By Vicki Denig, Professional wine writer and The Natural Wine School contributor
As the popularity of natural wine rises, consumers across the country are more interested than ever in seeking out these bottles at their local retailers. However, many customers still feel ill-equipped when it comes to comfortably shop for these wines. Here’s where you come in.
We’re giving you five quick tips on how to help your clients shop for natural wine with ease. Simply follow the steps below and ease your customers into the know-how of choosing a great natural wine for their palate preference and budget.
Know the Difference Between Natural Wine and Farming Practices
Many consumers and industry professionals alike still get it twisted when it comes to natural versus organic versus sustainable. The biggest takeaway here is that natural wine’s loose definition incorporates both farming practices and vinification techniques, whereas organic/sustainable only designates farming practices.
For a wine to be considered ‘natural’:
- Fruit is farmed organically and/or biodynamically
- Native yeasts are used in the fermentation process
- A minimalist mentality is used throughout the vinification process (nothing added, nothing is taken away)
- Wines are generally bottled unfined and unfiltered
- Little to no SO2 is added upon bottling
On the other hand, farming practices only inform the consumer on how the grapes were handled in the vineyard. Fruit can be organically, biodynamically, or sustainably farmed, though this doesn’t always mean that a natural/minimalist winemaking mentality is used in the cellar.
Help Identify and Decode Labels
Natural wines often march to the beat of their own drum, meaning that winemakers frequently eschew appellation rules and do as they see fit in the vineyard and cellar. This often means that minimal information about the wine is available on the label. Producers of natural wine frequently bottle their wines with image-heavy labels, though this is by no means a surefire indicator that a wine is natural.
Again, this is where you as the shop professional come in. The importer and distributor of each wine should share key data so you can properly present each wine to your guest. You may even need to do some of your own research too. This helps you decode the lack of information on the label and guide guests through the information you possess on a given producer’s background, grape variety, or region.
Reassure Your Customer on Aesthetics
Never judge a book by its cover – especially when it comes to natural wine. Natural wines are often bottled unfined/unfiltered, meaning it could be cloudy. Also, leftover lees and sediment are frequently left in the bottle. Assure your customer that this is totally normal and harmless, though if the sediment is particularly bothersome, simply decanting the wine will usually go a long way.
Brief Your Customer on What to Expect
Although it’s impossible to pigeon-hole natural wine into a specific set of tasting notes, guide your client through a given bottle by describing traditional grape variety/regional notes specific to the wine in question. If you know a particular natural wine in question is relatively high in volatile acidity, inform them a) of what it is, and b) that these aromas will generally blow off in a few minutes. If the juice has a touch of brett – which can be off-putting or pleasant, depending on the consumer – or a bit of residual sugar, definitely let them know (and explain what these terms mean along the way).
Natural wines can also be a refreshing surprise! If a natural wine tastes more like a cider or, explain this to your guest. There is a thrill for a guest to explore the unknown so align their expectations to enhance their experience.
Remember, Natural Wine Should Be Held to the Same Standards as Any Other Wine
At the end of the day, wine should always be delicious, pleasant, and free of flaws. Natural wines are no exception. If informed on how volatile acidity, brett, and residual sugar show themselves in wine, your consumer should certainly feel comfortable in knowing what they’re buying. Remind them that if they actually feel that something is wrong with the wine to bring it back at their earliest convenience for a replacement bottle.
Above all, shopping for wine – whether natural or not – should always feel fun, educational, and comfortable for your consumer. By helping them along the way, you’re creating a safe space for them to grow their palates and learn about the wines you know and love.