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Making Natural Wine

"Natural is what the wines emphatically are. “Natural” is a notoriously difficult category to define, and a contested one, but there are very few wine ranges in South Africa that meet the more rigorous standards, which would include hands-off, additive-free winemaking (not uncommon these days, especially in the Swartland) but also organic viticulture (that’s the really tricky bit). As to truly minimal sulphur content, that’s even rarer (and the most contested of the requirements). Dragonridge wines, however, meet all of those standards. "
Tim James, South African Wine Writer

Read the article here

What is Natural Wine?

by Winemaker Johan Simons.

This is a question often asked of us. Isn’t all wine natural because it comes from grapes? The answer is no, it isn’t!

Making natural wine starts in the vineyard. The vines, for example ours, are farmed organically – which means no herbicides or pesticides are used. We do, in fact, weed our vines by hand which is rather a long and expensive business. All vineyards everywhere are sprayed against fungi of various kinds. Usually systemic poisons are used and sprayed high in the area to reach as many vines as possible. But of course this poisons a large area too. We use hand-sprayed sulphur (both copper and sulphur are considered organic measures) so that a minimum is used. Thereafter nothing.

The grapes are picked by hand and then brought to the winery – in our case travelling an average of 500 metres – and there they are crushed and de-stemmed, pressed lightly to avoid bitter tastes, and then put into tank or barrel. Nothing is added. Fermentation occurs through the wild yeasts that live on the grape skins and the sugars are in the grape and never added. Manipulations occur only around how long they care kept on skins or in barrel, or how they are later blended.

This is very unlike commercial wineries where yeasts are added sometimes with particular flavours, and various other chemicals added or extracted. If the wine is too dark, colour is extracted. If too light, colour is added. With so much interference the worry is that the wine won’t be stable over time so sulphur and other chemicals are added.

Sulphites occur naturally in wine. We aim for minimal sulphur so that free sulphur in the wines is between zero and ten parts per million. The average for a natural wine is forty parts per million free sulphur, which makes us extremely unusual and means hangovers are very unlikely.

I was very shocked when visiting a commercial winery nearby to discover a pile of chemicals twice as high and my body, of stuff that was to be added to the wine. Of course I do understand that this allows the wine to be homogeneous from year to year – but still . .  all that rubbish in my body????? And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that while all food requires ingredients to be put on the label, wine doesn’t. So you’ll never know what you are really drinking.

Well this is not how we work. Our wine is au terroir. In other words we make the wine of the year. Each year the challenge is to make wine which reflects that particular season. This means, for example, that our Pinotage for 2015 had an alcohol content of 15%, while the same wine of 2016 had an alcohol content of 11%. This is just how it is. You get it how it is that very year.

We also don’t filtrate or fine, which means sometimes tiny crystals form on the bottom of the bottle. Commercial wineries filter and fine using various substances so that this doesn’t happen.

Natural wine making is truly an alchemy. An alchemy of chance and design. We make authentic wine in an authentic way. Yields are low (we don’t irrigate our bush vines at all) but flavours are therefore intense. And you can rest assured you are getting healthy wine good for your body if not for your taste buds.

Oh and the cherry on the (egg free) cake, so to speak is that all our wines are vegan!

Drinking Dragonridge Natural Swartland Wines