Sure enough this article from Vogue in the UK offers a clueless explanation for the increasing popularity of natural wines. Quoting the infinite wisdom of the founder of a new wine club, we get this gem:
With natural wines, there are two or three things converging to cause its popularity,” Lachkovic explains. “Firstly, wine has become quite homogenised. Secondly, there’s a general consumer shift towards authenticity – to what wine traditionally tasted like.” Authenticity, as we all know, is one of Generation Y’s favourite buzzwords. Furthermore, the packaging of much natural wine is designed, as if by algorithm, to set our pulses racing: from folksy labels, to wine in cartons as opposed to boring bottles.
First of all wine has not become homogenized. Quite the opposite. Of course supermarket wines taste the same—they are designed to taste that way. But large, commercial wineries are a tiny fraction of the number of wineries in the world, most of which are striving for differentiation. New wine regions are sprouting like weeds. Wine is now made in every state in the U.S., and most of those states have their own indigenous wine cultures with distinctive varietals and unique terroirs. Throughout the world, emerging new wine regions from Great Britain to China promise to add to the stock of diverse tasting experiences. Wine grapes are increasingly grown in extreme environments—from high in the Andes, to the deserts of the Golan Heights, to the chilly lake sides of Canada. Projects such as Vox Vineyards in Kansas City, Bodegas Torres in Spain, and Randle Grahm’s Popolucham Vineyard near Santa Cruz, California are rediscovering lost or ignored varietals, while the University of Minnesota develops new varietals that can survive Northern winters.
Winemakers in all of these regions are constantly experimenting with new techniques in the vineyard and the winery. Natural wine is part of this mix, part of a general trend toward diversity, not a lonely outpost in opposition to the crowd.
And “authenticity” may be a buzzword but it has little to do with “what wine traditionally tasted like.” Which tradition are we returning to? Wineries started using sulfur to preserve wine in the early 1900’s. So he must be referring to wine in the 19th Century. We don’t really know what wine tasted like in the 19th Century, but I doubt it resembles today’s natural wines. For one thing, refrigeration wasn’t widely available until the 20th century. Controlling temperatures through the whole process of winemaking is crucial for all wines including natural wines. Those funky flavors would be really, really funky without it. Secondly, natural winemakers may not use much technology in the winery but they use a host of modern improvements in our knowledge of viticulture to keep their grapes happy and healthy. Bio-dynamics, after all, wasn’t invented until the 1920’s and all modern winemakers benefit from our knowledge of clones, soil drainage, and vine balance along with the widespread use of leaf pulling and crop thinning which are modern developments.
Furthermore, I can tell you from several decades experience in the classroom that generations X, Y, or Z care little for historical authenticity. They care little for history period.
As to the packaging of natural wines, I have yet to taste one that wasn’t in a “boring bottle”.
The natural wine phenomenon is interesting and remarkable. But like most changes in the wine world it’s about variation. Natural wines taste differently than conventionally made wines. It’s about tasting the unexpected, respecting the land, and living with what nature provides as much as possible. It is part of the modern wine world not in opposition to it.