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Natty Wine Tasting

Forget everything you've though about in wine and come with an open mind to try some wines that will redefine your wine vocabulary. We'll be crossing boundaries between rustic, naturalistic, and hands-off wine making approaches.

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Fossil and Fawns very dark rose of pinot noir and their eclectic Oregon white blend composed of 50% Riesling, 20% Savagnin Rose, 15% Gewürztraminer, 6% Fruilano, 6% Melon de Bourgogne, 3% Kerner

“Natty Wines” is  new,endearing, term for wines of another mind-set that have preconceived notions about their condition.  Often referred to as “Naturalistic”, “Raw”, “Rustic” or “Hands-off, Nattys are making a splash in the wine world and I, for one, am hoping it’s not just a passing trend!  Trend is really a blight to this conversation as the modern mindset toward wine production is a relative new chapter in the history of wine production. Most commercial wines these days are so sterile and lifeless that one could easily equate them to off-season tomatoes; anemic, flavorless and emotionally detached soulless zombie orbs.  LIke the off-season tomato, most wines are made to be shelf stable and along the way the fruit that goes into them is stripped away or back-sweetened or over-oaked. This trend is relatively new and certainly came along with humanity’s era of Industrialisation and Modernization. Certainly, Nattys existed at least from about the turn of the 20th century (I’ll place it at pre-Prohibition) all the way back to the very first human experiments with the fermentation of  alcoholic beverages along the time of Chinese mead making in 8,000 BC.

Today’s Natty wines can be interpreted as: Unfined, unfiltered, no chemicals added (such as sulphites, color stabilizers, yeast nutrients, enzymes, modern yeasts or oak additives.)  They are processed with a hands-off approach and they may incorporate the combination of grape varietals that are conventionally thought of as unlikely pairings along with winemaking techniques generally frowned upon by the modern wine maker.  Generally speaking, the modern production of wine is brainless and predictable. Natty wine production, on the part of the winemaker, requires verve, instinct and a whole lot of faith. If I were to take poll of winemakers, I would bet that producers of Nattie wines are Right-Brained!  And, it’s not like Natty winemakers are lazy or untrained as the opposite is true. A Natty winemaker really has to pay attention the pH and ripeness of the fruit before harvesting as this relationship is what protects the wine from spoilage. There is a babysitting mentality that Natty winemakers embrace; from working vineyards with non-motorized equipment to personally hand picking / selecting clusters and foot stomping the fruit as it ferments.  It’s for this reason Natty production is small, limited and coveted.

I’m going to presume that this new evolution of Natty wine making began with The Gang of Four.  In the 1950’s, importer Kermit Lynch coined this term for 4 winemakers in the Beaujolais region:  Marchel Lapierre, Guy Breton, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Jean Foillard.  They actively took back older traditions of wine making that, as Lynch states, “called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification: starting with old vines, never using synthetic herbicides or pesticides, harvesting late, rigorously sorting to remove all but the healthiest grapes, adding minimal doses of sulfur dioxide or none at all, and disdaining chaptalization.” It was a direct protest against the use of chemical fertilizers, wine additives and the dumbing down of wine.  Hence, five standards that defines a Natty.

  1. Organic grapes, grown without the use of artificial chemicals.
  2. Wine prepared by hand using artisanal techniques.
  3. Made using traditional winemaking processes that enable balance.
  4. Creating a living wine, with low intervention in the cellar.
  5. Promoting wellbeing in individuals & communities.

Honestly, what you most likely will find is a practice of Natty winemaking called” La lutte raisonnée”.  Translated 'the reasoned struggle' means that a Natty winemaker is not afraid to pull out a hat trick to save a vintage...if, that is what it takes to keep the vintage from becoming “dump grade” wine!  

What can you expect from a bottle of Natty?  First, it is most likely not pristinely clear.  It may have a sediment range that varies from a slight haze to down right chunky.  You may occur wine diamonds, those crunchy bits of tartaric acid that drop out of solution when room temperature wine gets cold.  The wine could have a slight effervescence from a bacterial fermentation that converts malic acid to lactic acid...don’t worry, it’s a natural occurrence that is prevented with a chemical additive called “sulphites”!  Thirdly, you should expect a wine that is very fruit forward as producers of Nattys tend to use neutral oak barrels as well as native yeasts which are NOT going to give your overwhelming esters of such compounds like pear, apple, tropical fruit, etc… What you should expect is a true expression of the fruit based on where it was grown.

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Swick sparkling rose' of pinot and still pinot rose'.  Bring it.

The following is a partial list of Natty wine producers that I am familiar and that we support and will be showcasing at the tasting.

Fossil and Fawn,  Eola-Amity - “We aren't too interested in bold manifestos or style declarations - our goal is to make wines that we like. We've found that the kind of wines we like, and thus the wines we make, are executed with a natural approach that allows the vineyard to do the talking. That means instead of buying yeast, we culture it from the vineyard itself, with no other additives or enzymes. It also means as-little-as-necessary sulfur additions and aging all of our wines in barrels, with very little new oak. The minimalist, natural approach is a nice way of saying we do things the hard way, by-hand.  The upside is that we end up with wines that we like. Wines that have acidity, structure, and balance that will brilliantly compliment dinner tonight, or be a worthy reward for patience after a few years in the cellar.”

Maloof, Dundee, Oregon - “yin and yang”  Ross and Bee are the spirit behind their project and a mantra that is clear and strong;  “Eat pizza, suck glass.” Besides, how could you not want a glass of “Where’s Your F*cking PJs At?”?

Swick Wines, Newbeg, Oregon - Raw wines produced from organically farmed vineyards of Oregon and Washington.  Joe Swick states, It starts in the vineyard with organic or biodynamic grapes. Swick chooses that fruit wisely because, as he says, if “you’re trying to make a living wine, you start with living fruit.”

And that is what I like most about these producers...their intentions are sincere, honest with no sugar-coating about how lovely their deck is and why their driveway is the longest.  We look forward to seeing you Friday!

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Maloof's Riesling proves that you are a bunch of gems because you are reading this!  Ross and Bee's "Where ya **** PJs at?" is a quirky blend of 65% Pinot Gris from Johan Vineyard blended with 35% Riesling from Nemarniki Vineyard, both in Willamette Valley. The Pinot Gris was vinified with 50% carbonic maceration and 50% skin contact, aged in neutral barrels; the Riesling was raised in stainless steel.