Wine, Unfiltered

Buying, Drinking, and Sharing Natural Wine


By Katherine Clary

Illustrated by Sebastian Curi

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 28, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A friendly, charming, and beautifully illustrated introduction to the world of natural wine — where to buy it, what it tastes like, how to share it, and why it matters.

What makes a wine “natural”? And why does it matter? In Wine, Unfiltered, Katherine Clary, author and creator of the Wine Zine, tackles these questions and many more — like the difference between organic and biodynamic wines, and whether natural varieties really prevent hangovers — to give readers a holistic picture of the thriving world of natural wine. From grape varietals to legendary vintners to the best way to navigate an unfamiliar wine shop, this accessible, witty book is an irresistible exploration of the cutting edge of wine.

Perfect for both natural wine novices and seasoned drinkers, Wine, Unfiltered offers an unpretentious look at what makes natural wine so special. Sections on growing regions, building your own wine cellar, and how to taste a ‘living wine’ will impart readers with the confidence to finally explain what natural wine is at a party, ask a sommelier a question at a restaurant, or convince a reluctant family member to make the switch from conventional to natural wine. Vital information and nuanced opinions are broken out into digestible bites, alongside bold illustrations, in this essential read for anyone interested in the rapidly expanding world of natural wines.






ALTHOUGH I’D BE HAPPY ENOUGH TO JUST GO through life blindly enjoying natural wine, things really clicked for me when I began to think of the wine I was drinking as food.

No, I wasn’t thinking about wine as a meal replacement. Instead, I started to wonder why I cared so much about where my eggs came from, but not where my wine came from. The more I began to connect wine with agriculture and our overall food system and understand it as a thing created with a fruit that came from the earth, the more sense it made to seek out wine in its most unadulterated form—one that hadn’t been processed, manipulated, colored, and so on. The more I understood wine as being a source of nourishment when consumed in moderation, the more eager I became to learn about each individual vineyard and why its grapes were planted there in the first place; about the path that the winemaker took to becoming a vintner; about the hours, days, months, and years spent toiling away at perfecting this thing, all so I could enjoy it.

Of course, not everyone wants to know that much about a beverage. And there are also countless ways that society prevents certain groups of people from accessing good food, or even information about good food. But after finding out what had been in my wine all those years I was drinking it, I felt I had been cheated. I thought I had been drinking something—fermented grapes—when I really wasn’t—instead consuming fermented grapes with preservatives, sugar, and synthetic pesticides and flavoring agents. No wonder I lacked any sort of emotional connection to the wine I had been drinking: I hadn’t ever really known what I was consuming.

Enjoyment, pleasure, community, nourishment—many would agree that wine was once about all these things, but modern wine culture has replaced pleasure with a point system and excitement with submissive refinement. “Correct” wine is supposed to taste the same all the time. No surprises here!

I understand why wine can be intimidating, what with the sniffing and swirling and chewing. These practices exist for a reason, of course, but it’s also possible to understand and derive pleasure from a wine by simply… drinking it. Of course, a little introspection or presence while you’re drinking goes a long way, too. But it doesn’t have to be very difficult: sometimes you’ll taste a natural wine and enjoy it in the purest, most elemental way. It’s enough to get you both lost in the romance of the thing and acutely aware of the elements that created it. This is what we lost when we started drinking wine zapped of life: our ability to follow our senses and trust them.

And it isn’t just wine that changed—farming has, too. Where we were once planting diverse crops and filling our fields and vineyards with animals and insects and flowers, we now predominantly have thousands of acres of monoculture*: rows and rows of perfectly engineered grapes or corn or soybeans, picked with machines and often packed with cheap labor.

Natural wine importer Jenny Lefcourt of Jenny & Francois Selections was one of the earliest to begin importing solely natural wine to the United States. She explained it this way: “There’s a political side [to drinking natural wine], which is about not polluting the earth. And then there’s a taste side. To me, natural wine tastes better. I’d rather eat a tomato picked out of a garden that smells incredibly good that might be lopsided or have green on one side and red on the other side, but the smell is just pure pleasure. And for me, [natural wine] is like that. There’s a bouquet, an aroma, there’s acid—there is so much going on, whereas a more techno wine tends to be one flavor, one thing. So to derive more pleasure from a wine and be better for the planet at the same time? I mean…”

Grapes that are farmed and fermented naturally are the ones that, for me, seem to have retained a bit of soul and history: they stay true to the land, and so did the people who cultivated the grapes. And I agree with Jenny: they tend to taste better. Or at least they taste like something.

