Clément Chevrier, sommelier and co-founder of Epi-curieux.com answers all your questions about natural wine
You have always wondered the difference between a natural wine and an organic wine, what is a wine without sulfites, if Gamay is indeed the best grape variety in the world ( answer )... Clément Chevrier answers all your questions at about natural wine.
We like good stories at epi-curieux.com, moreover the founder himself is one of those people with atypical stories. Two passions drive Clément Chevrier. It's no longer a secret, but there's natural wine and the people who make it, but there's also cycling.
It was at the age of 6, in his native Picardy, that Clément Chevrier began cycling in a cycling school. After a period in Normandy for studies, it was at the age of 18 that he landed in Chambéry at the training center of the AG2R team. In 2014, he then turns professional, he will have the chance to enrich himself in travels, and in discoveries by going to ride on the roads of the United States, then in Switzerland. In 2017, he returned to Savoy, still in the AG2R team, to ride the European roads on his bike, then in December 2020, he decided to stop everything and retire.
His second passion will take over: tasting natural wines and sharing on this subject with other people. Wine for Clément Chevrier is more than just a product. It was after several meetings with winegrowers that Clément understood what a natural wine is: there is wine but above all there are those who make it, and it is these stories that he wishes to share with novices or amateurs. Apart from cycling, between 2016 and 2018, he therefore obtained diplomas in “Wine advice and tasting”. In 2021, this materializes, he undergoes sommelier training and begins his new career at the Auberge du Père Bise, alongside Jean Sulpice. The desire to share his passion for wine does not date from yesterday, it is through his travels and the encounters he was able to make, that Clément Chevrier started little by little. In 2018, he launched Epi-curieux; the idea is to discover natural wines, to share stories of winegrowers, with individuals and professionals through tasting events.
Over time, Clément sharpens his palate, and he realizes his desire to share wines full of emotions with his friend Anthony, in the wine bar, meat bar located in La Ravoire; Holy Chips. Epi-curieux is then more oriented towards advice, towards wine service, and Holy Chips has its menu well established thanks to the wise advice of Clément.
What is a natural wine?
Natural wine, the definition
Natural wine is a wine from organic farming, where tools such as biodynamics can be used. Biodynamics will serve to enrich the soil, it will also serve to give more vigor to the vine, the grapes must be healthy. For a wine to be considered natural, the harvest must be carried out manually. The work of the winegrowers must be very precise and rigorous. In the vineyard as in winemaking, natural wine is made without input, no synthetic product is used. Yes, there will always be the intervention of man to produce wine, but his work must be the least interventionist possible. They accompany the vine throughout the year so that it flourishes in its environment. Once the grapes have been picked, during winemaking, Man continues to accompany them so that they reach their finest expression thanks to the work of indigenous yeasts. The objective is to bring the wine in the most natural way possible, from the vine to the bottling. Contrary to what can be said in the world of natural wine, sulfur is not banned. It must be very limited, but is not prohibited. For some of these craftsmen, sulfur is never used, but legally, sulfur for a natural wine, can be used in very limited doses. On the contrary to conventional wines, which follow a pre-given recipe, a recipe where additives, rectifications are authorized for a total control of the wine. All to create standardized wines, wines without emotions. Neither the soil nor the grapes reflect these modified wines, the complete opposite of a natural wine which transcribes its provenance as naturally as possible.
Who invented natural wine?
