The Natural Wine Craze: What’s It All About?

bottleEvery generation wants to make its mark, and in the world of wine, the spreading popularity of “natural wine” can be credited largely to the interest of Millennials.

As Tom Madrecki, who has partnered in a pop-up wine bar in the parking lot of Washington, D.C.’s Union Kitchen, puts it, “Millennials are more adventurous and more willing to try new things — if presented to them properly.” (Yes, even in a parking lot.)

Everything is cyclical, and the natural wine movement is reminiscent of the hippie movement of the 1960s — young people defying convention and embracing a more “natural” way of eating and living. Sound familiar?

At this point in history, Millennials primarily are consumers of natural wine. The men and women making the wine may be of similar age or older — in some cases, a lot older.

In fact, the natural wine movement can be traced to the vineyards and cellars of France, particularly the Loire Valley. There, the primary white wines are Chenin Blanc Sauvignon Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne, while the main red is Cabernet Franc.

What “defines” a natural wine? In general, it is a wine that’s made with as little human intervention as possible. And although there are no set “laws” or certifications governing their production, natural wines typically:

* Are made from grapes that are grown either Biodynamically or organically.

* Use native yeasts, not commercial strains, in the fermentation process.

* Have no or very little sulfur.

* Utilize no chemicals in their production.

Some believe natural wines go a little too far with their restrictions, as a certain amount of human intervention and science can be helpful in stabilizing a wine and preventing it from becoming a bit too funky for most taste buds.

Then again, that also is part of the allure of natural wines — the idea that the finished product will be a true representation of a varietal, a place and vintage.

A number of wine bars and restaurants that are focused on natural wine have popped up around the country, and unlike Tom Madrecki’s “pop-up” in D.C., have regular hours and permanent seating. Four of the best are on the West Coast and East Coast:

* San Francisco — Terroir

* Oakland — The Punchdown

* Manhattan — Wildair

* Brooklyn — The Four Horsemen

Just like every “new” generation, the Millennials take a lot of heat from generations that preceded them. Ultimately, Millennials will become the primary influencers in the marketplace, including the wine marketplace. So don’t be surprised if — no, make that when — natural wine goes mainstream.

After all, there was a time when you had to go to Trader Joe’s or another specialty grocery to buy organic fruit.


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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log, Wine in the Glass
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