Articles Tagged natural wine
Ok, folks, calm down please.
I knew that I was stirring the pot a bit with my recent commentary regarding what is often referred to as the Natural Wine Movement, but I didn’t expect quite so many personal responses.
Quite a few of you pinged me out of concern that I’d finally succumbed to my consternation and became an old fart (nope – I think that ship has sailed, maybe with the exception of the “old” part); or offering long, thoughtful treatises on why I was wrong in my conclusion that the term “natural wine” is all but meaningless and therefore more of a bane of confusion for consumers than a helpful tag upon which they could hang their hat in terms of better understanding wine in general. Still others worried that I was doing nothing more than bitching about the terminology (guilty!); and then there was the hate mail… because apparently if I have a beef with the term “natural wine,” it means that I hate all things having to do with the movement (uhm… just… NO).
Allow me to offer a more cojent explanation on my position:
I. DO. NOT. HATE. NATURAL. WINES.
I have had many wines that may or may not fit into the Natural Wine camp that I have dearly loved, and many that I thought smelled and/or tasted like rancid donkey ass. I have nothing against making wines in a minimally interventionist style.
The problem is that there is no one who can tell you, me, or anyone else whether or not a wine is “natural.” As I argued at length, the term is simply too vague, and it’s passed time for us in the wine biz to try to rectify that, for the sake of curious consumers everywhere.
Let’s look at the situation another way:
You. Don’t. Have. A. Movement. When. You. Cannot. Define. The. Movement.
Without at least a semblance of an agreed definition/aim/goal, you don’t really have a movement at all; you have vague shared hopes. I’m NOT saying that those hopes don’t have merit (they do), or that they are wrong (they’re probably not). But I am saying that we can’t have our wine cake and eat it, too. “Natural Wine” needs a new moniker, clearer leadership, and better guidelines beyond the pornography definition of “I know when I see it” (or, in this case, smell it).
I have taken to avoiding use of the term “natural wine.” This has nothing to do with wines largely considered to be natural wines, some of which have beguiled me (though most too often are a disappointing combination of everything I don’t want in a wine married with a distinct lack of what I do want in a wine), and everything to do with the fact that I have to type things like “largely considered to be natural wines” every time that I bring up the topic.
This is because, despite now having garnered more mainstream publicity and hipster cachet than at any previous point in recent memory, natural wine producers, purveyors, and proponents have yet to define what in the f*ck a “natural wine” actually is.
Somehow, despite having a marketing designation that implies tanker-loads of douchebaggy superiority, natural wine has managed to get a foothold into the door to a wider fine wine audience, but its serious lack of definition is feeling like the dog caught the car and now has no idea what to do with it….
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Though certainly at what many would consider well-deserved retirement age (he turns 65 this year), Robert Parker – still the single most influential critic of any kind in the world – is not retiring any time soon.
If you’ve read the interview with Parker by sommelier David D. Denton in the April 15, 2012 issue of Sommelier Journal, you already know that Parker has called the rumor of his retirement “totally not true.”
You’d also know that he has critical words for overzealous followers of fresh produce in the restaurant world (“I don’t need the entire history of the vegetable from the time it was planted to the time it was harvested”), fervently believes that former Wine Advocate contributor Jay Miller and MW Pancho Campo are innocent of any pay-to-play wrong-doing (“this guy Jim Budd seems to have something against him, and I don’t know what goes on there” – he’s apparently lawyered-up and hired an investigative service called Kroll to find out), and that he considers himself the first wine blogger (an interesting comparison that I think was first explored here on the virtual pages of 1WineDude.com during my interview with Parker).
And if you’d read that SJ interview, then you’d also know that Parker reserves his most vitriolic words for author Alice Feiring and her position at the forefront of the crusade to bring natural wines into the public consciousness (links and emphasis mine):
“We don’t promote this, but Beaux Frères [ the Oregon wine producer of which Parker is a co-owner ] is biodynamically farmed, the wines aren’t fined or filtered, and I’d say that for most of the vintages we’ve done to date, we didn’t need to put SO2 on the label because the levels were so low. So when we talk about all these catchphrases like ‘natural wine,’ I can tell you that people like Alice Feiring are charlatans – I think they are no better than the snake-oil salesman of yesterday. They are selling a gimmick. Most wines are natural.”
Think the critic doth protest too much? If you asked me that question, the answer would be “probably, but I’m more concerned with how the rest of us are going to look now”…
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“We don’t want a square strawberry.”
So opines Ridge’s Paul Draper in the first half of Wine From Here, a documentary about (and at points a bit of a commercial for) the budding natural winemaking movement in California (I got a sneak peak by invitation from one of the filmmakers, Martin Carel of Wino Brothers Inc.). The trailer is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.
The film will be screened in L.A. in a couple of days, followed by a tasting of natural wines with winemakers featured in the film at BUZZ Wine / Beer Shop – and if you buy tix to the event online you’ll get 1/3 off the full price by using discount code “1WD” at checkout!
Draper’s comment above is in reference to (what I think is) the strongest selling point behind natural winemaking: consumers ought to know what they are getting when they buy a product, and in the case of wine sometimes they are getting a lot more than just fermented grape juice, primarily in the form of various additives (for more on that topic, and for a rough definition of natural winemaking itself, see my review of Alice Feiring’s new book – she makes several appearances in the film, by the way). And as we know well, consumer sentiment is king, and will play a large part in whether or not the natural winemaking movement gains any serious traction in the wine biz and becomes the vinous equivalent of the organic / slow food phenomena.
Based on the film (which is well-made, and is highly recommended watching for wine geeks), the natural winemaking movement sorely needs to emphasize its strong points, because it’s still touting a few tenets that hold less water than well-drained gravelly vineyard soils…
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