Let's say that natural wine is a natural fact. The first wild vines appeared two million years ago in the mountain ranges of the Near East. The first wine appeared, 7000 years before our era, in Georgia. A 100% natural wine, 100% pure juice, where winemaking and aging are done in amphorae. Then came the post-World War II phenomenon of consumerism and industrialization. Technologies therefore appear, chemicals as well. The Roundup weedkiller, for example, is born, which destroys the natural work of the vine. All these technologies, these products come to annihilate the common sense peasant, the traditional methods die little by little. This is without counting on a few irreducible winegrowers, such as the Gang of 4 from Beaujolais, helped by the great Jules Chauvet (wine merchant and committed oenologist). It is therefore with conviction that Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, Jean Foillard, Georges Descombes, or even Guy Breton, want to bring clean wine, natural wine, up to date. A way of making wine that comes as close as possible to ancestral methods. Natural wine respects nature, man respects his environment. It is therefore with envy that these characters invest Paris, the bistros, to make themselves known and to oppose all these wines mastered by chemistry. They present wines that have been made in a natural way, and it works. Pierre Overnoy also takes part in this adventure. Today it is a global phenomenon, its wines are rare pearls. Natural wine is a more accomplished continuation of the first wines made thousands of years ago.
Natural wine vs organic wine
The similarities of natural and organic wine
On the contrary to a conventional wine, where synthetic products and other additives are authorized in the vineyard as well as in the winemaking, organic wines are in a cleaner process. The work of the soil and the vines for conventional wines is carried out with very high doses, which are very harmful for humans and for the environment. For an organic wine, the work in the vineyard is therefore oriented towards a sustainable approach, there must be no chemical inputs. The techniques used are biological, as are the treatments. Their use is also minimized in the vineyard. Organic wines are labeled Organic farming. There are also biodynamic wines. Biodynamic wines are regulated by the Demeter and Biodivin labels, and these labels trivialize all inputs to the vineyard. The soils are energized in a natural way (if treatment there is, it is carried out in a natural way - infusion of plants, and everything is done according to the lunar calendar). Finally, there is natural wine. For now, it still has no label, it is only defended by associations. Legally, therefore, it cannot appear on labels. Here, the similarities between organic, biodynamic and natural wines happen in the vineyard. There are no chemical inputs. The work is done in a 100% natural way, and human intervention must be respectful (manual harvesting, horse plowing, etc.) and the least interventionist possible.
The differences between natural and organic wine
The differences between an organic, biodynamic and natural wine will essentially be at the level of winemaking. An organic wine is therefore part of a more sustainable approach, more specific to the vine, but for all that, the AB label authorizes up to 70 possible additives in the production of wines. A biodynamic wine, on the other hand, derives from organic wines, but in an even more pronounced way. No input is tolerated in the vineyard, and during winemaking, unlike organic wines, the list of inputs is extremely limited. Although a natural wine is very close to a biodynamic wine, it is not one. Natural wines are by definition natural. The vine did its job alone, the wine too. Man has only accompanied nature, to make its way until it is bottled to limit any risk. The idea of a natural wine is to respect the living, and therefore to follow this approach until bottling. The yeasts do their fermentation, no human intervention, or if necessary, add grape must fermentation. Little or no sulphites, and no other inputs. There is no filtration, no fining.
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The risks in the production of natural wine
Wine is naturally destined to turn into vinegar, which is why the role of the winemaker is to accompany it so that natural wine does not fall into these deviations. There are risks in natural wine without sulfur, it is precisely not to intervene. And the risks are therefore the deviations, that bad bacteria takes over the native yeasts. This would then imply phenomena of oxidation, mice, brethes, precursors of vinegar (rising volatile acidity), etc. The faults of natural wine are more present because there are no additives to limit deviations, unlike conventional wines. These wines also follow a well-mastered recipe, which minimizes all risks, so there is little chance of having faults in the wine. To produce clean wines, natural wines without chemical inputs, with an almost non-existent dose of sulfur, the winegrower must have perfect hygiene in the cellar. Its grapes must be worked in a healthy way, to achieve quality harvests, and therefore minimize any risk of deviation as much as possible. A lot of rigor and meticulous work are required of these craftsmen.
How to drink a natural wine?
