Erik Neilson on August 16, 2016 0 Comments It’s no secret that natural wines have gained a tremendous amount of popularity over the course of just the past decade. Favored by proponents due to the minimal amount of intervention involved with the production process, natural wines have carved out an important niche in the wine world and are favorites of sommeliers in some of the finest restaurants imaginable. Navigating the natural wine market can be tricky for the unfamiliar, however, as there are a variety of new terms and styles to learn about. If you’re interested in dipping into the world of natural wines, one of the best ways to do so is to learn about some of the best producers throughout the world. While there are countless winemakers who are growing grapes organically and putting the least amount of touch possible on their end product, here are six that stand apart as being leaders in the movement. 1. Hermann J. Wiemer (Finger Lakes, NY) It may come as somewhat of a surprise, but one of the best natural wine producers in the world calls the Finger Lakes region of New York home. Hermann J. Wiemer vineyard is where one of the best natural Rieslings money can buy is born, specifically the 2014 vintage of the Hermann Wiemer Reserve Dry Riesling. The grapes are organically grown on Seneca Lake, where cold nights yield to mild mornings and afternoon. These conditions lend Wiemer Riesling a level of acidity that dries the wine right out in a most pleasant way. Decidedly German in style yet varied to the point where there’s truly something for everyone, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard is a must-visit for American wine lovers who are interested in seeing what’s currently happening in the natural wine world. 2. Donkey & Goat (Berkeley, CA) California is a hotbed of activity when it comes to natural wine, and the size of the movement seems to be increasing with each passing year. One of the foremost leaders in the American natural wine movement is Berkeley’s Donkey & Goat. Led by husband and wife duo Jared and Tracey Brandt, the couple has incorporated techniques learned from French natural wine expert Éric Texier, including no fining/filtration, inoculation of yeast and even no plastic used in the winery. While all of the wines offered at Donkey & Goat are worth exploring and have improved dramatically over the years, the winery’s cuvée, called ‘513, is a clear nod in the direction of the classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Those looking for a dense, rich wine full of old-world flavors will have a hard time choosing a better example produced in America. 3. Occhipinti (Sicily) Over the course of just the past 10 years, Sicily’s Arianna Occhipinti has become one of the most prominent figures in the natural wine world. At just 32 years old, she also represents a new generation of winemakers who take their work seriously while bearing in mind approachability. For under $30, her SP68 blend of Frappato and Nero D’avola showcases the wild characteristics of Sicilian soil and winemaking like no other offering produced on the island. If you’re looking to taste a wine blessed by Occhipinti on a budget scale, check out the Tami line, for which Arianna serves as editor/director. 4. COS (Sicily) Also located in Sicily, Azienda Agricola COS produces natural wines that are actually quite a bit different from many others found on the island. Like Occhipinti’s wines, COS labels tend to be mineral-rich and exemplary of the land the grapes are grown on, yet they also feature a level of ingenuity that puts them on a level of whimsicality not found elsewhere in the region. Looking for one of the most unique wines the natural wine world has to offer? COS’ Pithos is an excellent place to start. Fermented and aged in terracotta jars, the wine takes on a clay-like minerality that lifts it gently off the palate and surprises practically everyone at first taste. 5. Hawk and Horse (Lake County, CA) Hawk and Horse vineyards in Lake County, CA produces wines biodynamically and is home to an extremely elegant cabernet. Ran by producers Mitch and Tracy Hawkins, the winery is known for CCOF organic certification and hand-crafted, small lot wines. The sloping hillside where Hawk and Horse is situated is characterized by red, rocky volcanic soil, lending the wines a naturally prominent minerality that carries through each offering. You’ll have a hard time finding a bad wine at Hawk and Horse, but the winery’s cabernet is a perfect starting point. Rich with notes of mocha, roses, cherries and black coffee, Hawk and Horse’ cabernet is sturdy enough to stand up to grilled meats, but it also drinks perfectly on its own. 6. Talty Vineyards (Healdsburg, CA) Talty vineyards is an interesting example of how far the boundaries of wine can be pushed. While many winemakers run scared at the presence of wild yeasts in fermentation, the Zinfandel produced at Talty is not only dry-farmed, but also gets fermented naturally by wild yeasts in open containers. The result is a unique product with each and every batch, and the wild yeasts floating through the air lend Talty’s wines a dry funkiness that can be difficult to attain under different conditions. Talty is at the heart of Zinfandel country, which makes this offering the one to try if you’re unfamiliar with the rest of their line. It’s quite floral, with a great deal of structure and a peppery brightness that allows the wine to pair perfectly with barbecue. Though its pairing abilities are second to none, Talty’s zin can be an excellent summer evening choice for relaxing on the porch. The world of natural wine is constantly shifting, with new producers popping up each and every year. As its influence continues to move throughout well-known wine regions, the quality of natural wine will only increase with time. For now, check out one of the above producers to get a better idea of just how beautiful wines produced with minimal intervention can be.