Two Natural Wines We Tried, and Why Natural Wines Could Be Better for Our Health

Natural Wine is gaining popularity as wine drinkers are wanting healthier, less chemically enhanced options. The trend in organic, clean foods is crossing over into a desire for wines with lower sulphites, farmed by real people and with minimal interventions. I’ve been doing more research on them myself, and after listening to a podcast about them this summer, I decided I wanted to try some truly natural wines, and contacted my local sommelier to have her add them to my wine locker. We don’t have many available yet in our small city, but she was able to help me find the ones we have access to. I had tried one of them at a wine tasting previously, (an orange wine – a white made like a red) and I wanted some reds this time, so she gave me two: a Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon, and Our Daily Wines Red Blend.

I am excited to share our opinions of these wines with you, but before I review the wines, it will be helpful to explain what natural wine is, and how it is different than most commercial wines. Natural wine is essentially made how they would have done it in the old days. As you are reading about natural wine’s characteristics below, remember that the opposite is true in many other commercial wines that are on our shelves.

Natural wine is hand harvested, and basically, it’s made with nothing fake or processed. (Organic wineries can still use machines to harvest). The vineyards must be sustainable, organic and biodynamic. See my blog post Organic and Biodynamic Wineries in Kelowna for more information on these practices. No chemicals are used in the vineyard, but natural plant based fertilizers and pest control methods are employed. Natural yeast, or native yeast, is found in every vineyard, growing on grapes and living in the air, and this is the yeast used to make a natural wine. It’s harder to control, as it’s natural, so it can produce unpredictable flavours, even undesirable sometimes, but it’s not formulated in a lab, and this is important to natural wine lovers. To a certain degree sulphites are present in grapes and bottle sanitization methods, but in a natural wine it’s common to find little to none present. (Organic wineries can still use sulphites to clean the equipment and bottles, although many try to keep it to a minimum). Natural wine makers will allow fermentation to stop when the yeast dies either from high alcohol content, or temperatures that kill it off. They also don’t add anything to alter sugar levels, so there’s no simple syrup going into them, nor do they use chemical additives to alter acidity, so you get what you get. There are no dyes or artificial flavours added to enhance appearance or cover up mistakes or unpopular flavours. No fining or filtering agents are used to rid the wine of sediment either, so they’re vegan, and you just need to remember not to pour the last ounce to spare yourself the chunks! (I explain this in my blog linked above as well).

Bonterra – Cabernet Sauvignon from California (labeled as Organic). We dripped on the label, so pay no mind to the purple streak, other than as a color indication!

I did some research on the producer’s website to find out more about their natural practices: http://www.bonterra.com.

They practice organic and biodynamic farming, and they are actually certified Biodynamic, meaning they’re holding tight to all of the practices they should be.

Their tasting notes boast bright cherry, currant and raspberry, with hints of oak and vanilla. I would completely agree with this tasting note. It wasn’t too complex, but there were a few layers, and it still had that California Cab taste, just with a bit less intensity. The tannins were still high, and the finish was medium. The body was a bit less than other California Cabs, but not by much.

I emailed them twice to ask for more specific information about sulphites and if they use them to clean the bottles, but nobody got back to me either time. That’s a bit unimpressive to me; if you offer a place for comments and questions on your website, employ someone to monitor them and respond.

Overall, this was a very good wine, and I would drink it again, gladly.


Our Daily Red – Red Blend from California (labeled as “No preservatives added,” and organic).

I researched this one as well, and this one is truly a natural wine: ourdailywines.com.

Our non-GMO wine grapes are grown without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or any chemicals deemed harmful to the environment. Furthermore, our certified organic winemaking facility allows for only minimal processing and prohibits the use of color, flavor or non-organic  additives and preservatives.

They also have no detectable sulphites, which is extremely rare in the new world.

Sulfites occur naturally in small amounts in a number of foods and also in wine. Winemakers add additional sulfites at various steps during the winemaking process to prevent oxidation and the growth of undesirable yeast or bacteria. At Our Daily Wines, however, we never add sulfites to our wines, and as a result of our care and processes, our wines are among the few commercially available which contain no detectable sulfites. We use natural, technologically advanced techniques to ensure freshness, resulting in wines that are the purest expression of the grapes and vintage.

