An Early History of Natural Wine 1639-1906
I was reading David White’s Terroirist website on July 10, 2013 when I came across the latest news about the natural wine movement in the form of posts by Lettie Teague The Actual Facts Behind the Rise of Natural Wine and Alice Feiring Natural wine, believe and desire. I have stayed on the sideline about this subject though I did once express my frustrations with awful and unstable bottles of un-sulphured natural wine. For the record, I have enjoyed bottles of un-sulphured natural wine. In such books as Jamie Goode’s Authentic Wine, the modern natural wine movement is traced back to Jules Chauvet in 1970. During my research for the Murder and Thieves posts I can across early references to natural wine. Curious about the early use of this term I decided to conduct broad research. For this post I have relied on Google eBooks and a few other digital archives. I have focused on the period marked by the first English search result for natural wine, dated 1639, to 1906 when the House of Representatives passed the Pure Wine Bill.
Part 1 – “naturall wine”
The First Epistle of John speaks to the sacramental wine transubstantiating into the blood of Christ. In early writings I find references to the terms natural, bread, wine, and the blood of Christ. Martin Luther wrote in 1520, “it is an article of faith that in the natural bread and wine the true natural body and blood of Christ are present”. The Saxon Visitation Articles of 1584 describe the “true and natural body…and natural blood…of Christ” and that the body and blood of Christ are received “by the mouth, with the bread and wine; yet in an inscrutable and supernatural manner.” John Knox writes “of Wine into his natural Blood“.
The early use of the term natural wine dates back to at least 1639. Henry Ainsworth writing in Annotations Upon the Five Books of Moses, the Book of the Psalmes and the Song of Songs writes “For by the Beloved, usually in this Song is meant Christ: by going to righteousnesses (or according to righteousnesses ) that is, going aright, straightly or directly, is signified the nature of pure wine, manifesting the goodnesse by the moving and springing in the cup, where by it is discerned to be the right and naturall wine, and is pleasing to them that drink it.” In writing about communion Richard Mason comments in 1670 that one may just receive either the “Species of Bread” or the” Species of Wine” and still receive both the “Body and Blood of the Saviour”. He notes the Greeks and most of the Orientals give the sick “only the consecrated Host, in natural wine” for the sick receive the Species of Bread on Maundy Thursday. This association between natural wine and the blood of Christ survives forward. In 1813 Paul Holbach differentiates between the miraculous wine that Christ transmuted from water being even better than the natural wine which had previously just been drunk.
Both pure wine and natural wine were used in the same sentence by Henry Ainsworth. A very early reference to pure wine may be found in the Calendar of the plea and memoranda rolls of the city of London. Dated 8 November 1327 it was noted “The King is given to understand that vintners and their taverners, selling wine by retail in the City and suburbs, mix weak and corrupt wine with other wine and sell the mixture at the same price as good and pure wine, not allowing their customers to see whether the wine is drawn in measures from casks or otherwise, to the great scandal of the City and in corruption of the bodily health of the purchasers.” Thus a mixture of wines was not a pure wine. Later references to pure wine allude to its strength. “Which who so drinkes, although his draught be small, Stumbles as if pure Wine had made him fall.” In a “Cure of a moist distemper” published in 1624, both the roasted flesh of middle aged beasts and “pure wine, that is mightte to drinke” are prescribed, though administered seldom.
Shortly after these publications a refinement of the term pure wine starts to appear. “They may drinke water alone, but not wine mingled therewith, unlesse they have a dispensation; that which is pure wine they call wine of the Law; this perhaps was one among other reasons, why they were of old, mistaken to have worshipped Bacchus”. Pure wine was also not sophisticated nor imbased. Sophisticated and adulterated wines are often used in exchange but a sophisticated wine is one mixed with just other wines. An adulterated wine may be mixed with other ingredients. [cite] The terms were used with distinction as in the 1688 Act for Prohibiting all Trade and Commerce with France where it was illegal to sell “corrupted sophisticated or adulterated” wine. This distinction between pure wine and wine mixed with water returns with an English and Dutch dictionary which defines “Pure Wine, or Wine unmixed with water.” There was even a test to determine if wine had been mixed with water. If an egg sank in new wine then it contained water.