A natural wine can be drunk in different ways. Academically, according to the basic tasting sheet, natural wine should be tasted calmly, away from odors, with sufficient light, and at a moderate temperature. The wine is first analyzed with the eyes ; you have to observe the color (vintage, type of grape variety). Then secondly, you have to analyze with the nose (primary, secondary, tertiary aromas). And finally, the mouth to apprehend these aromas. All this leads to the conclusion on the quality of the wine. Second approach to tasting natural wine, you have to understand the hazards that it can have. A natural wine, like human beings, has its moods. When you open a natural wine, you don't know if it will be in a good mood or not, and therefore there may be unpleasant smells, reduction phenomena. You should know that it can escape through contact with air (open it before serving it, decant it or even shake it if there is a hint of gas that bothers - or not). Like any average person, natural wine can have good times and bad times depending on the lunar calendar. More particularly, when the winemaker works in biodynamics, and therefore uses techniques linked to astral influences. The lunar calendar evokes different types of day: fruit / flower / leaf / root day. A natural wine will taste best on fruit or floral days, where the aromas are protected and brought forward. On a root day, there is a nice verticality and minerality on the white wines. You shouldn't have a preconceived idea before tasting a natural wine, you have to adapt, try to understand, and trust the wine.
Why does natural wine sparkle?
Natural wine does not necessarily sparkle. On the other hand, there is a technique in the production of natural wine; it is to leave enough high fermentation natural gas at the time of bottling, a technique that serves to protect the wine. It also serves as a substitute for sulfur, and helps protect wine naturally for travel, for example, or to help it age over time too. This phenomenon is rather used by winegrowers for protection but also used to bring freshness to the wine. Due to global warming, wines have an ever higher alcohol content. This phenomenon of gas therefore brings a more airy side to natural wine, a fresh aspect and, in contact with air, the gas disappears (to be decanted or shaken if you don't like it, or tasted like this). So it's not negative. The only downside is that natural wine is not (or very little) protected by sulfur, if it is too hot for example, and if there is sugar left in the wine, it can start fermenting again.
How to preserve a natural wine?
The conservation of a natural wine is very important because it is not, or only slightly, protected by sulfur. It is therefore much more sensitive to climatic hazards, transport, etc. You must therefore keep your wine natural: at a stable temperature, below 14 degrees avoid variations in weather (example: summer) at a humidity level of 70 to 75% keep it lying down, protected from light limit vibrations, transport... If it is open (and you haven't drunk it all), put the cap back on. Sometimes, depending on the phases of the wine, it can be better the next day (especially if it's a young wine, it has a high alcohol content, or high in tannins, sometimes wines need oxygen). You don't decant an old wine either! You know the saying “ you don't shake a grandma ”, it goes hand in hand with an aged wine.
What is the best natural wine?
In general, we realize that we taste a natural wine thanks to its digestible aspect, its dangerous drinkability (the bottle evaporates very quickly). “ Wine must remain digestible, almost thirst-quenching ” - Jules Chauvet . A natural wine is consumed and appreciated according to the tastes and preferences of each; depending on the perception, the emotions will not be the same. A natural wine has an additional side on the aromatic and the concentration of aromas (unlike conventional wines). For example, Marcel Lapierre's Morgon (Beaujolais), pure expression of a natural wine, thanks to mature harvests, fermentation without inputs, all enhanced by a taste aspect, there is a gastronomic side to his wines. Just like the wines of Nicolas Réaut in Loire, who produces authentic, generous and sincere wines.
Where to buy natural wine?
Natural wines can be apprehended, and for novices as well as amateurs, Epi-curieux.com will always invite you to turn to professionals. Professionals like us; on our website, you will find a wide range of natural wines, everyone can find what they are looking for. We do not enter any references blindly, we go to meet the winegrowers to better immerse ourselves in their philosophy and their history, in order to be able to share it with you as well as possible. You will also find us as a wine merchant in Chambéry, we will welcome you with pleasure. Come and discover our wines not only reserved for amateurs. If you are sensitive, if you advocate beautiful values, Epi-curieux.com will make you aware of its unique bottles. And if you are looking for a place to combine “vibrant wines” and a moment of sharing, head to Holy Chips at La Ravoire to spend a memorable moment of conviviality.