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Natural, schmatural

36 comments

Jon Bonné set off quite a stir the other day with his San Francisco Chronicle column on “natural wine.” I even had people Facebooking me to ask what I thought about it.

He treated the issue in a very fair-minded, repertorial way, dealing straight down the middle. Jon granted that we all want “a wine that’s honestly made, compelling and — crucially — delicious.” But he also warned that the whole “natural wine” movement can “tip into greenwashing.”

I couldn’t agree more. As the daily recipient of pitches, press kits and propaganda from wineries that want to get a little love from me, I’ve developed something of a thick skin when it comes to claims. “Greenwashing” is the perfect way to describe a large part of the whole natural, green, sustainable, organic, biodynamic thing. Everybody wants to portray his practices as purer than the other guy’s practices. It’s a holier-than-thou world out there, and IMHO that goes for the whole greenie-natural crowd.

I obviously have no problem with people doing whatever they want to when it comes to growing grapes and making wine. In principle, I’m in favor of the cleanest, least polluting, most sustainable practices. I’m glad when a grower gets his vineyard certified organic, if that’s what he wants. I just don’t want to get drubbed over the head by constantly being told about it.

Besides, what does “natural” mean, when you break it down? Basically, nothing, as far as I can tell. I was talking to a winemaker the other day who was telling me about a machine that can take the sugar out of grape juice. That would result, in theory, in drier, and possibly more balanced, wines. When I observed that that intervention didn’t sound very “natural” — in fact, there’s something Franken-wine about it — he countered that, since the technology wasn’t being applied to the fermented wine, but only to the grape juice, the wine itself could be considered entirely natural!

I didn’t think so, and I made an analogy, inappropriate to reproduce here, that demolished his notion. But then I added that, personally, I don’t really care what winemakers do behind the scenes with their juice or wine. Why should I? Like Jon Bonné said, all I want is a compelling and delicious wine.

I try to put myself into the mindset of a vintner who decides to go the natural route, whole hog. I guess that means using indigenous yeasts, the kind that are flying around everywhere. That’s a philosophical decision, but I bet you that winemaker has some “spare” bags of commercial yeast on the shelf, “just in case.” These sorts of winemakers are elevated to mythic status by a select group of wine writers for whom they’re darlings. Wine writers love to discover such garagistes who are the outlaws of the wine world. They strike the pose of rebels against the academy, purists disgusted with the pandering of the status quo, and wine writers (some of them) are intellectually attracted to them. It’s good for a wine writer’s career to discover and promote a darling, and if that darling is on the side of goodness and purity and “naturalism,” some of that stardust spills onto the wine writer, who then basks in the reflected glory. What, you don’t think that kind of thing happens all the time? Trust me, it does.

I wiki’ed “natural wine. Here’s how they define it: “Natural wine is wine made with as little chemical and technological intervention as possible, either in the way the grapes are grown or the way they are made into wine.” Do you see anything in there that guarantees quality? Does “as little…intervention as possible” mean that the wine will brim with terroir? Is there a direct relationship between degrees of intervention and scores? The answers, respectively, are no, no and no.

Author’s note: This is a natural column. The words were produced entirely out of the writer’s head, without the use of a dictionary, Thesaurus, or other intervention.

On the road again

I leave today for Santa Barbara for the rest of the week. Will try to blog from the road.

  1. Steve,

    So, apart from your (accurate) statement that there is no universal definition of what “natural wine” is you’re saying… natural winemakers are lying about using natural yeasts and wine writers who write about natural wines and praise them for their lack of (insert wine technology here) are doing it because its a trendy way to advance their careers?

    I would hope you would hold yourself to a higher standard.

    I’m no apologist for the natural wine movement — far from it. I’ve criticized both the label “natural” as well as the dogmatic stance that many in “the movement” take which I think is arrogant and unproductive — but you’re not really offering much of substance here, and when you offer flip comments suggesting natural winemakers hide bags of yeast in their cellars, you sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to natural wine.

    Since you’re heavily focused on the wines of California, and there aren’t, frankly very many people practicing this kind of winemaking in the State, perhaps you’ve never had the chance to talk with someone who is actually making wine this way?

