“Vin méthode nature”, the natural wine method, new private natural wine label, with fuzzy rules

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There has been a lot of writing about “vin méthode nature”, the natural wine method, a new phenomenon in the French natural wine world. This has sometimes been affected by misconceptions or ambiguities, so here is an attempt to explain what “vin méthode nature”, the natural wine method, is and what its status is in France.

We have looked in a fair amount of detail at this and at natural wines in general. (Read our article Natural wine, what is it?)  Natural wine is very much in focus in some media these days, but often in a slightly vague framework.

Origin and status of the natural wine method

This is how I see the situation today for “vin méthode nature”:

In much that has been written, one easily gets the impression that “vin méthode nature” is something that has the support of, or was even initiated by, French authorities. That is not the case. It is a private initiative, run by the association “Syndicat de défense des vins naturels” (which I will call SDVN below), and functions much like a brand. Read our short introduction to vin méthode nature from when it was introduced.

Vin méthode nature has been “approved” by the authority DGCCRF (*), which means that it is allowed to put the text and logo on the label. However, this does not mean that the DGCCRF (let alone the INAO) has initiated or supported the definition or that the authorities see it as a first step towards an official definition. (Possibly, the association that created it, SDVN, can hope for this, but that is another matter.)

(*)”Direction générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des fraudes”, a consumer and competition authority, including local subdivisions called Directions régionales des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l’emploi, DIRECCTE.

Logo vin méthode nature, sans sulfites ajoutes

We asked INAO (Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité) which replied: “It is a private initiative and a private label for which the actors alone are responsible. INAO is not responsible for this marking.”

Whether it is a “breakthrough” for “natural wine” or not can perhaps be discussed. There are several other organizations that have made their own definitions of what “natural wine” or a “natural wine method” is. Perhaps the most prominent is VinNatur in Italy, which organizes more wine producers than SDVN, around 170 in 10 different countries. (Read more about the Italy-based VinNatur in this article.)

In short, this means that those who are part of the “Syndicat de défense des vins naturels” have been given permission to put their logo and text on the label, and they may be the first to get such a permission in France.

Today, at the end of 2020, just over a year after the association was created (16 July 2019), there are around 50 wines with that label. 120 of the association’s 300 members are wine producers.

They say they are open to members from countries other than France. But at the same time, according to our information, the association has not taken any initiative to approach VinNatur in Italy, and has not even contacted them.

Vin sans sulfites, SO2, "no sulphites" on the label is a questionable text, sometimes seen on natural wines
Vin sans sulfites, SO2, "no sulphites" on the label is a questionable text, sometimes seen on natural wines, copyright BKWine Photography

The rules for “vin méthode nature”

SDVN has published a fairly concise set of rules on what is required to call a wine “vin méthode nature”. Here is what applies according to SDVN’s information:

  1. The grapes must be organically grown and the property organically certified, or at least in the 2nd year of an organic conversion.

It can be AOP / AOC wine, IGP or “vin de France” (without specific origin). They also welcome (in principle) producers from other EU countries.

  1. Manual harvesting.
  2. No added yeast.
  3. No additives in the wine cellar, except sulphur, see below.
  4. No intentional modification in the composition of the grapes is permitted (”Aucune action de modification volontaire de la constitution du raisin n’est autorisée”).

What “intentional modification” means is unclear. SDVN has not explained the matter further in the manifesto.

As far as I know, pressing and crushing is allowed. (It would be difficult to make red wine without crushing and pressing.)

  1. No “brutal or traumatic physical techniques” are allowed in production.

Exactly what this means is not clear, but examples include reverse osmosis, filtration, tangential filtration, flash-pasteurization, and thermo-vinification.

Comment: this is also a rather unclear point. Temperature control could be seen as a “brutal or traumatic” technique, as well as destemming, but as far as I know, this is not forbidden.

  1. Sulphur/sulphite must not be added before or during fermentation. However, sulphur can be added at the bottling.

There are two types of logos/certifications, depending on what the producer does, see below under point 9.

  1. Producers must present the rules when participating in trade fairs and the like.
  1. Two different logos can be used:

Vin méthode nature“: if the producer does not add any sulphur at all, not even when bottling. The sulphur contents of these wines must not exceed 20 mg/l.

Vin méthode nature, sulfite <30 mg/l“: if the producer adds sulphur/sulphite at bottling. The sulphur contents of the wine may be a maximum of 30 mg/l.

Note: These limits do not refer to how much sulphur is added. The figure (<20 or <30 mg/l) indicates how much sulphur is present in the wine at bottling according to a chemical analysis. (If an addition of 30 mg/l was allowed, the sulphur contents of the wine could be much higher.) In other words, even a “vin méthode nature” can contain a certain amount of sulphur.

Logo vin méthode nature, avec sulfites ajoutes
  1. The producer must make a declaration of honour every year and for each cuvée.
  2. The wines that do not follow the “vin méthode nature” must be clearly different (ie have a different label).
  3. The producers are personally responsible to the association and all information must be available online.

As you can see, many of the rules are more “political” than technical and in some cases quite vague. The technical rules are similar to e.g. VinNatur, but differs in the details on some points. For example, VinNatur has slightly different levels for sulphur contents and they allow filtration. VinNatur is also clearer in its rules regarding what is allowed and what is not allowed.

An official definition of “natural wine”?

Is this a step towards an official definition by the authorities of “natural wine” or a “natural wine method”, as some have argued?

No, I do not think so. I rather think that it will continue as one of several alternative definitions of what “natural wine” is.

Cépage libre chenin, Nicals Reau, label in the revolt spirit of natural wine
Cépage libre chenin, Nicals Reau, label in the revolt spirit of natural wine, copyright BKWine Photography

One thing that further points in this direction is that many “natural wine” producers do not like rules at all, but consider themselves rebels who want to be outside rules and frameworks.

And one can also ask, do we really need rules for this somewhat curious phenomenon, which today gets a lot of attention, but which is still a fairly small niche?

More background:

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