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Natural Wine Labels Are Famously Opaque—and Winemakers Are Angry About It

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Heartbroken proprietor and winemaker Roland Velich crossed out the labels of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages of Weingut Moric Sankt Georgen Grüner Veltliner. Starting in 2016, Velich’s labels instead read: “Serious wine from a gorgeous place that we are not allowed to mention on this label because this wine was disqualified by Austrian officials as being oxidized, reductive, faulty and atypical for the grape variety.”

Authorities had barred Velich from writing the name of the place from which the wine hailed. As a new wave of artisanal wine producers around the world face similar disqualification, the industry begs to answer the question: Where does natural wine production fit in with current winemaking laws?

The Disparity Between Natural and Modern Wine Making

Many natural wines are prohibited from stating the regional designation, not to mention the specific vineyard, in which the wine is produced. This is often because the wines are designated “atypical” for the region based on a variety of reasons.

For example, France’s Vin de France, Austria’s Wein aus Österreich, Italy’s Vino di Tavola and others. In best cases, the label can mention a larger geographical area, like, Weinland in Austria. But these areas tend to encompass so many distinctive wine regions that their appearance on wine bottles says little to the consumer.

Bottles disqualified based on being “atypical” are often made with century-old wine production methods. They hail mostly from organically-farmed vineyards, are handcrafted and may have minuscule traces of sulfur added before bottling. In comparison, the industry standard is dominated by heavily-processed wines, fruits with exposure to synthetic sprays and additives and the use of technologies detrimental to the environment. So, while these natural wines are being called “atypical,” current “typical” varieties process wine in multiple ways that are fairly new to the industry.