucial in our times of urgent ecological crisis.
Problem of pesticides and toxic chemicals in conventional wine industry
A quote from The Guardian (Link to the article here):
“As natural wine advocates point out, the way most wine is produced today looks nothing like the picture-postcard vision [in wine bottle labels]. Vineyards are soaked with pesticide and fertiliser to protect the grapes, which are a notoriously fragile crop. In 2000, a French government report noted that vineyards used 3% of all agricultural land, but 20% of the total pesticides. In 2013, a study found traces of pesticides in 90% of wines available at French supermarkets.”
The pesticide and other toxic chemical use in agriculture is a gigantic problem resulting in destruction of ecosystems, as in main land Europe, where the population of insects birds have declined catastrophically in agricultural areas (link to the article here). This has severe impact on the vital ecosystems. They also directly and indirectly affect the health of humans.
“Advocates of natural wine believe that nearly everything about the £130bn modern wine industry – from the way it is made, to the way critics police what counts as good or bad – is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong. Their ambition is to strip away the artificial trappings that have developed in tandem with the industry’s decades-long economic boom, and let wine be wine.”
The use of herbicides such as the infamous Round-up of Monsanto have been used in wine making extensively and cause another serious health hazard to the ecosystems and people living around the wine growing areas.
From personal working experience with them, some big conventional wine producers also use cheap labour providing terrible working conditions and unequal salaries. This happens especially in countries where cheap labour is easily available. Natural wine makers that we want to work with are devoted and interested in doing the work themselves and pay equal salaries to all the workers if they have some. In general we work with people who want to improve ecological and social ecosystems.
What is the difference between organic and natural wines?
Organic certified wines are made with organically produced grapes with methods defined in the certification. This is an important step from conventional farming. However, monoculture and industrial agriculture, even if organic, can be harmful for the health and diversity of ecosystems depending on how the company works.
Natural wine makers take ecological consciousness an essential step further. Natural wines are grown organically, without chemical intervention, except small amounts of natural sulphite and copper used in some wines.They are fermented with the natural yeasts in the grapes themselves instead of added yeasts and chemicals. That is why they are also very unique in taste. They are also produced in traditional artesanal methods, instead of cheap labour and heavy industrial processes.
However there are also many wineries that follow natural methods, without claiming it with that name, but it is impossible to know unless there is a certificate or real transparency in their production processes all the way until the drinker of the wine. We aim to provide that transparency to our customers.
For us, the change in the culture of making wine must be holistic, meaning that it includes all aspects of the process, such as the organic agriculture, taking care of an entire ecosystem, ecological consciousness, equality of the labour force, sustainable economic structures etc. However at the core of it all is the holistic change in the process of agriculture. Like our collaborator Valdibella cooperative, who produce one of our wines put it:
“We need to transform our farms into centres of balance, where the vineyard is integrated with other typical crops: olives, almonds, figs, pomegranates, close to natural areas, woodland, ponds, fallow, hedges, mounds of stones, etc., thereby creating a more stable and balanced agro-ecosystem.”
“The future generations will not care what books we wrote or who we voted for, they will care if we leave them a healthy land base and clean water to drink.” – Derrick Jensen, an environmental author.
Many natural and organic wine makers dedicate in improving the land base and the soil not only in the fields, but also in the surrounding ecosystems, which support the grape fields. Many producers in conventional wine industry uses heavy amounts of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that all affect the soil quality, is hazard for ecosystems and humans. Organic certified farming has controlled limitations on use of chemicals, but for us more important is to have transparency and a holistic approach in improving ecosystems and health of the soil. It all starts from the soil with wines, as well as with life itself.
Natural wine makers have different methods of soil improvement. Some keep a grass cover around the growing grapes, some use herbs and other plants in combination. These cover crops can include a variety of grasses, legumes and for example mustards that protect the soil from erosion, fix nitrogen into the soils and offer a habitat for many beneficial insects. Some non-toxic copper and sulphite use is also permitted in small quantities in natural wine making to improve the soil.
More precise information on the individual practises of each winemaker can be found in the page of each wine in the Wine list -page.
Natural wine makers reduce the industrial processes in the harvesting and most grapes are harvested by hand to bring them in flawless condition to the fermentation process.
In the cellar
The natural wine makers appreciate the natural qualities and characteristics of the grapes. Therefore there are no added chemicals in the cellar, with the only exception of small amounts of sulphite for stabilisation and preservation.
Natural wine makers do not add any synthetic chemical substances in any part of the wine making process. No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers are used. Instead natural methods of combating vineyard pests are employed. Also processes such as the clarification of the wines is many times naturally done with the help of the low temperature or other natural methods. For example in Valdibella winery in white wines, when it is necessary, they clarify with bentonite (natural clay).
The limit of sulphites in conventionally produced wines in EU is 160 mg/l for reds, 210 mg/l in white and rose and 400 mg/l in sweet wines. The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum daily intake of 0.7 mg of sulphur dioxide per kilogram of bodyweight.
For a person of 60 kilos this is 42 mg/l, which is about glass and a half of a white wine with a concentration of 200 mg/l.
Natural wine grapes are grown without sulphites sprayed on them, but in the cellar small amounts are sometimes added, mainly for stabilising and preservation purposes. Some natural wines are also made entirely without adding any sulphites.
Many natural wines are made with spontaneous fermentation. Grapes include in themselves autonomously all the ingredients of becoming wine. The yeasts in the skin get mixed to the juice inside when crushed and this is enough to start the fermentation, especially in organically grown grapes where the natural yeasts are fully present. This is one reason that makes natural wines so unique, because each grape has a selection of natural yeasts depending on the variety, soil and growing conditions of each unique location. The spontaneous fermentation preserves this uniqueness.