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Why Santa Julia’s Investment in Natural Wine Is a Game-Changer

Why Santa Julia’s Investment in Natural Wine Is a Game-Changer

Julia Zuccardi in front of a daycare center the winery has for children of workers and members of the community

In every industry, there are leaders who quietly shape the conversation. They may not be the flashiest or the most obvious, but when they do something, it means something. 

Santa Julia, named for the only daughter of founder José Alberto Zuccardi in Maipú, Argentina, has pulled off many firsts: straying from traditional grapes like Malbec to focus on nontraditional grapes like like Bourboulenc and Albariño in 1995; certifying its vineyards organic in 2001; creating a line of sparkling wines in 2003; opening the first restaurant at a winery in Mendoza in 2004; certifying vineyards Fair for Life to ensure socioeconomic justice for workers in 2013; and now pivoting to natural wine.

“We see [the expansion into natural wine] as a confirmation of our overall vision,” says Julia Zuccardi, part of the third-generation of leadership at Santa Julia. “It’s both our philosophy, and the way we see the wines.”

Santa Julia was one of the first large-scale wineries to wholeheartedly embrace organic growing methods, a notion that feels as mainstream now as acknowledging the realities of climate change. But in the early aughts? Not so much. The Zuccardis’ embrace of natural wine feels just as progressive—and probably prescient—today. 

And it is. But the move toward super-low intervention farming and cellar work is also a tacit nod to the direction the wine world—and the world in general—appears to be headed, led by the palates of thirsty Gen Z and Millennials, who associate sustainability with fewer inputs in the field and cellar. Indeed, almost half (46 percent) of regular wine drinkers in the U.S. opt for sustainable wine when given the option, according to drinks market analysis firm IWSR.  

And, in contrast to the industry’s overall contraction, sales of organic wine grew 5 percent between 2017 and 2022. In the U.S., volumes grew even more—by 7 percent. Broadly speaking, wine lovers are increasingly concerned about their fermented fruit being modified, processed, or overly tampered with in the cellar, and in the field.

Zuccardi sees natural wine as the next “natural” step in their evolution as a brand. They are already the largest certified organic wine producer in Argentina. Of their total 2,800 acres under vine, 964 acres are certified organic, with an additional 15-20 acres being officially certified every year. 

“For us it is really important to make wines that represent our quality of grapes, our care for the environment, and social responsibility,” Zuccardi says. “We seek organic and natural production, and, as part of that, we have achieved different certifications, including organic, vegan, and Fair for Life.”

There is, it should be noted, no universally agreed upon definition of natural wine. In France, there is Vin Méthode Nature, a certification first introduced in 2020. It requires hand-picked, organically grown grapes, indigenous yeasts, zero additives, zero use of fining and filtration (a common practice that involves removing unwanted materials from the wine, often by adding a substance like egg whites, which absorbs them, or literally filtering the wine through a very fine screen), and no added sulfites.  

At Santa Julia, they began making natural wine in 2019. They debuted with a Malbec made in the same way their other Malbecs were made, with organic grapes, but absent added sulfites and any other additives, and zero oak vessels used in the aging process. Since then, they have launched a natural Cabernet Sauvignon, a Malbec-Torrontes Clarete, a Pét-Nat, a Torrontes, and an orange wine. Next up (this year) is a rosé.

Colorful labels reflect the spirit of fun the natural line embodies

“The natural line is growing more and more every year, and demand in the U.S. especially is very strong,” Zuccardi says. “Last year, there was a 202 percent growth in our sale of natural wines in comparison to 2022.” The first year, their production of natural wine was 60,000 bottles; last year, it was 400,000. 

Santa Julia isn’t just producing natural wines. This year, they will open up an entirely new multi-million dollar winemaking and tourism juggernaut dedicated to natural wine. The capacity of the winery is 100,000 liters. 

Zuccardi estimates that, in addition to producing their line of natural wines (as well as other Santa Julia wines as needed), the winery will become a hub for tourists. 

“We were among the first to understand how important tourism is to Argentina’s wine industry,” Zuccardi says. “We have always prioritized welcoming people here, and creating experiences for them.”

The new winery, mid build-out

When the new winery opens—soon—the team estimates that it will welcome 70,000 visitors through its doors, with the goal of showing visitors how the grapes are (un)processed, before they taste the wines and perhaps enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants on-site. And hopefully buy a lot of wine. 

Having the courage to follow your own convictions, while responding to, and, in many ways, anticipating market trends is a rare quality, and one that the Zuccardis have excelled at for decades. This latest step in their evolution is arguably the riskiest—natural wines’ death has been declared multiple times, after all—but it appears to already be paying off.