WTF Is Natural Wine, Anyway?

Wine Week’s Sande Friedman on why everyone is obsessed with this new genre of drink.

what is natural wine

What is natural wine? Here’s your FAQ guide to the trending beverage. Photograph by Jason Varney

Sande Friedman — the wine buyer for Di Bruno Bros. and a Philly Wine Week board member — shares why everyone is obsessed with this new genre of drink.

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The term “natural wine” is everywhere. What exactly is it?

It’s a catch-all term for wines that are made without any chemical or technological interventions — meaning no additives like extra sugar or shelf stabilizers.

How’s that different from conventional wine?

Natural wines are made like they were back in the day, with hand-harvested grapes and natural yeast. Conventional winemakers harvest grapes with giant machines and ferment with purchased yeast. Unlike conventional producers, natural winemakers aren’t purposely adding extra sugar to up alcohol levels and encourage the wine to ferment more quickly.

What does that mean for flavor?

With conventional winemaking, winemakers have a general idea of what they want their cab or merlot to taste like, but in natural winemaking, it’s more about the expression of those specific grapes from the area, climate, maker, soil, etc.

Does less sugar mean less of a hangover?

Generally, it’s less additives that mean less hangovers. But when there’s less added sugar, hangovers aren’t nearly as bad.

Why has this become a big thing in Philly?

We have amazing wine buyers in restaurants and state stores, and even a few in Harrisburg. These people know that natural wines taste better and are more interesting, and they care as much about a wine’s backstory as they do about taste. And as wine importers who care became more prevalent, more people began to seek them out.

Okay, we’re sold. Where do we start?

Come talk to us! Talk to other wine fans, and don’t be afraid to chat with people working in stores. When you find a bottle that you like, turn it around and read the back of the label, so you can find the importer. Because chances are you’ll like other wines from their portfolio, too.

Published as “WTF Is Natural Wine, Anyway?” in the April 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.