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AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NATURAL WINE MOVEMENT IN TUSCANY

My favorite Tuscan wineries use organic or sustainable approaches to winemaking. But what is it all about? Read Carlo Pandian's take on the biodynamic and organic wine movement in Tuscany. 

When you think of Tuscan wines, the words natural and organic probably aren’t the first to spring to mind. More likely you'll think of Chianti Classico or the bottles hailing from Montalcino – Italian appellations that incorporate the history and tradition that the region is famed for. Nevertheless, like in other winemaking regions throughout the world, a committed group of producers have contributed to the growth of natural wines in Tuscany in recent years. But what is 'natural' wine and how has this philosophy impacted upon this famous area?

The tying up of the vines at La Maliosa winery near Saturnia
Manual only vineyard work at the biodynamic winery La Maliosa in Southern Tuscany

Unlike the terms organic and biodynamic, which are often grouped under the same umbrella, natural wine has no legal definition or method of certification, being more of a general term to encompass a way of thinking that determines certain winemaking choices. Whereas organic certification stipulates that the grapes used have been grown with no chemical intervention, calling a wine ‘natural’ is more of an indication that the producer strives to make their wine with minimal technological and chemical interference. The natural approach takes things beyond organic certification, which focuses on vineyard practices only, and doesn't regulate yet what's happening in the wine cellar

For a wine to be labelled ‘biodynamic’, the already organic vineyard must have been subjected to the very specific nine biodynamic preparations advocated by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. This thinking has a more spiritual bent, influenced by a belief in the impact of lunar movements and the natural rhythms of nature. Whether a producer decides to follow an organic or biodynamic route, these methods can both be described as ‘natural’. 

So how has this thinking influenced Tuscan producers? Like I mentioned before, Italian wine is still more closely associated with tradition over something that many perceive to be more new wave and modern. But throughout Tuscany, there is a constantly growing number of wineries, which adopt more natural practices.

One of those taking the step further to organic certification is Gualdo del Re, situated in Suvereto in Southern Tuscany. The owners felt that seeking out certification was essential in securing the trust of increasingly environmentally-conscious customers. La Fornace, run by the Gianetti family is a good example of a sustainable producer in Montalcino. The estate's Brunello wines prove that it is possible to adhere to the traditions of a famous wine region whilst adopting a more modern, ecological approach. And Tenuta Fontodi has shown that using biodynamic methods in Chianti Classico can produce great results.

Vineyards of the Col d'Orcia winery. Montalcino's biggest organic Brunello producer


The success of these producers proves that the natural wine movement has well and truly taken hold in the most traditional of areas, with Tuscany now having over twice as many organic producers as any other leading wine region in Italy. 

Whereas some in the trade have suggested that the natural wine ‘fad’ is on the wane, the enthusiasm for its results in both passionate producers and interested consumers shows that this is more than just a passing phase in Italian, and more specifically, Tuscan wine production. And despite its ‘modern’ label, what could be more traditional than a passion for a natural process that expresses the true nature of the Tuscan terroir?

Carlo is an Italian expat based in London who loves wine. Get in touch with him @carlopandian.

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