Many would also agree that natural farming creates wines that just feel better to drink. Why is that? As you read on, you’ll learn about all of the things that are not in natural wine and, consequently, not making their way into your body.

Though wine was made without synthetic additives and advanced cellar technology for millennia, natural wine, as a movement, has its roots in and around 1980s France. One such historymaker was Marcel Lapierre, a young winemaker in Beaujolais who had taken over the family domaine but was becoming disillusioned with the hypermanipulated style of winemaking common in the region at the time. In the 1980s, Beaujolais wine (also referred to by the grape most common in the area, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, or simply Gamay) was an overproduced, high-alcohol* sugar bomb. In 1981, Lapierre met Jules Chauvet, a winemaker and chemist, who championed old-world-style winemaking and railed against the conformity and soullessness that had become so present in the winemaking of that era. To say Lapierre was inspired is an understatement; he went on to be a part of what is referred to as the “Gang of Four”* with three other local winemakers: Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard, all of whom wanted to return to the original practices of viticulture and winemaking: no synthetic herbicides or pesticides, minimal to no sulfur, and never adding sugar to spike alcohol levels. The Gang of Four went on to influence many other winemakers with their philosophy of hands-off winemaking and grape growing. (And though this group is known for kicking off natural wine as a movement, it’s worth noting that the people of the Republic of Georgia are perhaps the true pioneers of not just hands-off winemaking, but winemaking in general.)

Today, the tenets of natural wine are not much different. Remember, tradition reigns in this camp. You’re not likely to see natural wine techniques evolve dramatically over the decades, because that’s really not what this sort of winemaking is about. And despite not having any legal definition or regulation, there is a general understanding about what practices natural winemakers follow in the vineyard and the cellar.

The guidelines below are by no means written in stone and are gathered from various sources throughout the world of natural wine, from the aforementioned Gang of Four all the way to present-day natural wine advocate, founder of RAW Wine Fair, and Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron. She shared her perspective on the wine she likes to drink: “My personal preference is to drink wines that are as close to 100 percent organic fermented grape juice as possible, which means no additions and nothing removed (no fining, no filtering) either. I can tolerate up to about 50 ppm total sulfites (or 50 mg/l—the two measurements are equivalent) for wines I drink, but ideally under 30 ppm is definitely preferable.”

A commitment to adding no synthetic chemicals and preservatives, including animal-derived enzymes.

Additives are put in wine for a variety of reasons: to give a wine more depth and body, to clarify or alter the color, and to add certain aromas or flavors, such as oak. Fifty (or more) ingredients other than grapes can end up in a single glass of wine. No wonder it’s so difficult to get ingredients added to a wine label—how would it all fit? For instance, in conventional winemaking isinglass is often used to fine, or clarify, the product. This is a kind of gelatin derived from the bladders of fish. Egg whites (or albumen) are also frequently used to mellow out red wines by absorbing harsh tannins as well as to fine a wine.

Made with grapes grown without synthetic pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, otherwise organic (or noncertified organic).

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in 2018, synthetic pesticide residue was found to be present on 83 percent of grapes grown in the United States. These chemicals have been linked to all sorts of illness and disease—and their presence isn’t just limited to the offending vineyard. The chemicals used in conventional vineyards are frequently found in adjacent properties after being carried over by the wind. (One winemaker I spoke to in California actually maintains the first two rows of a conventional vineyard that abuts his property to treat it as a “buffer” from the chemicals being sprayed). On the other hand, grapes grown naturally use nonsynthetic treatments to ward off insects, weeds, and disease, such as cover crops and plant-based sprays. Sulfur is also used as a spray in the vineyard to combat certain diseases, such as powdery mildew, and is considered a key fungicide in organic vineyards.

