My neighbor Bob has been making wine for awhile, in the driveway and garage of his Portola Valley home. A couple weeks ago I helped bottle last years batch, in preparation for the new harvest. “I like it as is; we don’t doctor the wine or add anything to it. Let the grapes speak for themselves.” Ummm… just pick, squeeze and bottle? Kind of gutsy, don’t ya think? (Bob doesn’t even put on a foil) He’s really passionate about his wine o’natural. It tastes raw-ish, yeasty, cleaner, clearer somehow. I don’t know how to describe the experience.
Bob first told me about his tendency go natural sittin’ round the bar at the Parkside in PV. I’ve heard a lot more since then about the growing trend; wines made with little-to-no added sugars, cultivated yeasts, additives or sulfites. One might describe them as organic on steroids, because many are also biodynamic, dry-farmed, unfiltered, low-alcohol and hand-picked. Even Paleo or Keto can relate to the lower carbohydrate, alcohol and sugar content.
Now let’s be clear, people have been fermenting grapes and making wine for millennia without removing or adding things, but the practice has fallen out of favor at large production wineries that use food science to make wines more agreeable with the average palette.
Enter Dry Farm Wines, a Napa-based company on a mission to spread the good news about natural wine. “Mass produced alcohol is a toxic substance, and the health evangelist in me doesn’t like it,” says Founder, and guy-with-coolest-shoes, Todd White. “I love wine, but I don’t like all the alcohol, preservatives, additives and sugars. We are the largest buyer of natural wines in the world, and we lab test everything we buy. Dry Farm Wines curates only the highest quality natural wines from small, sustainable family farms that meet our strict standard of health.”
I got a chance to taste Todd’s wine at Oak & Violet, Menlo Park’s airy, local foods, bar/restaurant/open space, named after the city’s official tree and flower. We reviewed the restaurant last December.
They serve lunch and dinner, and the open courtyard is a perfect place for happy hour with the gals. An updated menu offers a number of tasty dishes starring vegetables including Japanese Eggplant with Black Garlic Yoghurt ($9),
and Broccoli and Cauliflower with Citrus aioli and Cashew ($9).
Order a few of the creative veggie sides and make a meal. When you go, ask the bartender which wines on the menu are “natural,” and experiment for yourself.
“Wine is the only major food product that is not required to have a content label,” says White. “76 additives are approved by the FDA to put into wines, contributing to a host of negative responses including headaches, hangovers and allergies.
Best Health magazine lists potential additives in conventional wines include sugar to boost alcohol; egg whites, milk products, gelatin and fish bladders to remove off-flavors; calcium carbonate (chalk) to lower acid; and tartaric acid or citric acid to increase acid.
“I want no part of it, says White, “I want to drink smarter. We don’t sell anything over 12.5% alcohol. Our wines are expressions of taste and pleasure. When a wine is alive and free from overreaching modern influence, it expresses nature joyfully and perfectly.”
a sampling of Dry Farm Wines
It’s important to note that natural is not a regulated term, and there is no official certification process, so get to know your source. Dry Farm wines has created its own certification process. Find them, and other natural buyers, online.
I was skeptical about the flavor difference when first introduced to natural wines, but now realize the authenticity they offer. It’s a new way to explore the world of wine, and I’m gaining an appreciation for the style. Like any alcohol however, appreciate in moderation; the American Heart Association recommends one or two drinks (4 oz each) per day for men, and one drink for women. They make no distinction between natural wine and conventionally-made wine.
photos by LSIC