They checked out in all of the areas I was concerned with in wanting a natural wine.

Now, for the taste!

It was acceptable. It had a bit of a yeasty aroma to it, which is to be expected from a natural wine. My mother-in-law was in the room when I swirled my glass, and without knowing anything about the wine, asked me from across the kitchen if I smelt yeast! It was noticeable, but I wouldn’t say unpleasant.

It was a red blend, and it had typical red fruit aromas of cherry and plum, and maybe some darker fruits like blackberry, but nothing intense. Their tasting note claims bourbon vanilla, but it was very faintly there. They claim a ripe and silky finish; it was balanced, in my opinion, and had a medium finish. It had light to medium tannins and light body, and reminded me of the same intensity as a Pinot Noir style red, although it was much lighter in body than a Burgundy.

Overall, it was a basic, simple wine, but it was perfectly enjoyable, and I liked knowing that it was very cleanly made, and had nothing in it that was bad for me. For people that drink wine a few times a week, it’s nice to know that there are options out there that don’t contain chemicals. Just like organic foods are healthier due to less chemical intervention in their growth, organic wines are healthier too, for the same reasons. They’re naturally grown, how they were meant to be.

I would purchase from either company again, and am curious to try some of their other varietals, if I ever see them in my travels. I encourage you to pick up a bottle of natural wine the next time you’re in the mood for something different, or a bit healthier!

Happy Wine-ing!

Sonoma Valley, Napa’s Not So Similar Sibling

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley almost come hand in hand as a wine travel experience.  People ask if you’ve “done Napa and Sonoma,” and they roll off the tongue as though they are one in the same, but they’re actually quite different.  We visited Napa Valley first, and then went touring in Sonoma Valley.  We were shocked at some of the differences.  I believe our shock came from simply being misinformed, and setting false expectations for Sonoma, based on our experience of Napa.  If I had read an article like the one I hope to provide you with now, I believe I would have experienced a better appreciation for Sonoma at the time.

Let me first clarify that when I say Napa and Sonoma are different, I don’t mean that either one is better or worse; different means different, and that’s it.  Some might say that Napa is superior to Sonoma.  Few might argue that Sonoma is more personable or friendly than Napa.  My stance remains that they are both great in their own right, and they each have much to offer.

There are some things Napa and Sonoma have in common.  They both represent well known growing regions in California.  They share the Mayacamas mountain range running between them, and both have excellently warm weather, breathtaking views, and are blanketed in wine grapes!  They each have a main highway that runs through them, leading tourists and wine experts alike down a trail of near endless exploring from one wine estate to the next.  Wineries offer tours and tastings, and have vast, stunning estates for their guests to enjoy.

There are many things that are different about Napa and Sonoma Counties.  On our visit, we were educated about how the Mayacamas Mountains, standing between Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley, actually block some of the cool current winds that come off of the San Francisco Bay area from reaching Napa Valley.  This keeps Napa’s climate slightly hotter than that of Sonoma’s.  With more of the cooling winds able to reach Sonoma Valley’s vineyards, the grapes are subject to a bit of a cooler climate, which in turn affects their development.  You may be thinking that’s a bit ridiculous, and how much of a difference could a slight breeze really make from that far away?  Well, in the world of wine, it’s a big difference.  Believe it or not, grapes can actually change in taste from one owner’s plot to the next door neighbours, even within the same small region.

All of this means that certain grapes will not grow as well in Sonoma as in Napa, and vice versa!  It can also mean that the same grape will taste different if it’s grown in Sonoma rather than Napa.  The winemakers in each region have been at it long enough to have figured out the exact climates and micro-climates of their particular vineyards, and they seem to be doing a fabulous job!  Remember, neither is better or worse; it’s a matter of preference to your tastes, whether you like warmer or cooler climate styles of each grape varietal.  Enough about all of that for now.  To sum up, the wines from Sonoma Valley are going to taste different than the wines from Napa Valley.