Only using native or indigenous yeasts.

Yeast is a crucial component in the fermentation process—when it’s added to or present on grapes early on in the winemaking process, it eats the fruit’s natural sugar and converts it to alcohol. Instead of the commercial or cultured yeast strains used in conventional wine, natural winemaking utilizes native—also known as indigenous, ambient, or wild—yeast that is already present in the cellar and on the grapes and their vines. By contrast, cultured yeast is typically used to kick off fermentation in conventional wines. It’s often employed by winemakers working with huge quantities because of its consistency and strength. Natural yeast is slower and more difficult to control, but it can contribute to more complex aromas and textures in a wine.

A minimal amount, if any, of added sulfur dioxide.

The presence of sulfites in wine is perhaps the most widely debated topic in the natural wine world, and most agree that the least amount possible is what winemakers should strive for. To be clear, sulfur dioxide is a natural by-product of fermentation, so there will always be trace amounts in wine. However, winemakers will also add sulfur to stabilize and preserve their wines at bottling, sometimes in excessive amounts. As for final sulfur levels in a wine, natural wine tends to have anywhere between zero and 30–40 parts per million.

Grapes must be harvested by hand, not machine.

There is a good reason behind the decision to hand-harvest grapes. Hand-harvesting allows winemakers to choose grapes that are at the optimal ripeness and condition for winemaking and lowers the likelihood of grapes being broken prior to fermentation, which can introduce bacteria and start fermentation earlier than preferred. Debra Bermingham of Bloomer Creek Vineyard (US) explained it this way: “Have you ever picked raspberries at a berry farm? If so, you know that not all of them are ready at the same time. You always want to pick the best berry, right? That’s how we feel about grapes. A machine would just pick everything, whereas we want to choose the best grapes for what we’re trying to do.”

No flash pasteurization.

Flash pasteurization is the process of heating up a wine dramatically in a heat exchanger to kill off bacteria, then cooling it down. As one might imagine, this kills a lot of the original qualities of a wine, and it’s not something that is permitted in natural winemaking.

Minimal to no filtration and no fining.

As I mentioned before, fish bladders (isinglass) and egg whites (albumen) are two substances used to fine, or clarify, conventional wines. However, fining and filtering have the unfortunate effect of stripping a wine of tannins and other molecules that can define its character. A conventional winemaker will typically filter a wine using various materials to remove sediment and dead yeast, which is discouraged in natural wine; that’s why you’ll often see sediment at the bottom of natural bottles.

No heavy manipulation or advanced technology in the cellar.

Cellar technology in modern winemaking arose in the 1960s and has only become more and more prevalent in the modern cellar. This includes reverse osmosis and spinning cone technology, which are both methods that can reduce alcohol levels in wine, and cold stabilization, which chills wines in order to keep tartaric acid crystals from forming after a wine has been bottled. (Natural winemakers will simply leave these crystals if they form—they’re harmless.)

No chaptalization.

This is the process of adding sugar to wine in order to spike alcohol levels and increase the its body. A winemaker will do this for multiple reasons, one being if the grapes are picked when they are underripe—often an issue from machine harvesting and not knowing what grapes you’re working with—and therefore unable to produce the desired alcohol levels or body in a wine.

Keep in mind that all wine requires some intervention; it doesn’t make itself. Agriculture is, after all, a human invention, and all wine requires labor and precision—even the most natural, or, I would argue, especially the natural. Wine isn’t magic, even if it might sometimes taste like it. But most wine today is engineered to be a product, and thus devoid of the life that it’s capable of expressing when we simply allow it to.

Prior to switching over to drinking natural wine, I never understood why most wine made me feel so terrible. Having a couple glasses of white wine with a friend would give me a caffeinated, sugar-speed feel, leaving me waking up all throughout the night. A single glass of red wine would give me stuffy sinuses and a foggy brain that didn’t seem to let up for at least a day. Why was it that wine would do this, but other alcoholic beverages wouldn’t? When I discovered how much was added to my wine beyond the grapes, it was clear that something wasn’t sitting right in my body. That alone was enough for me to make some conscious changes about what I was willing to consume.

