Natural wine group marks 15 years of growth at its annual fair in northern Italy. For publication in the week starting 7 May 2018.
VinNatur held its annual tasting and fair in Sarego near the Italian city of Vicenza in the Veneto region of northern Italy last month. It was the fifteenth edition of the natural wine fair.
A total of 160 producers from seven countries presented their natural wines at a beautiful estate known as Villa Favorita.
“Natural wine” is the name given to a product derived from healthy agriculture that rejects the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilisers. Great attention is given to soil quality and its natural balance.
VinNatur was established in 2006 to counteract what president Angiolino Maule believes is the poisoning of the environment through excessive use of chemicals. The association advocates for making natural wine, the name given to a product “derived from a healthy agriculture which rejects the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers,” Maule said.
In conventional viticulture it is possible to use up to 180 active pesticides and another 140 chemicals in the cellar and during wine making. It is not necessary to declare any of these chemicals on the label. Sulphur dioxide is the only permitted chemical, in tiny amounts.
Over the past decade VinNatur has increased membership from 65 wineries in 2006 to almost 200 from nine nations in Europe this year. Members produce about 6.5 million bottles of natural wine a year from about 1,500 hectares. About 5 million of the bottles are made in Italy.
The headquarters are in Vicenza in Italy. Members also come from France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. All producers seeking to join VinNatur agree to have their wines analysed to check for as many as 88 residual pesticides. The aim of the tests is to ensure authenticity of wines and coherence with VinNatur’s principles.
Angiolino Maule said the organisation wanted to go beyond simple self-certification. From this year, people who consumed VinNatur products would know the wines had been officially certified by external laboratories, verifying that no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilisers have been used, he said.
Checks are done every year and are compulsory for any producer seeking to be a member of VinNatur.
Angiolino Maule said his organisation was aiming to get rid of copper and sulphur in vineyards, instead recommending its members use vegetable extracts that help vines build resistance to diseases.
VinNatur collaborates with universities in Trieste, Udine and Florence with the aim of reducing dependence on chemicals. “We work with the scientific community, not against it,” Maule said.
Samuel Cogliati, author of Understanding Natural Wines, said the term “natural wine” had no agreed definition and was “not yet recognised by law”. “Since the law does not provide any framework,” he wrote, “the term ‘natural’ continues to be used ‘at the discretion’ of the user. Recently other wording, including ‘naked wines’, have been preferred.”
In July last year VinNatur sent 80 samples of members’ wines to be analysed to check for traces of 188 pesticides. All came back clean, confirming that VinNatur offers consumers “real guarantees and not simply declarations,” Maule said.
in Europe white wines are permitted to have 150 milligrams per litre of sulphur and red wines 100 milligrams a litre. One milligram per litre is equal to one part per million.
Analysis of the 80 wines revealed that 45 samples contained less than 10 milligrams a litre and the other 35 had less than 50 milligrams a litre.
It was the first time all samples analysed had negative results. In 2016 of 150 samples analysed, four contained pesticides. Maule described last year’s results as “a very important outcome” because it confirmed VinNatur was “moving in the right direction”.
“We wanted to go beyond a simple self-certification. It is important that VinNatur wine consumers will drink wines which have been officially certified by external laboratories.”
All producers who have joined VinNatur in the past five years have had their wine analysed.
VinNatur continues to work on its biodiversity project, supervised by agronomist Stefano Zaninotti from the Vitenova Vine Wellness company in collaboration with biologist Irene Franco Fernandez, botanist Cristiano Francescato and entomologist Costanza Uboni.
They are capturing data from studies of soil, flora and fauna at the vineyards of 17 members. The aim is to develop an appropriate scientific model that allows wineries to understand the most suitable plants for preserving soil fertility which help vines to develop properly. “This will lead to a higher resistance of the vine itself,” Maule said, “further reducing human intervention and getting closer to VinNatur’s aim: a healthy viticulture as naturally-driven as possible.”
Members tend to be small, independent producers from vineyards with low yields per vine. They harvest by hand and pay “special attention to grape integrity”. Grapes are organic which means no insecticides or herbicides are allowed. Members are not permitted to add sugar or acids to modify grape juice, and they also agree to avoid techniques such as micro-oxygenation or reverse osmosis treatment, clarification and micro-filtration. Sulphites are only allowed when weather conditions deteriorate.
The natural approach also extends to the cellar. Only natural yeasts are permitted. “We want to respect the raw materials,” Maule said. The association aims to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the use of sulphur dioxide. The side effects on human health were well known worldwide, he said. This is possible thanks to a constant improvement of spontaneous fermentation, along with selection of the most suitable yeasts, which are already available in nature and which give a distinctive value to wine a far as personality and uniqueness.
Disclosure: VinNatur provided accommodation for Stephen Quinn for two nights while he was in the Veneto region of Italy.