In attempting to talk about natural wine, I’m going to start where I end. The best description I’ve ever heard comes from Krista Scruggs of CO Cellars—“It’s just fucking fermented juice.” Scruggs should know. She’s put in years of long, hard hours working, farming, and fermenting— all of it culminating in her becoming a star among natural wine makers. I really need to take a trek to Vermont to visit her tasting room.
Perhaps another way to describe natural wine is to say that it contains the blood, sweat, and tears of the land, the fruit, and the human hands that guide the juice into the bottle. What it doesn’t contain is anything else. Period. The end. The author, Alice Feiring, describes it as “nothing added, nothing taken away.” For us, we do everything we can to employ natural methods to make our cider (cider is wine, to us). This means no sulfites, no filtering, no fining, no chemical additions or alterations of any kind. We like to age our ciders in used barrels that impart neutral notes, but will also “break bad” on occasion and age in “fresh-dump” wine and spirit barrels. While we wait for our trees to produce, which we grow with an organic/sustainable approach, we still must source from producers who do use some commercial methods. Again, we do the best we can, but we’re not perfect—yet.
Unfortunately, as Feiring, author of the book “Natural Wine for the People,” has recently noted, the co-opting of natural wine seems to be under way. Maybe it’s because of the human desire to label everything, and put everything into a neat little box? Maybe it’s because commodity wineries see dollar signs—like Big Ag food companies saw dollar signs in branding everything as organic. Personally, we’ve encountered both confusion and the pigeon-holing of naturally made cider from consumers, from producers, and by cider organizations. For whatever reason, there is some motivation to define and label natural cider as “sour.” Natural cider is not sour. Can it have funky or sour aromas and flavors? Sure. But to categorize all of it as “sour cider” is a grave misnomer. It assumes too much. It also confuses the consumer and makes them predetermine that all natural cider is sour. Maybe because I just can’t stand labels—never have, never will—or maybe because certain things simply escape categorization, in the end, as Scruggs poignantly and so eloquently surmises, it’s just fucking fermented juice. My addendum? No more, and, for fuck’s sake, no less.