Though the term is widely used, “natural wine” does not formally exist, as no legal definition had been enacted anywhere in the world. A topic of passion and discord for decades among winemakers and consumers, the category is finally about to receive its first authorized designation, in France, under the terminology Vin Méthode Nature (Natural Method Wine).
This is a key evolution for a growing segment of the wine industry. The use of the word naturel (natural) has been forbidden by current European legislation and has led to prosecution (the only exception being the grandfathered Vin Doux Naturel, a designation for sweet wines).
As of press time, “Vin Méthode Nature” is still only a private trademark designed by the Syndicat de Défense des Vins Nature’l. Three producers, Gilles Azzoni, Jacques Carroget and Sébastien David, created the syndicate in October 2019, after David lost a legal battle and was ordered to destroy one of his cuvées, Coëf, due to an excess level of volatile acidity. They consider the syndicate a trade union, and not a simple association like the historical ones such as AVN (Association des Vins Naturels) or SAINS (Vins Sans Aucun Intrant Ni Sulfite (ajouté)). This choice of structure gives them a more legitimate voice of negotiation with the French authorities. As opposed to original groups of influence consisting only of producers, this union’s board members are a diverse collection of wine professionals and amateurs, including lawyer Eric Morain (who famously defended vigneron Alexandre Bain in Pouilly-Fumé), journalist Antonin Iommi-Amunategui (creator of the wine fair Sous les Pavés la Vigne), retailer Guillaume Petit de la Perrelle (petitescaves.com) and anthropologist Christelle Pineau (who dedicated her PhD to natural wines). The goal is to build a large following and develop some political clout. One of the reasons previous official attempts at reform were dismissed was that the groups advocating change were small; AVN and SAINS never numbered more than a hundred members.
Other points specify the use of the group’s logo in marketing. By December of each year, producers will submit a list of cuvées to be approved. To protect the consumer, cuvées not falling under the method will have to be marketed differently. Random checks will take place throughout the year. The commitment is made in good faith, as the union wants to hold to the ethics of the natural wine movement—the charter doesn’t define any winemaking style, nor is it a quality-control structure with tasting panels, as practiced by France’s AOCs.
In March 2020, subject to a three-year trial period, the labeling got its first thumbs-up from the DGCCRF (the French Fraud Control Office); prior to the approval of this charter, the term “natural” on a wine label was grounds to indict a winemaker for fraud. The labeling also has been presented to other wine trade unions: the CNAOC, Vins IGP, the organic associations FNAB and France Vin Bio and the union of cooperatives. The Vin Méthode Nature union is also working on a task force with France’s INAO and Ministry of Agriculture to make the label officially legal.
Currently, the syndicate numbers more than 200 members, mostly French, along with some Swiss winemakers. To date, 60 cuvées from the 2019 vintage received the labeling, all of them from France, the only country to recognize the designation. However, the union’s goal is to gain approval for the seal at the European level within the next five years.