Part 2 – “they squeeze Bordeaux out of the sloe and draw Champagne from an apple”
Bishop Gilbert Burnet, in writing about his travel through Italy, provides an early definition of natural wine. In describing “Aromatick-wine” he notes “its strength being equal to a weak Brandy, disposes one to believe that it cannot be a natural Wine, and yet it is the pure juice of the Grape without any mixture.” Upon tasting a 40 year old sample Madam Salis assured him that “there was not one grain of Spice in it, nor of any other mixture whatsoever.” This wine was made from extremely ripe grapes which were then stored in the garrets for one to three months. Then only the sound berries were picked, pressed, and stored in hogshead. Not all natural wine was good for decades. In 1698, Guy Miege discusses that wine is best in the spring when it is natural and cheaper and despite the propensity of English vintner’s to mix their wines “one may have plenty of good natural Wine.” Thus at the end of the 17th century pure wine refers to the subsequent mixture of water with wine and natural wine refers both the manufacture of wine solely from grapes and the subsequent prohibition on mixture.
In Genoa, Italy extensive steps were taken to ensure a supply of natural wine. In 1701, Ellis Veryard comments that a two year provision of wine was kept in governmental cellar throughout the city. These cellars were known as Fondequa and were managed by an intendant. All innkeepers and private people could purchase wine from the cellars for retail. These wines were never adulterated for the punishment was transportation to the galleys. The citizens of Genoa boasted, “that pure and natural Wine is only drank in Genua.”
In the treating of “hysterick fits” natural wine could be mixed with water and drops of Sal volatile oleosum and Spirit of Lavender. For those not used to drinking wine, drunk alone the presumably natural wine could cure them. Some natural wine might have been strong as Germans learning English could learn. In one exchange, “This wine is mighty strong, we should put some water in it. It is not too strong: It is a natural wine. But sometimes I put wine into my beer. That’s cunningly done: wine does not spoil beer, but water spoils wine.”
The English author S.J. takes an interesting approach to the use of natural wine and that is a reference to what is commonly produced in a region. Thus the “natural wine of Champaign” is “Oiel de Perdix” and “Again, the natural Wine of Burgundy is Red.” Though red wine was made in Champagne using the Burgundian manner he did “not call that, the natural Wine of the Province, because By Champaign we are to understand the Wine most commonly made there.” Four years later in 1731, the definition of natural wine appears in an English dictionary.
Natural WINE, is such as it comes from the grape without any mixture or sophistication.
Adultered WINE, is that wherein some drug is added to give it strength, fineness, flavor, briskness, or some other qualification.
Sulphur’d WINE, is that put in casks wherein sulphur has been burnt, in order to fit it for keeping, or for carriage by sea.
This definition appears to mark the beginning of texts commenting on the manufacture of fake natural wine and investigations into what are the properties of a natural wine. In the Infusion section of the works of Francis Bacon flavor may be given to any wine to “imitate and exceed the Colour, Flavours, and Richeness of any natural Wines of foreign Growth.” A suggested experiment includes added fresh and green leaves of Basalm to simulate Frontignanc.
Descriptions of wine production illuminate the expected differences between natural and adulterated wine. A 1622 recommendation for producing wine in Virginia starts with placing a little bundle of vine branches with a brick on top near the tap hole. This will be used to filter out the bits later on. The ripe grapes are then placed in the cask or tub, trodden by bare feet, then left to work itself for five or six days. This wine is then drawn out into a hogshead. Greener grapes may then be trodden with the leftover skins to produce a smaller wine. These leftover skins may be pressed with a tenth-part of water added to the juice to produce an even smaller wine. Once in barrel the wine must purge itself and be kept topped off before sealing.
In 1665 William Hughes provides a detailed description of keeping wine. He starts with several different methods for bruising and pressing the grapes, including what is done in Germany. The juice is to be run off into firm and new vessels which are well bounded with iron. Fermentation is to occur in a warmer area and have been completed before the wine is transferred into tuns in a deep and cool cellar. A full and well bunged cask will keep the best. When tapping a cask the best way to prevent decay is to draw all of the wine into bottles which are then stored in sand. If this is not done then a linen cloth steeped in melted brimstone may be burnt inside of the cask. With the sulphurous fumes in the casks it may be stopped up. William Hughes comments that Vintners and Wine-Coopers are quick to make mixtures and if they stopped doing so “it would be much better both for their houses and health of their Customers.” Customers enjoyed a pleasing and brisk wine from a drawn down cask. As an alternative to adding sugar, vinegar, vitriol, and “many other ingredients which must not be mentioned” he suggests combining boiled and concentrated wine with regular wine. If wine is too sharp it should be drawn into bottles where it is combined with one or two spoonful of refined sugar. After some time this will be a “pleasant and good Wine.”
