Sussex and the south of England is one of the world’s most celebrated emerging wine regions, particularly for premium traditional method sparkling wines. Yet the region – with its unique growing climate and new wave of talented wine makers – is also challenging the notions of what the future of English wine can be. Nick Mosley talks to Tom Flint of Bottle and Jug Dept in Worthing about the growing trend – and demand – for natural wine.
There’s no formally agreed definition for what constitutes natural wine yet there are a few foundations upon which the movement has been built. Firstly, the grapes must be grown to at least organic standards, but not necessarily certified. Official organic certification can be a costly and time-consuming challenge for small vineyards.
Secondly, the wines must be fermented using the naturally occurring ambient yeasts in the vineyards, typically yeast spores from the air. Finally, there must be nothing added or taken away from the wine. It is a minimal winemaking approach, whereby the wine is not chemically or physically altered beyond what is deemed natural.
In contrast conventionally made wines can use many additives and processes to alter everything about a wine – from its colour and taste to the alcohol content. Sulphur Dioxide is the big one people talk about and it is useful in small quantities to prevent oxidisation. However, it is also used to sterilise the grape juice in conventional wineries so that inoculated yeasts that impart flavours can be used and also allows for corner cutting.
Tom Flint is the owner of Bottle and Jug Dept in Worthing and has been a long-standing champion of not only locally produced Sussex wines, beers, ciders and spirits, but also of drinks that challenge the expectations and palates of imbibers.
“We all think of wine as being a natural product”, said Tom. “However there are no laws in the world that stipulate you must list the ingredients that go into a bottle of wine. If you’re someone who wants to know what you are putting into your body, then natural wines are the way to go. They are made from grapes with small amounts of sulphur sometimes added at bottling, nothing else”.
Natural wines tend to exhibit brighter and fresher flavours, with an exuberance and vibrancy that aren’t necessarily present in volume produced wines. They are also extremely varied in terms of their style. There are ‘funky’-tasting wild wines that aren’t to everyone pallet but there are also very traditional tasting wines for someone seeking something more familiar.
Natural wine is not a new thing. For example, in Georgia they have been making wine this way for 8,000 years. As a production method, it’s a return to pre-industrialisation and it is gaining in popularity as people seek to protect the land and make wine that is more genuine.
“We have wines from countries including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and even Finland alongside the more classic winemaking regions in the shop”, said Tom.
“Natural winemaking is getting more popular in the UK and in Sussex we have people like Tillingham Vineyard near Rye and Davenport near Rotherfield flying the flag”, said Tom.
“Both of these vineyards already have a fantastic reputation beyond the borders of Sussex. I am certain we will see more people making wines naturally, experimenting with the styles such as Pétillant-Naturel naturally sparkling wines alongside their more traditional offerings.
With less additives, will choosing a natural wine reduce the prospect of a hangover?
“I would say they do but – as with anything – if you overindulge you are not going to avoid the consequences”, said Tom.
“Put it this way, if you are going to drink alcohol isn’t it better to drink something that is pure and been made correctly so that it is just the effects of the alcohol your body has to deal with and not anything else”.
For those interested in finding out more about natural wines, Tom encourages visits to his shop – Bottle and Jug Dept – at 21 South Farm Road near Worthing station. Wine Wednesday runs weekly with 10% discount at the shop and online.
“We’re also excited to be collaborating with Level 1 in Worthing over the August Bank Holiday weekend with a pop up natural wine bar and will also be hosting a Pétillant-Naturel and Pizza tasting as part of this”.
Discover more at www.bottleandjugdept.co.uk