Is Low-Intervention Wine the same as Natural Wine?
Sort of. Keep in mind, none of these terms have technical definitions so you kind of need to read between the lines a little bit and take these things with a grain of salt.
So what is low-intervention / minimal-intervention winemaking?
Well firstly, what is intervention in the first place? Things like chemical "fertilizers," mechanical harvest machines, additives (such as sugar, commercial/cultured yeasts, food colorings, acidifiers, tannin powders, oak chips), and the aggressive use of new American oak barrels as aging vessels (as opposed to used, old French oak barrels). ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE INTERVENTIONS. They would not be interacting with the crop if we did not invite them to.
A minimal-intervention approach aims to highlight and express the grape variety, the vineyard, and the growing season.
So you have the low-end conventional wineries pumping out oceans of low quality plonk with high profit margins to sell in your everyday grocery stores. But you also have the "high-end" conventional wineries that market themselves as luxury (cough cough most of Champagne/Napa/Bordeaux cough cough), meanwhile they're taking short cuts and manipulating their fruit to make wine that tastes the exact same every year regardless of what's happening in the vineyard and what the weather did during the growing season. They're producing commercial products, while I like to think minimal-interventionists are creating art.
So if natural / low-intervention winemaking is a process, a method, a philosophy... what's the point of it???
The aim is to express the terroir with as much purity as possible. In theory, the less us humans interfere with the winemaking process, the more the final product will illustrate that particular parcel of vines in that particular year's growing season. So it's tough to make an argument that a wine is terroir-expressive when...
- You're spraying chemicals in your vineyards
- "Correcting" natural sugar levels with granulated sugar
- Inoculating the grape juice with yeasts that are not indigenous to the vineyard from which they came
- Adding food colorings, tannin powders, oak chips, etc.
Like anything else, there's a sweet spot. If you take a dogmatic natural approach and prioritize the extremes of no-intervention over terroir-expression, there's higher chances of your wine will not being very shelf stable. It's tough to represent your terroir when your wine tastes like vinegar, kombucha, or worse: a hamster cage.
Here is a side-by-side of practices that natural zealots and minimal-interventionists would agree and disagree over:
In conclusion, on the one hand, there are some dogmatic natural wine advocates who can let their passion blind them from their original goal: to express terroir. On the other hand, you have self-proclaimed "minimal-interventionists" who may have gotten a little soft with their beliefs over the years. Nonetheless, if my wine tastes good, is terroir-driven, and doesn't harm the planet, I could give a shit if it was fermented in a refrigerator or not.