In 1727 S. J. recommended that the gathered grapes be immediately pressed while still cool and without bruising. This method best preserves the spirituous parts. The first juice that runs out of the press, from its weight alone, is pleasant “but has not Body enough to keep a long time without Mixture.” Wine of the second and third pressing will last four or five years without mixture. Wine of the fourth pressing is tolerable to drink without mixture. For white wines he recommends running the juice into new casks to prevent coloring but the red wines may be run into old casks provided they were sweet and clean. In Burgundy and Champagne the casks are rinsed with water infused with peach leaves and flowers which gives a “delicious Flavour to those Wines.” Once the wine begins to ferment the froth from the first casks may be put into the other casks so that the yeast will encourage the start of fermentation. After fermentation is complete the casks must be kept topped off. Once they are stored in the cellar this should be done once per month. To fine the wine one ounce of isinglass should be mixed with white wine or brandy the mixture then added for every fifty gallons of wine. He then notes that in Burgundy and Champagne they burn brimstone in the casks during the first and second racking. This method provides “a more lively, brisk, and sparkling Colour” in the bottled wines. S. J. notes he cannot determine whether the English Vintners and Wine-Coopers were aware of this method.
S. J. notes that the demand for frothy wines has caused dealers to experiment with “sundry sort of Drugs, and Chymical Preparations” which include mixing “Allum, Spirit of Wine, and Pidgeons Dung.” He continues that the adulteration of wine sometimes takes place within the country supplying the wine. Often the English vintners and wine coopers were simply performing an act of necessity. They are simply correcting wines which have turned “eager and sower” or “sweet and ropey” due to the original adulteration of the wine.
Published in 1747, The London Tradesman lists several honest tasks of a wine cooper such as mixing various wines to produce the “Flavour and Taste required by the different Palates of his Customers”, to remove the lees, cure them of disease, recover pricked wine, preserve then, and recover flavor and color due to age. R. Campbell then claims the wine coopers have lately converted cider and “several more noxious Materials” to resemble Port, Sack, Canary, and other wines and that “few People know when they drink the the Juice of the Grape, or some sophisticated Stuff brewed by the Wine-Cooper.” One text claims, “some fall Sick upon it, as many have lately done and dye, by no great quantity moderately drank of it”. Fabian Philipps claimed that merchants, wine coopers, and vintners mixed their wines with “Stum, Molosse or Scum of Sugar, Perry, Sider, Lime, Milk, Whites of Eggs, Elder berries, putting in raw flesh”.
Recipes were published for artificial wines which resembled other natural wines. Some of these artificial wines did not even include any wine. In 1661 one could make claret from cinnamon, “Galanga”, Ginger,” Paradise”, pepper, cloves, honey, sugar, and white wine, the mixture of which was fined with egg whites. The London and Country Cook includes several wine recipes including one “To make a wine like claret.” The ingredients include cider, Malaga raisins, barberries, raspberries, black cherries, mustard seed, and dough to cover the mixture. Apparently this “will be like common claret.”
Augmenting English wine with raisins was recommended by William Hughes in 1667. In recommending the “best way to help our English wines” he suggests adding one pound of raisins per gallon of English wine. The Jesuit F. Balthazar Tellez writes in 1710 that communion in Ethiopia was taken with a cup of water mixed with four or six raisins for they had no wine and decided not to use liquor. In 1766 an argument was made to expand the definition of natural wine to a new method of wine production for Great Britain. This involved the addition of water to dry fruit to produce a superior “natural wine” because it only involved the restoration of moisture naturally lost during the drying and ripening of the fruit. However, the recommended recipe is for an “artificial wine” which also includes sugar and yeast. This recipe involved 30 gallons of rain or river water combined with 100 weight of Malaga raisins picked from stalks. This mixture would eventually ferment and must be stirred twice per day for 12 or 14 days. The fluid and pressed raisins were then run off into a good wine cask to which eight pounds of Lisbon sugar and a little yeast were added. This would ferment for one month after which the cask would be sealed for at least a year-long rest. After which is may improve for four or five years then it may be flavored and colored to match other wines.
