Natural wine is a much-debated topic in the wine world and beyond. When most people hear the term “natural wine”, they think, “But isn’t all wine natural?” This is where the debate can start. Much of the wine we drink would not be considered natural. Unlike the other food and beverages we consume, winemakers aren’t required to put ingredients on the back label. At a high level, natural wine is a wine made with nothing added or removed during the winemaking process. Below we’ve put together a list of the health benefits of natural wine to help people understand the differences between natural wine and conventional wine.
Natural wine is lower in sulfites
Sulfites or Sulpher Dioxide (SO2) are typically added to wines as a preservative. They’re common in many of the foods you eat on a daily basis and are in fact legally required to be present in wines sold to the American market. Sulfites can be problematic for between 3-10% of the population, and it’s rumored (although unconfirmed) that consuming wine with a higher volume of sulfites can lead to worse hangovers the next day. Anecdotally, our college days of drinking cheap wine can confirm that this is true. That said, if you want to avoid a hangover, just drink a ton of water and less alcohol.
Since natural wines are required to contain sulfites just like any other wines, there's no way to get around it completely. However, they are certainly lower than their conventional counterparts. For example, one of our French natural wine's from Domaine Mamaruta, Un Grain de Folie, contains less than 20 mg/L sulfites as opposed to the allowable up to 350ppm allowed in the US, with the average for dry white wine at 100 mg/L and an average dry red wine having around 50–75 mg/L.
Natural wine is additive-free
Consumers are becoming more and more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies. We’re trying to reduce corn syrup in our cereal, monitor trans fats in frozen food, and steer clear of anything with an ingredients label we can’t pronounce. Why would you treat your wines differently? The list of officially approved wine additives is long and includes things like Alumino-silicates, mega purple, sugar, and more. Trying to keep your drinking additive-free? Natural wine is the only way to go.
Natural wine is usually organic
We know everyone has their own definition for natural wine, including us (check out our page on What Is Natural Wine?). That said, it’s pretty commonly agreed-upon by industry professionals that natural wine is made with as little intervention as possible, and that goes for both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Conventionally-grown grapes often use pesticides like Roundup to help the farming process.
Meanwhile, many natural winemakers follow (with varying degrees of strictness) biodynamic principles that encourage things like cover crops, natural pest avoidance, and other methods that reduce reliance on chemical compounds. If you want to learn more about biodynamics and the vintners that practice it, check out Voodoo Vintners by Katherine Cole - one of our natural wine reading recommendations.
One note on certifications - organic and biodynamic certifications aren’t cheap, especially for winemakers trying to make ends meet on small plots of land. In the U.S., organic certification ranges between $200-$1,500. If your favorite natural winemaker isn’t certified organic, this could be the reason.
There are many other reasons people choose to drink natural wines over conventional wines. We love them for their taste, their stories, and the people that make up the industry. That said, these natural wine health benefits are a great reason for health-conscious people to consider trying out natural wines. Low sulfites, no additives, and organic winemaking are some of the top benefits of natural wine.
Holly Berrigan is the Founder of MYSA Natural Wine. She has a WSET Level 3 certification with Distinction, is a member and writer for the Porto Protocol and Slow Food USA, and is a student in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge.