Try this: bring up the topic of natural wine in a few different settings, and see how varied the responses are. I’ve done this. I enjoy doing it, in part because it helps me understand just how much work we have to do in exploring this topic. But it also worries me.
Take one recent encounter: I was at a lauded concept restaurant with friends. They insisted that I look over the wine menu, and I acquiesced. I was unfamiliar with most of the producers listed, so I asked the waiter: “Do you have any wines made with native yeast and minimal intervention?” He didn’t seem to understand the question, so I rephrased it. “Do you have any natural wine?” His response? “No. We don’t carry wines like that here.”
It was interesting. He was a bit indignant, I imagine at his sophisticated restaurant being associated with what the popular idea of natural wine is: jewel-toned, funky wines in clear bottles with crown caps and artsy labels. That’s because our idea of natural wine is often dominated by the hype around those same bottles. What worries me is that, if we allow ourselves to believe that natural wine is a style, a flavor, then we miss out on what it really is, and really has to offer.
Natural wine is a philosophy. One that asks us to return to sustainable, transparent ways of growing and making wine. One that was founded on pre-industrial farming and vinification techniques. And it includes first-class producers that we know and love. Natural wine can present classically, it can bear black script on white labels and come in deep green glass bottles, it can be refined and elegant, it can redefine what the word “balance” means, and electrify our palates.
In the interest of, well, great wine, we’ve selected six of our favorite producers that you would never know are natural. They’re masterly, elegant, and outstanding in every regard. And part of what makes their wines so incredible is their unique connection to the land, and complete dedication to transmitting it in every bottle. Enjoy.
Thierry Germain, Loire Valley
Alongside his longtime winemaking partner Michel Chevret, Thierry Germain creates outstanding natural wines as Domaine de Roches Neuves. This charismatic vigneron moved to the Loire with his family from Bordeaux in the early 1990s. At the time, he began turning out heavy, tannic, excessively oaked reds. It was the style, what’s a guy to do?
Luckily for us, Thierry didn’t simply shrug his shoulders and ride along with the tides of taste — because make no mistake, those big bold reds he was turning out were in vogue at the time. No, like a good parent, Thierry listened to his kids. Aka, his vines. Meaning he stopped messing with them so much in the winery and started listening to them more in the vineyard. He was also inspired by Lalou Bize-Leroy of DRC and Domaine D’Auvenay fame to stop trimming his vines. (And he’s not the only one on this list who sought to emulate that queen of Burgundy, for good reason.)
Now, Thierry is one of the most renowned producers in the Loire, and he’s doing it all biodynamically and organically. All his harvests are manual, and his wines are made with indigenous yeast and unfined and unfiltered. Exactly our definition of natural.
Diego Molinari started out as a pilot for Alitalia, but when he retired, he decided to pursue his dream of opening a winery. In 1977, he set up shop on the famed slopes of Cerbaiona. There, he crafted cult-status Brunello di Montalcino until his second retirement. He took inspiration from the neighboring Biondi-Santi estate and had a strong respect for history and traditional winemaking techniques. In fact, he modeled his Brunello not on the trends of the time, but the tastes of Sangiovese’s past.
The famed estate, as of 2015, is under new ownership. With Matthew Fioretti at the wheel, Cerbaoina has gone through somewhat of a makeover. Extensive replantings coupled with renovations of the winery — formerly, Diego operated out of a small church cellar — have brought Cerbaoina into the present. But Matthew still values those things that made it so cult-worthy in the first place: tradition. Organic farming and native yeast fermentation might be the checked boxes that put Cerbaiona squarely in the “natural wine” camp, but the philosophy of looking to the past is what really does it for us.
Fun fact: Before Brunello di Montalcino was taking names and numbers, the Sangiovese grown on this prolific slope was simply called Cerbaiona. It was, and remains, stunning. In large part due to the exceptional site.
Evening Land, Willamette Valley
Sashi Moorman and Rajat Paar didn’t found Evening Land, but they’ve made it what it is today. First friends, then business partners, they go beyond simply applying biodynamic or organic treatments and are committed to a concept called vineyard sensitivity. It’s a practice that requires listening to each site, each season, to understand how it operates and what it needs.
For example, in their Seven Springs vineyard, they don’t irrigate at all throughout the summer. The dense clay of the area holds so much water that it acts as a reservoir and keeps the vines hydrated all summer long.
Since becoming stewards of the project in 2014, Sashi and Rajit have fallen in love with the site. In 2021 they initiated the process of purchasing the vineyard. They work with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted there in the 80s. Their winemaking style is very much inspired by Lalou of Domaine D’Auvernay — they bonded over her wines when they first met.
It’s very much a restrained, balanced style — one that prioritizes the site and the vines and the season. And why wouldn’t they? Just looking out around the Seven Springs vineyard, nestled into its forest of Douglas Firs and peppered with wild vegetation, you get the sense that this is a very special place.
Peter Lauer, Mosel
The wines of the Saar have a magical quality to them. But Florian Lauer’s wines, well, they just are pure magic. The current leader of Peter Lauer creates wines that deviate considerably from those of his neighbors, who lean toward crafting exquisite Rieslings with more residual sugar to balance the naturally high acidity achieved in such a cold climate. Florian, on the other hand, is one of two producers in the area that look less for residual sugar and more for crystalline, perfectly dry Rieslings. Still balanced, still electric, but a slightly different approach.
He’s also concocted his own system of classification, one that seems more Burgundian than Germanic; he classifies his wines by levels of site-specificity. Additionally, everything is fermented with native yeast.
If you’re going to drink natural Riesling, let it be Lauer.
Arnot Roberts, California
Here’s another project founded by friends. Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts are California winemakers who are completely dedicated to their search for balance and site-specificity in their wines.
They began Arnot Roberts in 2001. Their style is very much “Old World:” whole cluster, native yeast fermentations, and old oak. The key to their outstanding wines is their vineyards. Or rather, the vineyards they source from. Duncan and Nathan are négociants. Meaning they source fruit from other farmers.
But not just any farmers, and not just any vineyards. From the outset, they have set themselves to uncovering vineyards that had never been tapped to their full potential before. And they only partner with vineyard owners who grow organically whenever possible and with minimal environmental impact.
Champagne Fleury, Côte des Bar
There’s always going to be a demand for Champagne. A high one. That, coupled with the high prices many grape farmers fetch for their fruit, means there is little incentive to adopt biodynamic or organic practices that, while yielding higher quality Champagne and better soil health, yield less fruit. But that’s exactly what Jean-Sébastian Fleury, the current leader of Champagne Fleury, does.
Champagne Fleury was founded in 1895 by Jean-Sébastian’s great-grandfather, in the southern part of the Champagne region. Originally, like many grower-producers in Champagne, the family was selling their grapes to larger houses. But in the 1930s, when the price of fruit dipped too low to be sustainable, they began bottling their own Champagne.
The switch to biodynamics didn’t come until the 1970s, under the leadership of Jean-Sébastian’s father. They fully converted in the 1990s and haven’t looked back since. They’re one of the first Champagne producers to adopt biodynamics in the area, but others are following suit.