The lack of wine in Ethiopia continued to be an issue towards the end of the century. Producing wine from raisins and water was practiced by Father du Bernet so that he could say mass in Ethiopia. Mr. Poncet, who informed Father du Bernet of this method, argued that a natural wine was produced whether water penetrated the raisin through the skin or roots of the vine. Father du Bernet remained skeptical.
Natural wines were infrequently listed for sale in London newspapers. In 1711, Brooke and Helliar gave notice that their “new natural Portugal Wines” were in the City and that they were “like new natural Wine.” The Viana sold for 14L and the Port for 16L per hogshead. In 1714, Brooke’s Natural Wines sold White and Red French wine, Port wine, Malmsey wine, Carcavalla, Sherry, Mountain, Canary, and Rhenish. In 1740 one could purchase Vidonia Madeira wine at the Wine Vaults under Widow Lowe’s. This parcel of the 1737 vintage was brought round Barbadoes and included no additional ingredients. A “Person, who values his Health, and on that Account chuseth to drink natural Wine from the Grape, rather than adulterated; will in the least grudge the aforementioned Price.” In 1799, an article described how the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought that sophisticated wines should be taxed as much as Port, the favorite foreign wine. This “would check their consumption and operate at once in favour of health and revenue, by creating a preference for wholesome Natural wine.”
The consideration of which types of wines were natural wines increases. Vermouth was not a natural wine because there were no vineyards of that name nor were there any natural wines which had the flavor of wormwood mixed with St. Georges wine. James Busby considered Sherry the furthest thing from natural wine because it was a mixture of wines of various ages. He continues that a natural wine is “a wine as it comes from the press without a mixture of other qualities.” Several years later Ralph Barnes Grindrod quotes this same definition and goes on to write that “brandy is almost universally used in the fictitious preparation of wines.” James Warre writes that Manzanilla is a natural wine, not made up for the English taste. Port on the other hand must “possess certain qualities not found in the natural wine, – deep colour, great body, and much richness.” For him a natural wine is “limpid, white, and fragrant.”
The detrimental effect to the aroma and flavor of natural wine which has had brandy added is well expressed by Cyrus Redding. For the more delicate wines he found “the aroma and perfume perish, together with that peculiar freshness which renders pure wine so estimable beyond every other potable.” He writes that the English relish the strength of wine with brandy but in places where spirits are drunk such as Sweden and Petersburgh, they prefer unadulterated natural wine as in France. Cyrus Redding uses a combination of pure wine and natural wine terms. He defines pure wine as “it be the pure juice of the grape along, after due fermentation”. He considered the wines of France, Germany, and Hungary the purest. It is around this period that pure wine and natural wine were used interchangeably.
Part 3 - “The juice of the grapes fermented, preserved, or fortified for use as a beverage or medicine.”
The techniques of Dr. Chaptal, Mr. Petiot, and Dr. Ludwig Gall turned attention from the post fermentation addition of mixtures to that during fermentation. Dr. Chaptal added a grape sugar syrup or sugar to the fermenting must to increase the alcohol of the finished wine. In the 1850s Mr. Petiot ran the juice off of crush grapes then added a sugar solution to the grape must to cause an additional fermentation. He then ran off the new infusion and repeated this process until the must was exhausted. He could then obtain several times the amount of wine as compared to normal production. Dr. Gall proposed the adjustment of the must acidity followed by the addition of a sugar solution much in the manner fruit wines had been made. Both John Louis William Thudichum and William J. Flagg considered the wine made from the first pressed grapes, to which nothing was added, natural wine. The “chemical article” produced subsequently did not sacrifice the previously obtained natural wine.
