The facts behind wine additives … and people who shun them

Natural wines, credit RAW artisan wine fair

It’s a relief to know someone reads my missives. Tony McCaul maybe the only one; but that aside, it was very nice that he emailed me. He said: “This morning I looked at the contents of a bottle of red wine and discovered that it contained milk as well as sulphites plus another ingredient I cannot remember. What is going on? Can you shed any light on this?”

milk and eggs wine additives
Extracts from both milk and eggs can be used in wine

To basics: Sulphites are an anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial agent. They have various uses, including killing wild yeast so winemakers can add their own strain to create wines that reflect their style. Sulphites are also used to sanitise equipment. Egg whites and enzymes from milk are used in fining, to remove suspended “floaty bits” from the wine, leaving it clear.

But there are winemakers who shun modern manufacturing processes, they use wine additives at the bearest minimum – if any at all – to keep their wines real. Natural is their mantra.

I spoke to Isabelle Legeron, a Master of Wine and organiser of the RAW Artisan Wine Fair and Darek Trowbridge, a winemaker from the Old World Winery in California.

If additives aren’t used, I asked Darek, does it mean that buying a natural wine can be bit of a lottery, with no consistency? He says: “Does an artist try to make his paintings consistent?

Darek Trowbridge, Old World Winery in California
Darek Trowbridge, Old World Winery in California

“A wine artist tries to provide the truest rendition of what the art of that season brought to the vines and allow that to show in the flavours, making each vintage a treat in its uniqueness. Even if there is a disappointing vintage, some of my best wines were in ‘bad’ years because I changed my direction and worked with what I had rather than trying to make what I made last year.”

What challenges are thrown up for a winemaker if additives aren’t used, I asked. Darek explains: “We have the same challenges that have existed for 2,000 years. In fact, additives didn’t come onto the scene until very recently in the aftermath of the First World War. The truth is wine has more history without additives than with.”

Isabelle Legeron Master of Wine
Isabelle Legeron

Isabelle Legeron grew up in Cognac where her family grew grapes, and left home to study business at university.

She eventually realised that wine is a part of “who she was” and retrained (you may have seen Isabelle recently on MasterChef as one of the expert tasters).

Isabelle told me: “When I joined the wine industry I was a bit disappointed because I was expecting more of an agricultural product. I realised that the wine industry is quite industrial, very corporate.

“But then I started to taste wines that were a bit different, I met people in boots, real farmers, and I realised there was a parallel universe.

“This tiny world which co-exists with the corporate wine world is made up of farmers who farm, they make the wine, they make it in tiny quantities, and they look after nature before anything else.”

Wine bottles at the RAW artisan wine fair
Wine bottles at the RAW artisan wine fair

It was that belief in back-to-basics natural wines, that led Isabelle to create the RAW artisan wine fair.

She said: “As far as wine making is concerned I don’t judge how people make their wine. My bugbear is there’s no way of knowing; so basically when you pick up a bottle of wine, you’ve no idea as to what has gone inside. I wanted to create an event to bring all the natural growers together and to start a conversation around transparency.

“These wines, they are food, they are alive. The life inside hasn’t been completely killed by sulphites. It maybe that one bottle will be different from another bottle, it’s not better or worse. It’s just different.”

Natural WIne by Isabelle Legeron
Natural WIne by Isabelle Legeron
  • The RAW Wine Fair takes place on May 17 and 18, 2015, in London  (www.rawfair.com). Everyone at the fair has had to submit levels of sulphites and additives they use. Only winemakers which meet the criteria can exhibit.
  •  Natural Wine by Isabelle Legeron MW, is published by CICO Books (RRP £16.99)

 

Published in the saturday extra magazine May 9, 2015

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