If the title of this piece has brought you looking for the definition of natural wine, I'm afraid you've been misled. Even participants in the seemingly neverending debate on the subject can't agree as to what qualifies as "natural". Is it organic, biodynamic, made by shoeless monks my moonlight, all of the above, or none of the above? The answer depends on who you ask, but whatever the definition is, the intent appears to be consistent: to produce authentic wines, to make wine by the least invasive means possible, to minimize the use of external ingredients or manipulation, to honor nature in the vineyard...
Okay, so maybe even the intent isn't consistent. But you can spot a common theme in these, no?
Thankfully, quality of experience is not absent the ongoing dialog about natural wine - after all, wine should taste good. Here, too, there is dissent. The absence of preservatives (such as sulfur - which is organic, by the way) creates the opportunity for some volatility in the finished product. That volatility is seen by advocates as a source of excitement - like that crazy girl in college who was passionate about everything. Skeptics, on the other hands, decry volatility as being akin to inconsistency - and in many cases they'd be right, especially if the wine has had to travel substantial distance from the cellar where it was made to the table where it's drunk.
Where does the truth lie on this continuum? Only the thinking drinker can decide for themselves. This drinker? Variety as a source of discovery and adventure is one of the many wonderful things about wine. And I've had wines that taste alive with vigor and personality and palpable energy, and which are unmistakably "natural". I've also had several natural wines that remind me of kombucha (which is alive) and not in a positive way. Regardless of the outcome, more often than not, the natural wine experience is unlike conventionally made wine.
In what is a very personal (and, thus, hotly debated) final analysis, this thinking drinker values predictability of quality over the excitement of the unknown. I've been brokenhearted too many times when uncorking some of my Garagiste purchases - in some cases no two bottles of the same wine taste the same. In other cases the wine isn't remotely appealing. Some may say therein lies the adventure of wine connoisseurship. Me? I'm just looking for something tasty to have with dinner.