Orange Wine

Orange wine is made globally, but the term is thought to hail from areas such as Georgia, Ukraine, Romania etc, where winemaking using natural processes have continued unabated for thousands of years.

So what is Orange wine?

Orange Wine = Natural Wine, Amber Wine, Skin Contact Wines.  All terms used to explain a wine that is made using minimal intervention, few, if any, additions such as sulphur, and often made using organic or bio-dynamic principles both in the vineyard and winery. The corner stone of an Orange wine, however, and why it gets it’s name, is the extended skin contact that such wines enjoy. From a few days to many weeks or even months, the grapes, stalks, and skin all ferment and macerate together, and often, but not always, in large clay amphora (or Quevri as they are known in eastern Europe, the birthplace of wine and home of the Orange wine.) Lastly, many Orange wines are not filtered or fined prior to bottling, so they often appear cloudy from dead yeast cells and sediment post ferment.

In its purist form, you can, therefore, argue that an Orange wine is made from only the whole natural grape including stalks, with nothing chemical or unnatural added, using a basic fermentation technique involving extended skin contact during fermentation and maceration, with the result being a wine that is pure, natural, flavorsome, and untainted by 500 years of advancements in winemaking techniques. It almost makes the argument that Orange wines are a Good Thing, and wines not made naturally are a Bad Thing.

an alcoholic ouche of sorts…

So how do you make an Orange wine and how does the process of making a wine naturally differ from the ‘Normal’ process?

First you pick your white grapes, usually grown organically or bio-dynamically, which you leave as whole bunches. You then chuck these bunches into a fermentation vessel, often clay pots but more commonly steel tanks are used. The ferment starts when the natural wild yeast cells on the outside of the grape come into contact with the sugar-rich juice from grapes that have burst open. The ferment starts and the mass of grape bunches all ferment, burst and add their juice to the fermenting pulp. Contact with the skins, stalk, pips etc is encouraged so that as the wine ferments it derives more tannins, acids, phenolics, etc.

The ferment can take 2 weeks or 3, or 4 etc with the winemaker checking the rising tannin levels, flavours and acids daily.

A good Orange wine, to me, should show elements of extended contact time with the grapeskins, which is  a vital part of an Orange wine. This should be apparent both in colour (it will be more amber and deeper in colour, ie orange, than a ‘standard’ white wine). It may even be cloudy, but I am yet to be convinced that such wine ‘mist’ should be an essential element of a good Orange wine.

The ‘Orange’ process also ensures added tannins, phenolic elements (ie flavour) and imparts a kind of mineral-rich structure and ‘jacket’ to the fruit of the wine. Such fruit should still show a strong definition of varietal character, as well as be the thread that brings together the structural elements of tannins, acids, minerality and phenolics. Regardless of all, an orange wine should retain that natural fruit and freshness of a dry white wine, but have more defined structure from the addition of tannins and phenolics derived directly from the process of making the wine.


An important point that many Orange wines claim is the reduction or elimination of added sulphur; a lack of sulphur can add beneficial oxidative characters to the flavour, a bit like a slightly bruised apple. It must, however, be remembered that all grapes contain traces of sulphur naturally, therefore it is almost impossible to have a zero sulphur wine. And sulphur, when controlled and used properly, is a ‘Good Thing’ – minimising oxidation, preventing a wine from spontaneous re-fermentation, it also cleans and disinfects winery equipment, and helps ‘settle’ the juice to make the ferment cleaner and more controlled.

So, in summary, an Orange wine is made using the whole grape bunch, minimal intervention, with extended skin contact time and often from Organically grown grapes. The wine is deeper in colour due to the extra oxidative effects of the process, and will have a unique character and flavour, with added tannins and phenolics, as well as an altered acid structure and increased minerality. When an Orange wine is good, it should also retain the grape varietal character, in addition to having increased flavour compounds, acids, tannins and a thrilling freshness and minerality

The issue with many Orange wines (and this is a personal view so please bear this in mind), is that so many are badly made. A bit like the Emperor’s new clothes. They have garish labels, are often cloudy, stink like a badly made ‘passed the sell by date’ cider, have little varietal character and the word ‘fresh’ would be like a Higgs Bosun Particle– we know it’s there but it may take several decades of hard work and perseverance to find it.


Neil Goldie


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