In the modern era of food and drink labeling, “natural” is a very loaded term. Manufacturers of everything from breakfast cereal to peanut butter have adopted the word and other healthy-sounding language to appeal to today’s evermore discerning consumer. Such is the case with so-called natural wines, a rapidly growing genre within the wine industry. Whole books are being written on the subject, and the movement is uniting winemakers across both old and new worlds. From a macro perspective, the category (essentially the vinicultural answer to craft beer) is still something of a niche product, accounting for less than one percent of the global wine market, according to one estimate. And yet its surging popularity is already creating “tensions” within the wider wine establishment, Bloomberg Business reports, while citing a poll that 65% of 21- to 34-year-olds are "interested" in natural wine.
Critics point out that there is no official definition for the term, so any producer can put the word on its bottles, regardless of whether pesticides or other additives are used in the process. Moreover, labels that don’t use the “natural” descriptor may be unfairly dismissed as lower quality simply through omission. Proponents, meanwhile, characterize the backlash as a desperate response to a threatened status quo.
As it stands now, winemakers generally don’t list the additives they use on their bottles, a glaring lack of transparency that is almost unparalleled in the wide world of food and drink. That could all change, of course, if the natural-wine movement keeps gaining momentum, pressuring the industry as whole toward greater disclosure. And if that happens, false advertisers won’t be able to hide behind their phony naturalist labels so easily, making the establishment’s chief complaint somewhat moot.
Of course, plenty of other products are already required to reveal a full list of ingredients on the packaging, and plenty of consumers still get suckered in by the bigger, bold-print buzzwords like “natural.” So the level of information may be different one day. But the choice for wine drinkers would be essentially the same: Spit or swallow?
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