Sulphur not a dirty word for natural winemakers

18th February, 2013 by Patrick Schmitt

The quality of natural wines has improved significantly in the last five years, according to The Real Wine Fair organiser Doug Wregg.

The Real Wine Fair Logo

The Real Wine Fair will run from Sunday 17 to Monday 18 March

Speaking to the drinks business ahead of the mid-March event, Wregg admitted that as many as half the wines he tasted during the early days of the natural wine movement in the 80s were “undrinkable”.

Today, however, he said that people have “realised you can’t make natural wines without cracking grapes, and sulphur is not a dirty word.”

Although the term natural wine is widely believed to refer to products with no added sulphur dioxide – an antioxidant and antiseptic used in almost all wines – Wregg stressed that this was not true.

“99% of natural growers use some sulphur as well as generating some.” (Sulphur dioxide is a natural byproduct of fermentation).

Continuing, he explained that natural wines were best described as “minimal intervention wines”, and added that sulphur is a “natural product”.

He also said that natural wines are those where there is no or minimal use of chemicals in the vineyard, as well as no adjustments in the winery to ensure the wines are a “pure” expression of the site, grape variety or vintage.

Then, observing improved results from this hands-off approach, he said, “The quality of winemaking has vastly improved in the last five years.”

Turning the subject to the upcoming fair, which will be held on 17-18 March at London’s Tobacco Dock, he said that the event would be similar to last year’s inaugural Real Wine Fair, and would feature organic, biodynamic and natural wines, alongside other drinks and food.

In terms of changes, 2012’s event was spread over three days and held in May, taking place during the same week as the London International Wine Fair, and at the same time as the UK’s only other natural wine exhibition, RAW, which will be held in May again this year.

Wregg said he had decided to “condense” the Real Wine Fair into two days to make it easier for exhibitors from abroad, and move the event to March to avoid clashing with RAW.

“People were confused by two natural wine fairs happening simultaneously,” he said.

He also commented, referring to the controversy surrounding the launch of two natural wine fairs last year, “France has dozens of natural wine fairs, so London, the centre of the wine world, can afford to have two events.”

Wregg said that he hoped to attract 1,500 visitors to the Real Wine Fair over the two days, and that last year’s three-day event enticed 1,700 people.

In terms of exhibitors in 2013, Wregg noted a strong Georgian contingent.

“We have 11 Georgian producers this year – so Georgia is one of the biggest elements of the fair, which is interesting.”

Despite the high concentration of natural winemakers in Beaujolais and the Loire, Wregg recorded that the “horrendous” vintage in 2012 had dissuaded producers from these regions attending.

“This year, they have no wine to sell, so they can’t afford to come over.”

Click here for more information on The Real Wine Fair.


4 Responses to “Sulphur not a dirty word for natural winemakers”

  1. Tony Mason says:

    Could Mr Wregg please define “natural wine”. His comments to you make it as clear as mud, and thick mud at that! “99% of natural growers use some sulphur”. How much? “No or minimal use of chemicals in the vineyard”. Again, how much, and what? With definitions as loose as that, you could call a good many wines “natural” Whether the public would find that acceptable is open to some question.

  2. Olly Bartlett says:

    I can’t for the life of me understand why people such as Tony need a box with clear parameters to try and fit natural winemakers into. And why should it be Doug who has to define this? It doesn’t work like that. Don’t you understand that the term is loose because the winemakers are incredibly varied, have 1,000 and more differing techniques, viewpoints and practices? Why should there be a rule? It is the difference that makes it interesting and each producer unique. Ok… so you don’t like the term ‘natural’. How about ‘alternative’ or maybe even ‘traditional’ (as most of these practices are actually reworkings of earlier techniques, taking peasant observations into account etc). How about the term ‘real’? Oh, no but that would be confusing wouldn’t it? How about ‘xxxxxxx wine’? So now I am being stupid. The point is, it is all semantics, so either taste the wines, try and understand the wines or not… So bored of people continually getting hung up on terminology. This will be the only time I take the bait this year!! Time for a coffee I think. See you at the fair Tony??

  3. Tony Mason says:

    Oh dear, Olly; and some of those winemakers are vast international conglomerates making “factory-produced” wines. And with a lack of definition, why can’t they call their wines “natural”. That way, everything on the shelf could be called natural, thus harming the livelihood of those very winemakers Doug Wregg is seeking to promote. The general winebuyer may not have as sophisticated a palate as you have, and tends to believe what’s on the label. That’s why you need a definition. Otherwise, natural wine can apply to anything you want it to. The reason Doug Wregg, amongst others, needs to define it is that he stands to benefit from a fair promoting such wines. Can we expect to find the big brands there that we could find in Tesco or Asda? And if you’re bored with people getting hung up on terminology, why not just call it a wine fair? See you down the offy, Olly.

    • Olly Bartlett says:

      Tony, that is kind of the point. The ‘natural wine movement’ isn’t essentially a movement at all and doesn’t use the term natural wine very much. The fair is called the Real Wine Fair, not the Natural Wine Fair. If the large wine factories of the world want to use the term natural, let them. I don’t think the consumers will be fooled and if they are, well, that is their fault actually! Look at ‘organic’: the amount of crappy ‘Organically certified’ wine out there covered in herbicides and pesticides and sulphured within an inch of its life as an example of the big companies jumping on the bandwagon. So labels like this are misleading, which I think makes the case for no standardizing of the labeling. You don’t see a wine saying ‘Natural Wine’ on the label…
      I agree. It is just a wine fair, featuring wines that have less stuff that shouldn’t be there and generally less buggered about with. But that might make the banners a little long. See you in the 3 for £10 aisle? Or just come to the fair and have a taste??

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