Lo-fi wines: Taste the wildlife


Carlotta Piccinini

Natural wines. Photo by Carlotta Piccinini. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Henry Sims, Reporter

The lo-fi wine movement, commonly referred to by drinkers as the ‘natural wine’ movement, has taken the Australian wine market by storm.

Over the last ten years menus in bars and restaurants have increasingly catered to lovers of this particular type of wine. Although even describing it as a ‘type’ might be seen as controversial.

The difference being that these wines come free of additives and manipulations that are common in the traditional wineries across Australia. They are often sourced from vineyards that are 100% organic or biodynamic, although contentiously that isn’t always the case.

The term itself is debated – with no Australian or international body defining what exactly constitutes a natural wine. Producers are able to market themselves as natural or lo-fi wines without needing to define exactly what makes them ‘natural’.

In Western Australia the debate rages.

Throughout the Swan Valley and the Great Southern wine making regions, lo-fi winemakers who subscribe to different schools of thought have cropped up. Producing sought-after products with different methods of production.

One of the main arguments concerns the use of sulfur dioxide in the process of winemaking.

Sulfur dioxide helps these wines travel. It also kills of yeasts in the bottle that can produce a taste referred to in the industry as ‘mousiness’ – a taste akin to the smell of a mouse cage.

On the one hand there are the purists such as Sam Vinciullo, who produces wines that use no sulfur, and instead carefully monitors pH levels to control rogue yeasts.

Speaking to the New York Times, Mr Vinciullo said: “Every time I spray sulfur in the vineyard, I die a little inside”.

Local wine bar Wines of While, in Northbridge, agrees with his hard-line philosophy. They exclusively stock wines that subscribe not only to the rules around additives, but are also sourced from vineyards that are 100% organic or biodynamic.

This means no pesticides are used on the grapes – something that increases the risk of disease or insects damaging the vineyard’s product.

Writing for the Australian Financial Review, Max Allen views the stringent rules as no different to the conditions in the Australian wine market that allowed lo-fi products to thrive in the first place.

“Effectively, natural wine kicked off as a reaction against the perceived industrialisation of wine. It’s a revolution or reaction against one kind of orthodoxy, now replaced with another orthodoxy,” he said.

Referring to the scoring system used by wine critics, and some benchmark classic winemakers, he said: “There are too-cool-for-school venues out there that have imposed a strict policy on what they’ll accept … what difference is that from the mid-’90s not stocking your wine if it is less than 96 points from Parker or Halliday.”

Andrew Hoadley, the owner of La Violetta, sees things the same way.

He chooses to use a process free of most additives and intervention, but doesn’t use the phrase ‘natural’ due to his own use of sulfur in the bottling process, as well as a philosophical rejection of the hard-line nature of such a phrase.

For most casual drinkers of lo-fi wines, these debates are purely academic. Many drinkers prefer the newer, open and accessible styles of wine. Compared to the traditional styles governed by the shows and award systems that have influenced our wines for so long.

For those drinkers, Left Wine 2019 is a chance to try the wares of a number of winemakers from all over Australia operating on the fringes of the industry.

Featuring sixteen lo-fi wineries, Left Wine is a wine expo that offers punters a chance to taste, buy, as well as vote for their favourite products of the day.

Left Wine 2019 is  at Si Paradiso on May 11, 2019. Tickets are available from here.