"Natural" wine: Choosing life

If, in the first decades of the 20th century, French vineyards were organised into "controlled designations of origin" – closely followed by all the most significant winegrowing regions across the world – it was to recognise the importance of the terroir  in the character of wines from each region. The terroir, that is to say, all that defines the specificity of the place: the uniqueness of the soil and subsoil, climatic conditions, the history of local grape varieties and the practices and traditions of the people who have sustained their vineyards over the centuries.

The demand for rigor and authenticity which underlined the formation of the appellations of origin ultimately reached its limits in the 1960s and 70s: the imperatives of productivism, including new high-performance criteria for selecting grape varieties, innovations in the agrochemical industry and the recourse to oenology — introducing industrial yeasts and numerous additives—ended up robbing the appellations of much of their meaning. With soil life weakened or even eradicated, biodiversity compromised, the authenticity of wines diminished and the product standardised to the extent that its principal quality became the absence of technical flaws: the need to restore the health of viticulture began to take root as a movement in the 1980s and 90s. This form of viticulture distanced itself from practices involving treatments and interventions at every stage of the vine work and wine production, which alter – denature—the subtle and complex biochemistry of the elements of terroir in wine. Following the principles of organic/biodynamic viticulture and a radical refusal to compromise, an ideal of "natural" wine emerged, respecting and enhancing the life that wine harbours.

By moving away from established standards and the "all-risks insurance" of industrialised production – as Pierre Overnoy puts it – "natural" wines do, of course, involve risks; being more sucesceptible to failure in difficult vintages and sidelined from certain AOC/AOP labels, as well as often running up higher costs than conventional wines. But natural wines offer consumers a new approach in tasting terms – healthy, living wines are more open to an ever-changing diversity of gustative expression, including the uniqueness of each terroir and its grape varieties, the specificity of the vintage and the winemaker's "signature" personality. These are the qualities we passionately defend in our selection of wines at the Cave du Clown.