    Alder

  2. Steve,
    Natural wine making and natural wine and natural approaches and natural sugars and natural yeasts and natural fermentation and natural tannin and natural oak and natural rain-water and natural farming equipment …..(well you get the point)

    I think there is some things out there that aren’t natural. Just as the supreme court says about explicit material “You know it when you see it”. What that means as to wine labels or wine, I have no idea.

    Are you making a case to band the word or for some type of labeling definition, or just saying ‘Who give’s a damn about natural and how it pertains to wine”?

  3. Steve,
    Wine lovers drink wine (almost) every day. And one of the main reasons why people start drinking wine – besides being delicious, relaxing and aesthetically/intellectually pleasing – is that it is supposed to be a healthy drink.
    So, IMHO, when wine drinkers support/demand natural wines (along with ingredients disclosure) they’re not expecting any flavor profile improvement or (hedonic) pleasure enhancement; and neither are they worried about their short term wellness.
    What frequent wine drinkers are aiming for is to mitigate/minimize the health risks and uncertainties involved in the everyday consumption of wine, as it is, for a time span of 20-30 years.

  4. Here, to me anyway, is a counter intuitive piece of information. As reported in Wine Business Monthly a recent academic paper found that while eco-certification led to 7% higher prices plus slightly higher scores, when such certification is noted on the label the wine prices on average plunge 20%. As long as this information is hidden from the consumer, such green wines enjoy a price premium of 11.7% To cite a quote in the article by John Williams, founder of Frog’s Leap “We don’t want to be known as the organic winery of the Napa Valley”

    Why do readers of this blog think communicating organic, natural etc. to the buyer is a turn off? So much for greenwashing…

    The full paper can be found here: http://www.ioe.ucla.edu/media/files/Delmas-Grant-BAS.pdf

  5. It is not surprising that some folks would rip Steve on this point, that others would wonder what exactly is the point he is driving at and that Tom Merle would confuse me with his response (Sorry, Tom, but I don’t see the readers of this blog thinking that honest communication is a turn off).

    Not only is good practice worth pursuing, but, in any criticism of it, there needs to be a more specific criticism of the points at issue.

    Still, Steve makes important points with which we should be able to agree.

    –Natural wines, and wines made under all kinds of labels, are not a priori better-tasting wines.
    –The proponents of BioD, organic certifications and sustainable practices have every right to tell us what they do and why they like those practices. What bugs me, and, if I read Steve correctly, bugs him, is the frequent discussions of those practices as if they somehow elevate the practitioners to a new level of “specialness”, for which they and their wines should be admired, drunk up and supported without reference to wine quality.
    –All things being equal, or even nearly equal, many folks, including me will seek the product, including wine, that follows better practice for the planet. But I am not going to drink a lesser wine make with natural yeast when a wine made with commercial yeast is better to my palate for the same money.

  6. Naturally, a rant will follow…
    The concept of natural is the idea that humans can see the true natural purposes of things and can determine what is good and what is bad. The idea is based on the existence of a divine designer and the presence of a natural order in the world. Some of us, who didn’t get the religion gene, believe that human reason is wholly inadequate to make any assumption about the divine, whether through implied reasoning or an observation of nature. Further more, some of us believe we can’t say… just because something is a certain way, or was a certain way; it supposed to be that way. Darwin argued that science can show us evolutionary forces that cause something to be the way it is, or the way it was, but that that same science does not imply that something is better the way it is or better as it once was. For me what man does is entirely natural. Whether we see it as harmful or beneficial it is natural.

    At its core, natural is a belief system. It is different for everyone. It can mean anything. We see it in the Tea Party Christian fundamentalist (I put that in there for you Steve) who believes the Bible is the written word of a stern, vengeful god who has a plan for all of us (which is to compete, prosper, develop, grow, consume and not pay taxes). And we see it in the Green party, secular Marin county intellectual who believes in there is a soft, harmonious, and feminine Mother Nature who has a plan for everything (which is that everything is supposed to be the way it would be if man did not exist and we should use carbon taxes to make it so.) Both reflect the same innate spirituality and an idea that goes back to Aristotle and has been promoted for two millennia by Western religion.

