Imported from Europe and cultivated from East Coast to West Coast, natural—or “natty”—wines are seeing increasing popularity in the U.S. Their status as hand-grown and all-natural makes them stand out among other wines. “So many people, especially in Southern California, are ever critical of the kinds of foods they consume and where they come from,” says Glen Knight, owner of The Wine House in Los Angeles. “The same sentiment is extended into wine.”
While organic and biodynamic wines require rigorous industry certifications, natural wine producers have blazed their own trails off the official radar screen, forgoing expensive regulatory processes. Natural wine has become an underground phenomenon—nothing is added or taken away from the wines. A lack of filtration often makes natural wines appear cloudier and leaves more flavor and residue in bottles. “It’s similar to what they do sometimes in the high-end beer business, where they make it really funky with some yeast,” says Jon Notarius, wine director at Premier Wine & Spirits in Amherst, New York.
Younger adults, as well as adventurous drinkers looking to try new wines, are driving the segment. Notarius sees a mix of consumers. “There are people over 50 buying these, but is generally it’s a much younger demographic,” he explains. “People are looking to try new things and natural wine is one of the things that have gotten people’s attention.” Notarius adds that many of the customers who purchase natural wines are wellness-minded drinkers looking for healthier beverage alcohol options.
The Wine House’s Knight also notices a younger audience for natural wines. “Those seeking out natural wines are typically 25-35 years old,” he says, adding that social media plays a large role in making younger consumers aware of natural wines. “The word ‘natural’ is a huge buzz word.”
Natural wines are even breaking into the mainstream convenience store beverage alcohol retail tier. “We started selling them about two months ago,” says Andrew Mendez, vice president of operations at Mendez Fuel, a gas station convenience store chain with four locations in Miami. “It’s becoming a big deal right now for me. It’s increased my sales of wine big time.”
Mendez has more than 50 SKUs of natural wines at his main store at 3201 Coral Way in Miami. Popular options include offerings from Lo-Fi Wines, Martha Stoumen Wines, and Las Jaras Wines. Other top sellers in natural wine include Gulp Hablo ($16 a 1-liter) from T. Edward Wines and Come Together and Blinded by the Light (both $20 a 750-ml.) from the Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard.
Premier, meanwhile, displays some natural wines in display racks near the organic and biodynamic wines, but the majority of them are placed all over the store. Top-selling natural wines at Premier include Cos Pithos Bianco ($35 a 750-ml.), Bodegas y Vinedos Attis Sitta Laranxa ($25), Vina Echeverria No Es Pituko Chard ($13), Phaunus Pet Nat rosé ($27), and the Occhipinti SP68 line ($33). “They’re pretty expensive wines for the most part,” Notarius says. “There has to be a certain expectation of higher quality.”
The Wine House is currently closed to foot traffic due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but during normal times the store’s wine buyers post shelf talkers indicating winemaking and farming practices. Popular natural wines at The Wine House include Meinklang Weisser Mulatschak ($19 a 750-ml.), Domaine Glinavos Paleokerisio PGI Ioannina sparkling wine ($13 a 500-ml.), J. Mourat Chenin De Jardin ($15 a 750-ml.), Ampeleia Unlitro Ampeleia ($19 a 1-liter); and Cruse Wine Co.’s Monkey Jacket red blend ($27 a 750-ml.).
Although still small in stature, natural wines are a growing part of the wine landscape. “The natural wine scene is here to stay,” Knight adds. “With regular improvements in organic farming and incredibly knowledgeable winemakers, the quality of natural wine will only improve.”