Grapevine: Rule breakers
When the natural wine movement began a couple of decades ago in France, and even more so in the past 15 years, it was all about going against the norms. All about breaking the rules.
Now, in France anyway, they have established a set of rules and regulations to protect the image, processes and techniques commonly employed by natural wine producers.
In one respect it should make the choice for consumers a little easier and straight-forward. Simply being able to identify the wines by the Vin Methode Nature can take a lot of effort and pain out of the search in bottle shops and online. By understanding what the designation stands for narrows the set of options in front of you and moves the conversation to other factors such as flavours and styles you want out of the wine. The regulations stipulate that the fruit used to produce the wine must be organically grown, picked by hand and fermented with only natural or ‘wild’ yeast. Additions commonly use in wine-making such as acids, additional sugar, water, tannin are forbidden as are wine-making methods that are deemed to interventionist such as reverse osmosis. Finally the use of sulphur is drastically limited to a maximum 30 mg/L.
This designation only applies in France though where wine regions maintain strict regulations, so if you are looking for a natural Australian wine, you are still left with little indication of how they are produced without the guidance of a sommelier/ wine store, or familiarity with specific producers.
Natural wines are as much a worldview as a production process for many winemakers who even shun the organic/biodynamic certifications for their cost and rigid adherence requirements. So while it may make it easier to spot some natural wines on the shelf, it may still leave many and often times some of the best examples hidden from exposure (some of them probably prefer it that way), whilst highlighting those who see a designation mainly as a marketing tool.
Natural or not, the hardest and most rewarding part of the wine world is tracking down producers whose style and maybe philosophy you agree with and following their journey from vintage to vintage. Just out of Ballarat is a producer whose journey is worth jumping on and following. Having first made wine at the age of 15, Owen Latta now has over 20 vintages under his belt – a feat that while still in your mid-30s surely gives you a level of experience and wisdom normally found in winemakers of an older vintage.
Making wines both for his family’s estate; Eastern Peake and his own label Latta, it is Latta we are focusing on here, although both wineries are worth following. Latta wines are made from fruit sourced across Western Victoria with a focus on producing wines that are “Wine, natural wine, unfined, unfiltered and un-tinkered”. A simple, clear and direct philosophy that is backed up with execution that is consistent from vintage to vintage despite the expansive range of wines and styles produced. A rare feat in the natural wine world. The Rattlesnake ($36) is always a favourite and shows off his skills with blending as well as well handled ‘natural’ techniques such as using skin contact for white grape varieties. It is a five-way blend of Viogner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir juice and Pinot Gris that is both refreshing/ easy to drink and complex at once. The line of bright acidity keeps it focused while the range of flavours from stone fruit to citrus, florals, spice and rocky minerality is engaging but not overbearing as is the faint grip on the palate from the skin-contact portions.