Minimal intervention wines are natural wines. To me there is no distinction. At the very least a minimal intervention wine must be organic. Using synthetic chemicals or fertilizers is manipulation of the terroir. Conventional wines are as far from minimal intervention as you can be! If the organic or biodynamic wine is also a preservative free wine then that’s where minimal intervention wines start. Proponents of minimal intervention wines always state their goal as “a true expression of the terroir”. In my opinion, a true expression of the terroir, a true expression of the character of a wine, is only possible with organic or biodynamic farming practices.
The natural wine making process is about minimal intervention. From grape growing that is allowed to take its own course – and yes that means losses due to diseases and pests – to no additives in the wine.
No preservatives, no “designer” yeasts, no yeast nutrients, no acid and no bacteria should be added to the wine. And yes most conventional wines have all of these things added! Additionally, no fining and no oaking. If the wine is not fined, it is suitable for vegetarians and vegans; there are no traces of fish, eggs or milk which are commonly used for fining – though fish not so much these days. Maybe a natural, organic or biodynamic wine that also meets the above criteria should be referred to as a no intervention wine!
Many conventional winemakers are tasked with ensuring a wine looks, feels, smells and tastes the same, vintage to vintage, as commercially the wine sells – it’s based on that known formula that works for the mass market and any change is shunned as it could negatively affect sales. There’s no experimenting. Costs are tightly controlled. But with natural wine making it’s all about experimenting and variation – true expressions of terroir. The wines are 100% handcrafted – machines are not used to harvest grapes or at any stage throughout the wine making process.
As there’s no clear agreed definition for what constitutes a natural wine or minimal intervention wine (or certification of natural or minimal intervention wines), most natural wine and minimal intervention wine producers will loosely align to these philosophies but there are no guarantees. Read the label carefully and research the wine and producer. If a winery is “sustainable” that’s meritorious but sustainable and not organic or biodynamic is only halfway there. Our planet deserves better.
The natural and minimal intervention wine producer
Typically natural and minimal intervention wine producers are very small scale single vineyard operations, not for commercial profit and all aspects of the wine making process are done in-house.
A number of our wineries such as Macquariedale in the Hunter Valley could be considered natural and minimal intervention wine producers. Try Macquariedale’s Preservative Free NBG 2018 Red – a good example of a truly natural and minimal intervention wine.