In the United States the expansion of vineyards led to concerns about the varying quality of wine produced due to vintage conditions and the spread of disease. In the 1859 Report of the Commissioner of Patents on Agriculture it was proposed that wine produced from wild vines would yield 50% more if it was produced according to Dr. Gall and Mr. Petiot. Using these methods would provide profitable employment. The quality of natural wine varied but that of Dr. Gall was always in harmony and generally preferred. David M. Balch in writing about Dr. Gall and Mr. Petiot opens “Yet mistaken and narrow views have led to much opposition to these methods; and have even caused them to be decried as specious forms of adulteration, by those who stand forth as champions of what they are pleased to call ‘natural wines.’” He believes it was acceptable to assist nature and quotes a chapter from Dr. Mohr’s Verbesserung des Weines. Dr. Mohr believed there was no natural wine where grapes are not naturally found and that it is man who cultivates the grape on the best hillside. He viewed the natural wine debate as that between those with superior vineyards who want to retain a monopoly on trade and everyone else who employ the methods of Dr. Chaptal, Dr. Gall, and Mr. Petiot to make wine just as good but cheaper. Dr. Mohr was consistent in distinguishing between “well-prepared sugar wine” and natural wine as well as “imitated” from natural wine.
In describing the definition of adulteration taken up in the debate, Dr. Mohr writes that “Selecting, pressing, racking, clarifying, sulphuring” were all natural processes. Dr. J Bersch’s lecture on Artificial Wine defines natural wine as “the must should be left just as it flows from the press without anything being added to it.” He goes on however to argue that there is no such thing as natural wine because it is not a natural product because nature would turn it into vinegar. Because man intervenes to promote the production of wine it is an artificial product. With no such thing as natural wine he defines artificial wine as those made from the residue of wine or actual wine, to which certain substances are added. A Chaptalized wine was not artificial but ones made by the methods of Dr. Gall and Mr. Petiot were artificial wines and should be sold as such.
In 1869 James Lemoine Denman published a booklet centered on the apparent “Pure Wine Controversy” in which he concludes that Greek wines are the best. James Denman was a London wine importer and merchant who actually published a number of booklets, which while self-serving, strongly supported pure and natural wines against adulterated wines. He even badgered the commissioners of the 1874 London International Exhibition about what they meant by their Exhibition of Pure Wine. For this exhibition it was defined as “the exclusive produce of the country in which they are stated to be manufactured.”
The wines of Spain and Portugal continued to be viewed as adulterated because spirit was added before shipping to England. However the wines of Southern France, Sicily, Hungary, American, and Australia did not have spirit added and survived the journey. Robert Druitt considered the wines of France, Germany, and Hungary as natural wine producing countries whereas those of Spain, Portugal, and Sicily were often fortified. He believed one reason for fortification was to help poorly made wines travel well. Of the three types of wine made in Hungary samorodny was considered the natural wine because the whole clusters which are pressed. In describing the commercial relations of Greece and the United States in 1892 it was noted that the Hamburger & Co. winery was selling Greek natural wine similar to that of French claret and German table wines. Prompted by the introduction of a sparkling brut Saumur the Dublin Journal of Medical Sciences considered the production of Champagne.  The addition of the “highly saccharine” dosage made Champagne not purely a natural wine but an “artificial compound.” However the brut Saumur received a small dosage which was just sufficient to produce “carbonic acid gas” thus it was a natural wine.
Despite the philosophical debate about whether natural wines even exist, the term continued to be used as its scientific characteristics were studied. The composition of wine continued to appear in numerous publications detailing the various acids, sugars, and other constituents. It appears that alcoholic strength was of prime interest in England. In 1862 the Government Wine Commission measured international samples to determine the greatest natural strength of wine. They determined that it was 33.3 percent. At the time The Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered a speech in which he stated, “When I speak of natural wine, I meant wine with only so much spirit added as is necessary to make it a merchantable commodity for the general markets of the world.” In 1875 A. Dupre lectured that natural wine could very rarely reach 15.8% alcohol by volume. In the Report from the Select Committee on Wine Duties of 1879, Parliament accepted the conclusion of the Customs authorities that no natural wine contained more than 26 per cent of natural spirit and redefined natural wine “as one in which the spirit is produced entirely by natural fermentation, there being no added spirit.” This categorization of wine as natural or fortified with spirits was aimed to generate revenue for all imported spirits because natural wine would have a low rate of duty. It also reflects that England was primarily a wine importing country versus a wine producing country.
