Natural wines Part 1: The history of natural wines is really the history of wine
In his contributions entitled “Natural wines”, Primož Stayer explains what wines are actually being discussed more and more on forums, social networks and other media. This article is the first in a series. You are invited to read.
Those of you who regularly follow texts, posts and forums on social and other networks will have noticed a flood of opinions and discussions on “natural wines” recently. Since I have been dealing with this type of wine regularly for almost two decades, and more professionally for the last 13 years, thanks to the encouragement and understanding of Alenka and Vanja, who are the driving forces behind the Ovinu.si portal, I decided to write a series of texts in an effort to thoroughly process and – I hope – clarify this topic.
The history of natural wines is really the history of wine, so it is only right to start at the beginning and thus lay the foundation for all the records that will follow. Archaeological evidence suggests that man first tasted wine around 8 000 years ago in what is now Georgia and Armenia. I believe that – like so many other things in human history – it happened quite by chance, by accident. People were probably picking and eating sweet grapes that grew on the vine (vitis vinifera), and someone kept the grapes in a container and they started to ferment. He obviously liked the result – who could blame him! – so, as is human nature, he began to explore, experiment, iterate and improve. At that time, of course, he had not yet cultivated the vines. It grew more in the form of a creeper, usually on trees.
Biodynamics is based on thousands of years of experience
In the centuries and millennia that followed, the vine spread across Europe and the wider world. It has colonised all the landscapes that climatically allowed this noble plant to grow and persist. The craft of viticulture and, consequently, of winemaking, has developed mainly on the basis of “learning by doing”, in other words, learning from one’s own and other people’s mistakes and experiences. In fact, for a very long time, man knew nothing about yeasts, the chemistry of alcoholic and malolactic fermentation, the acetic acid bacteria that turn wine into vinegar … For virtually all the millennia that wine production has been advancing, it has done so without artificial fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, commercial yeasts, bentonite, microfilters, the addition or removal of sugars, tannins, acids, aromas, since such interventions in vineyards and cellars only appeared sometime in the middle of the last century.
The vineyards, and other arable crops, have been farmed in a sustainable way to maintain a balance that ensures the long-term sustainability of the farmland. Today, we would call this a sustainable approach. Biodynamic theory and practice at an end 19th and early founded in 20th century Europe by Rudolf Steiner and later built upon by Maria Thun – and in Japan, in a slightly different way , by Masanobu Fukuoka – are in fact based on the millennia of experience, successes and failures of our ancestors who stood and stood without chemical preparations in agriculture.
Did the Romans really add sulphur to wine?
There is evidence that the Romans used sulphur to make wine. This is also one of the arguments of those who claim that a superior and stable wine cannot be produced without at least a minimum addition of sulphur dioxide. The most famous of them is, of course, the legendary Slovenian from Oslavje nad Gorico – Joško Gravner. I have nothing against moderate sulphur addition, but it should be said here that excellent and stable wines can be made without sulphur addition. Let me briefly return to the Romans. There is no evidence that sulphur was actually added to wine at that time. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that sulphur was used for hygiene, i.e. to disinfect the vinification and winemaking equipment, and very probably also to protect the vines, but certainly not to protect the wine itself.
In the mid-1950s, first artificial fertilisers, then herbicides and pesticides, came along and changed farming dramatically, especially in terms of the level of labour intensity required. This takes a lot of pressure off the farmer. The initial enthusiasm of at least a few, slightly more visionary individuals, is quickly tempered as they begin to question the long-term sustainability of such intensive, not to say invasive, farming practices.