Dr. Andrea Young, D.O., a physician in California, explained the effects of sulfur to me via email. “In sulfite allergic or asthmatic individuals added sulfites can be quite dangerous, even in small quantities. Consuming products with sulfites could cause a wide range of adverse effects including anaphylactic and asthmatic-like reactions in this small population of individuals. For the rest of us, excess or added sulfur is still not recommended. Sulfites are a natural by-product of the winemaking process, so do we really need to add more? Just another chemical for our liver to detox. My rule of thumb is to choose wines (and foods!) with limited or no added sulfites. Choose a glass of natural wine and read the label the next time you throw dried apricots in your cart.”

And what else tends to be in nonnatural wine, you must be wondering? I won’t suggest that the following is in all conventional wine, but if you’ve had wine in your life, you’ve likely consumed a handful of these chemicals or additives: polyoxyethylene 40 monostearate, silicon dioxide, dimethylpolysiloxane, sorbitan monostearate, glyceryl monooleate and glyceryl dioleate, dimethyl dicarbonate, polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, ferrocyanide compounds. The list goes on…

But I know—you like the wine you like, and that’s fine. Is Two-Buck Chuck your go-to on a hot summer day? Cool! Is a big 14 percent ABV California Cabernet Sauvignon your pick for a housewarming gift? You’re too kind! I’m not in the business of shaming anyone who drinks what they like, but I am here to advocate for another—and, I would argue, better—way.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have enough to worry about, Katherine. Do I really need to pay so much attention to my Pinot Grigio?” You might not know it yet, but there are a lot of reasons to, whether they are environmental or about taste, health, or economics. Let’s address some of the more common questions swirling around about natural wine:


By now we know all natural wine must be made with grapes grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, which technically would make them organic. Conversely, not all Certified Organic Wines are natural. How does that work? Currently Certified Organic Wines (at least in the US) can still have high levels of intervention in the cellar, though it’s worth noting that they cannot have any added sulfites. Organic wines are also permitted to have additions like oak chips brought in to alter the flavor and fining agents to clarify the wine—no good in the natural world.

There are many layers to organic winemaking, which I’ll spell out in greater depth in the next chapter. For now, know that wine can be Certified Organic, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, or simply include organic grapes in addition to conventional ones. As similar as these things may sound, they can lead to vastly different results. Because organic wines can still have excessive amounts of manipulation and technology used in the cellar, they don’t necessarily fall within the realm of natural wine.


Industrial agriculture—and all that it entails—is a wildly destructive practice, yet it’s something that enables us to function in our modern lives. The harmful and sometimes lethal effects of chemical pesticides and herbicides, whether spread through the air or leached into our soil, have been well known for decades. Fertile earth has been drained of its nutrients through, ironically, the use of synthetic fertilizer. In many ways, more restorative and organic farming processes seem like an answer to our agricultural problems. So, is natural wine going to save the world?

I won’t go that far. But knowing we can slow the impact of polluting our waterways with chemicals, draining our soils of vital nutrients, and disrupting countless ecosystems and habitats by simply farming better certainly makes it all worth a shot. In chapter 2, I’ll also discuss the various farming methods that stand in opposition to conventional farming, like organic, biodynamic, and permaculture, all of which make a commitment to avoiding added synthetic chemicals into the land and approach their vineyards with a more ecological worldview. There are also other sustainability efforts that some natural winemakers employ, like using indigenous or hybrid grapes that are more appropriate to their growing region and can thrive with less intervention and increasing biodiversity on their vineyard sites. Here Christian Tschida, a winemaker in Austria, goes into depth on his efforts to increase biodiversity.


Public Service Announcement: Although I will regularly use the phrase “wine is food,” it’s obviously not the equivalent to a full, nourishing meal. Moreover, just because natural wine lacks the garbage present in conventional wine, it must be said that it’s not health food.


On Sale
Jul 28, 2020
Page Count
176 pages
Running Press

Katherine Clary

About the Author

Katherine Clary is a writer, editor, and producer based in New York. She is the creator of the Wine Zine, a bi-annual publication makers, purveyors, merchants, and drinkers of natural wine.

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