Natural wine developed a different meaning in the United States were there were significant quantities of wine produced. In 1877 several American states begin to pass laws against adulteration of food and beverages. In 1882 the California State Board of Viticulture started a campaign for a federal pure wine law. There were significantly different vineyard and winemaking practices throughout the country. The bill had to balance a strict definition against the practical methods employed by vintners. In 1886 the California State Viticultural Commission tried to pass a National Pure Wine Bill through Congress. It was believed that such standards would improve the marketability of Californian wine. The bill failed so in 1887 California passed the California Wine Adulteration Law in which pure wine was defined as “The juice of the grapes fermented, preserved, or fortified for use as a beverage or medicine.” During fermentation pure grape products could be added, water to decrease the strength of must, but no products such as analine dyes, salicyclic acid, glyerine, or alum. Sulphur fumes were allowed to disinfect and prevent disease while gelatinous and albuminous materials could be used for fining and clarification. This act appears in the appendix of the book Food Adulteration and its Detection. This book set out to present the most important facts about food and beverage adulteration. In describing the history of adulteration the authors cites the Parisian Conseil de Salubrite who found 15.18% of wine, spirits, and beer were adulterated between 1875-1880.
The most common adulteration to American wines from the 1870s included water, spirits, coal tar, vegetable color, and imitation wine. For example, ambergris and sugar would add bouquet to claret. Imitation claret was still manufactured with one recipe requiring white sugar, raisins, sodium chloride, tartaric acid, brandy, water, gall nuts, and brewer’s yeast. It was reported that in 1881, 52 million gallons of imitation claret were made in France. In New York City alone two manufacturers produced over 30,000 gallons of fake Californian wine per month. The spread of phylloxera and its subsequent destruction of vineyards significantly reduced the supply of natural wine. This was believed to be the stimulus for the large increase in adulterated wines.
On Thursday, February 1, 1906 the Committee on Ways and Means in the House of Representatives considered a Pure Wine Bill. This bill defined natural wine as “the product of alcoholic fermentation of the juice of the grape, with such additions as are necessary in usual cellar treatment.” These cellar treatments were defined as the correction of the must through the addition of pure care or beet sugar solution, the use of sulphites before and after fermentation, the use of clarifying agents the use of tartaric or citric acid, the normal manipulations to produce sparkling wine, sweet, and fortified wines, and finally the blending of natural wines.
Later that same year in August 1906 the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope passed the act To Prohibit the use of certain foreign substances in Wine, Brandy, Whiskey and spirits. This defined that natural wine or “’Pure Natural Wine’ means the product solely of the alcoholic fermentation of the juice or must of fresh grapes without the addition of any foreign substance as hereinafter defined, before, during, or after the making of the same.” Foreign substances included ethers, oils, barium, fluorine, magnesium, arsenic, lead, etc. Foreign substances did not include yeast, isinglass and others for clarification, common salt, sulphate of lime, tartaric acid, natural products of grape leaves and flowers, and pure wine spirit.
The natural wine term is centuries old. It was used in religious, medical, historical, and scientific books and journals. It has been used in newspaper advertisements and legally defined. The growth of the term appears to have developed in three stages. First, it was used in reference to wine for communion. Second, it was used as a clear distinction between natural and artificial wines during a time when wine production yielded varying qualities of wine, not all wines were successfully transported, and not all wines kept well. To some degree it was acceptable to add some ingredients or act upon the wine to correct faults. Exceeding that intention by turning the wine into something it was not, involved a wider variety of ingredients and was considered adulteration. Vineyard practices and specific winemaking techniques were not defined by the common usage. Finally, with the improvement in production, transportation, and storage attention turns to the methods of Dr. Chaptal, Mr. Petiot, and Dr. Gall. The methods of Mr. Petiot and Dr. Gall allowed for the artificially increased production of wine and with the advance of phylloxera a new wave of adulterated and artificial wine appears. England, the great wine importing country, defined natural wine with the intent to capture all revenue from imported spirits. The wine producing countries of the United States, New South Wales, and the Cape Colony defined natural wine both for consumer protection and trade purposes allowing for the practical variations in production techniques. The conflict over the term natural wine is not surprising given its historical meaning. Perhaps the conflict may be avoided if this modern category of wine is given a new name.