    My problem is, I think both of them are full of irrational bullshit and that it is time we outgrow it. Wine is a product of man. We created the grape varieties, we developed the art of viticulture, we isolated the yeasts and ml bacteria (inadvertently thru centuries of winemaking) and spread them in the environment. We made the barrels, we designed the crushers, we made all the lab and cellar equipment, we isolated taste and craft the wine. All winegrowers remove the natural vegetation from a plot of land before they plant grapes. They create monoculture and a new environment to their own benefit. Some remove harmful organisms from the soil and add back the ones they want. You get the idea. This is all natural and a consequence of man’s evolution. We are as natural as any organism on the planet.

    Those of us, who understand a little chemistry and some physics, recognize that the concept that there are unknown properties in the bonded hydrogen and nitrogen in bacteria made ammonia that make it different than the same bonded elements in man-made ammonia is spirituality. Those who say their nitrogen from the manure which they collected and composted is natural are talking spirituality pure and simple. (and they probably haven’t considered what the bovine manure maker is doing to the environment.) Any who have studied spontaneous fermentation in the winery know that the yeasts that grow and predominate are man cultured wine organisms that they were added to the fermentation by man either intentionally or accidentally. So the subject on natural yeast becomes more that accidental fermentation is natural fermentation.

    For us without the God gene, this talk about natural is irrational. Wackos like me believe God is not needed to explain wine, explain the universe, or create the Big Bang. Because there are things such as gravity and quantum mechanics, maybe the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation may be the reason there is something rather than nothing, it may be why the Universe exists, or why we exist.” Ask Stephen Hawking. (yes, I envoke the Hawking!)

    For me the question is not whether something is natural. The question is whether it is harmful or beneficial to man. If it makes wine better, man healthier, or the environment around us more pleasant for existence, then I like it. But the answer to whether something is beneficial is complex and not as simple as a Divine Plan or Mother Nature. The only way to address it is through an open mind, very good science, and thorough study.

  7. I’m sort of with Morton on this one – not having the “God gene” myself. Natural is a philosophy, not a characterization.

    The only issues I have with additives is their purity, and with magic processes is their cleanliness. I limit my use of both where these are suspect to me.

    I understand the drive for marketers to differentiate their products. Water is water, but how many different ways is it sold?

    Wake me up when marketing “science” comes up with some new improvement over “New! & Improved!” – and an expensive package redesign.

    That said, unlike our neighbors our grapes are suffused with the natural spirits of the Miwok who lived, died, hunted, gathered and chipped flint where our vineyard is now located. The natural spa-quality mineral water from our deep well taps into an ancient aquifer originating in the snow pack of the Sierra Nevada, and contains the perfect balance of minerals to supply the ineffable micronutrient needs of our vines (which we hand-farm using only time-honored Old-world methods).

  8. Just my 2 cents:
    Natural is about as functional as a descriptor as “Reserve” it could mean something but without any true or functional definition it ends up solely a marketing term.
    To assume that that making natural wine will produce a higher quality wine in the sense of color, aromatics, or flavor is just incorrect. The wine or for that matter fruit must be good in the first place. I think the tech term “Garbage in = Garbage out” is appropriate here. If anything it is harder to make a high quality wine with “Natural” winemaking techniques as you do not have the ability to use all of the inputs and gadgets exc. available to the industry.
    I think the overall decision as to a wineries green practices being green washing or just good stewardship really happens on a case by case basis. If the director of marketing tells you “Last year I decided we should start farming organically and certify all of our vineyards” then I saw WATCH OUT! However if the winemaker or grower says, “After making wine for twenty five years I got sick and tired of all of the crap we were sticking in our wines and spraying in the vineyards so I called it quits and went organic and I have not looked back since”. Then I say sign me up…
    If you really want to dig into the absurdities of labeling and the abuse of the terms natural and organic. Forget the wine business walk into the middle of your supermarket and look at some food items. 45 ingredients, three layers of packaging and shelf stable for 90+ days yet somehow natural. I think not!

  9. Charlie,

    Your response confuses me. The study wasn’t referring to the readers of SH’s blog–the 5% as I call them– but to broad cross section of consumers, both enthusiasts and novices. The middle of the bell curve. I would have thought that all buyers would embrace label evidence of eco-certification. But producers like John Williams and many other vintners find it is best to keep such practices under wraps.