Another difference I wish I had been prepared for was the type of experience we were going to have in SOME Sonoma wineries.  After coming from Napa wineries, I had some expectations in my mind regarding curb appeal, staff dress, staff language and overall etiquette on the grounds.  I must make this clear; one winery we visited, which will remain un-named, certainly does not represent all Sonoma Valley wineries, but it was found among them. The place was difficult to find, and we had to drive down a long, windy dirt lane.  When we pulled up, we weren’t even sure we had arrived at the right spot.  Upon going in, we discovered some of the staff to be dressed in dirty, very casual clothes.  One of the men had his socks pulled up to his knees inside of his sport sandals, underneath poorly fitted denim shorts.  There were dogs running around though the tasting area.  Once I heard the word “butthole” come out of one of the staff’s mouths during a tasting, I knew this particular winery wasn’t within my preference.

We finished the tasting, and made the most of it, but I wouldn’t recommend that particular place to just anyone.  If you desire a very casual environment where you can bring your dog into the tasting area, and you’re looking for more of an affordable, weekend cook-out style of wine than the expensive, 100 point stuff, the wineries you’re looking for are not found in Napa Valley.  I do believe there IS a place for every type of winery in the market though, and Sonoma definitely has more diversity in its estates.  If I had known what I was getting into, I could have come with the right mindset, and enjoyed it for what it was – it may not have been my preference for language and dress, but it was a casual and relaxing environment, where anyone would be warmly welcomed.

I will note that we also visited some very high-class, professional, gorgeous estates in Sonoma Valley, which exceeded our expectations and delivered a five star experience, at a more affordable price than the Napa Valley wineries.  For example, B.R.Cohn, and St. Francis were both exceptional tours that I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone!  Domaine Carneros sits in between the Napa and Sonoma Valleys at the south end, and has exceptional reviews; we didn’t get the chance to visit it ourselves, but it is well known and reputable.  If you enjoy sparkling wine, I would take a chance on saying it’s the place to be.

The price differences compared to Napa Valley are something you’ll notice right away once you get into Sonoma Valley wineries.  Don’t let the comparatively lower price of a Sonoma bottle fool you into thinking it’s not as good as one from Napa.  Price per acre of land in Sonoma and Napa Counties in general is very high, and can range up into the millions; however, Sonoma price per acre does tend to be a bit less than in Napa. Hence, Sonoma wineries don’t need to charge as much.  They also don’t have quite as much prestige behind their name as their neighbour, which is all the better for us consumers!  We get amazing quality wine, and I would argue that it’s just as amazing as Napa Valley wine, but at a lower price point.  Some of our favourite wines are from Sonoma; they do an exceptional job at making the grapes they grow into amazing, award winning wines that score very highly with countless sommeliers.

“Pretentious” is a word used by some to describe Napa Valley.  A dictionary would tell you that this means Napa is attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed” (dictionary.com).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say Napa doesn’t actually possess its importance, talent, or culture; Napa Valley vintners have invested in their prime location for grape growing, developed stunning estates, acquired a vast knowledge, and have developed an expertise.  They produce a quality product.  However, in the grand scheme of history, European countries have been producing wine for centuries, and Napa was only put on the map in the 70’s; it’s a baby still, yet it’s competing with the Grandparent wines of the world, and breaking all of their rules on top of it.

Napa Valley wine IS expensive, and is highly raved over by certain wine-lovers, simply because of its name, before they even know what is inside the bottle.  Some would argue that it doesn’t warrant its price, but I won’t discuss that here.  Napa wine is often very full bodied and bold, and has specific taste profiles.  If that profile isn’t someone’s taste, they’re not going to think Napa’s is the greatest wine in the world.  It would be a fair guess that most of Europe would hold that viewpoint! Sonoma produces a quality product as well, but has a more approachable atmosphere for a wider range of people.

The best way I can suggest you determine which place you like, is to visit both of them.  They’re so close together geographically; it’s quite easy to do on one trip!  Go into both experiences with an open mind, and maybe you can enjoy them equally, and soak them in for their own personalities and styles; they both do offer so much style.  Either way, you’re going to be served excellent wine, in an exceptional setting, hopefully with the ones you love.  Happy wine tasting!