    But maybe I’m missing your point (not the first time)

    TOM

  10. Peter, I agree. “wine drinkers want to minimize health risks.” I am in favor of ingredient disclosure, but not on the label. People can go to the website for that.

  11. Isaak, basically the latter: Who gives a damn. Just give us the information plain and simple.

  12. Hi Alder, well, like I said, people can make wine however they want. I’ve talked to winemakers about every approach for many years. Every one of them believes he or she is doing the right thing. The “naturals” think they are and the moderate “interventionists” think they are and the super-interventionists think they are. Far be it from me to say who’s right or wrong. I’m just pointing out that a lot of it is hype and that a lot of the hype is co-dependent on wine writers who buy into it.

  13. I was just thumbing through my 98 page catalog of wine chemicals and additives from a major supplier. I found it interesting that ” Flashgum R”, a 25% gum arabic preparation which “offers the perception of sweet and soft characters on the palate” is made from “natural polysaccharides”.

    If Flashgum R can be marketed as natural, what’s that say about the term “natural” and its use relating to wine? Of course the same can be said about everyones favorite colorant MegaNatural Purple. Oh yes, people usually shorten it to MegaPurple but the real name is MegaNatural.

  14. Ted, great point. That’s why I say, forget about hyping “natural” and just offer consumers a true listing of ingredients on the winery’s website.

  15. Steve,

    Yes, I completely agree every winemaker thinks they’re doing the right (even the BEST) thing. And one of the things i despise about some natural wine practictioners and proponents is the degree to which they disparage all other approaches. Some go so far as to say conventional wine is “poison.”

    And yes, there are a number of people who make and promote so called natural wines and suggest that simply because they are natural they are better, which as you and Charlie points out, is bullshit. Natural/BioD/Organic does not mean good.

    BUT!….

    That doesn’t mean a lot of it is hype. There are people who really do make fantastic wines that are considered (and referred to as) natural (a label I hate for the same reasons that Morton so eloquently enumerated above) without any pretense except to make what they think is the best wine possible. And really, they don’t have bags of yeast sitting around the cellar.

    My point is that you clearly understand that it’s a complex and varied world out there and you’re tarring with too big and flagrant a brush with this article. Perhaps to make a point, but it comes across at about the level as those who suggest that all California Chardonnay is crap.

    Alder

  16. Natural is very hard to define. We are members for VinNatur, an Italian organization, which defines natural wine as those that are made without commercial yeast . This works for me. Simple and easy to understand. And, actually there is some detection methods to find out who makes wines with commercial yeast.

    I understand that there is a lot of hype around natural wine and understand why everyone is skeptical. That said, I do think there is a difference from wines made with grapes and a little S02 and wines made with commercial yeast, lyzozeme, enzymes, nutrients, DAP, fermented in plastic which contains BPA etc etc. As for not caring, I agree that wine should be delicious. But to say that one doesn’t care how it is made/what is in it, is a bit much. I can remember when the Austrians added anti-freeze. I hear it tasted great but I wouldn’t want to drink it. Filters used to be made with asbestos. Another not so good idea. And within the realm of legal, have you ever seen the guys who “stabilize” wine wearing the space suits. Reading material safety data sheet for these chemicals is a bit alarming.

    I kind of think ingredients belong on the label and you will probably see it on my labels shortly.

    Ironically there are a few bags of yeast in my fridge – custom crush customers and experiments. The concept that commercial yeast “is safe” or a back up is just hype from yeast companies. Hype is hype – some is just old and thus considered “the truth”. (If you don’t believe me, ask for the scientific evidence from the yeast companies and read what they send you – it is just hype.)

    Alder – the disparaging goes both ways. Many of the ingredients that are added to wine are labeled poison. For that matter, SO2 is labeled poison. And I can’t tell you how many negative comments I have endured – my favorite was a winemaker telling me and the world that adding ver jus was like peeing in soup.

  17. Jared, the only reason why I’m against ingredient labeling on the label, instead of online, is because there’s already so much mandated information on the front and back labels. I dont know that there’s room for more, without destroying the visuals of a good graphic design. Label designers such as my friend Thomas Reiss and his team at Kraftwerk work hard to create beauty. Why muck it up with a bunch of words? If people are interested in ingredients, it’s easy enough to find it online.

  18. but by the time a consumer is at home (most do not look up wines on their smartphones in the store) and online it is too late to look up ingredients. Do you check the ingredients on cheeses, juices or any other foods in the grocery store before or after you go shopping? No, you check and make choices in the store. There really isn’t too much info required to be on the label. Most wineries put there fancy graphics on the back label anyway so there would be no destruction of the visuals for bottles using the common 2-label system.

  19. Ahem, does anyone remember buzzwords?

    Over the years mankind has improved the quality and quantity of many products. Yes, there are exceptions. Personally I do not equate ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ as better wine. Yes there should be an effort on the part of any agriculturist to preserve and renew the crop and land that he/she is responsible for. I remember when people who used the term ‘organic’ were borderline freaks of society. Good common sense for any wine producer is to good wines and take care of the land. To make a big tadoo about is is just MARKETING.

    When gasoline is cheap people buy big autos. Then they have a certain disposable income they buy more expensive wine. Biodynamics is a good thing. We do not need to be pounded with it nor do we need to buy wine that may charge a little more for a hype.

    LOL

  20. My main gripe with the natural wine movement is the tendency to regard what I think is really a means as an end in itself. I think that a worthy goal, toward which non-interventionist winemaking is a reasonable means, is to make wine that is as distinctive to your vineyard site as possible. When the status of “naturalness” is elevated to that of raison d’etre, I think winemakers have gone too far. Winemaking technique just doesn’t strike me as the appropriate arena for drawing high-minded ethical lines in the sand. If, somewhere in pursuit of the expression of your distinctive vineyard site, your wine picks up some brett, I would prefer an intervention that prevents the wine from coming to taste similar to the thousands of other wines with brett. As another example, I would suggest that fining trials are a diagnostic tool to determine whether a winemaker treats naturalness as an end in itself. If you do trials, find that none of them bring out anything distinctive in the wine, and reject them all, I think you still have your priorities straight. If you reject the notion altogether because you know, a priori, that any such intervention can only make the wine less natural and, therefore, worse, I think “naturalness” starts to look like an end in itself.

    My secondary gripe about this subject, or maybe just its coverage, is that yeast choice becomes totally overblown. I think it’s an easy factor for writers and the public to latch onto as a handy dividing line between natural and conventional, but it’s way down the list of consequential winemaking decisions.

  21. Good post Steve, and plenty of good responses…

    I think we could kill the whole issue by changing “natural” to “minimalist”…

    Cheers!

  22. My biggest issue with “natural winemaking” is there is such a huge bias to define acceptable techniques according to what people want to believe vs. any objective standard. A “little bit” of SO2 is OK, but a moderate amount is unnatural. A bit of new oak is fine – let’s just ignore that we’re injecting foreign, man-made flavors and aromatics into a wine.

    Ambient yeasts to express true terroir? But of course. Oh, maybe non-saccharomyces strains obliterate terroir – d’oh. And who has actually done the work to show that the yeast strains that originate in the vineyard actually finish the fermentation vs. some random yeast in the winery (that may have come from another vineyard – including cultured yeasts that virtually all originate in some vineyard). For something so fundamental to “natural” winemaking, somebody must have done this research, right?

    Water additions in the winery: no. Water additions 24 hours earlier in the vineyard: sure.

    Micro-ox from a machine: no. micro-ox in a barrel: sure.

    The list goes on and on. Why is saignee OK? You’re changing the ratio of juice to skins, not unlike doing a water add or concentrating the wine with RO.

    Even the poster child for unnatural – MegaPurple – seems not be so very different from bleeding off a bunch of juice and “naturally” fermenting a dark colored wine and then blending that with your color-deficient wine. I find the concept of MegaPurple somewhat dishonest and unnecessary, but not unnatural.

    Fining, Filtering – sacreblue! What, to avoid that, the winery uses velcorin? What’s that – is it good?

    etc., etc., ad nauseum.

    I have no horse at all in this race. How could someone be philosophically opposed to more authenticity in the products they purchase and consume? And, IMHO, wines that come from winemakers who profess less intervention are by and large better than wines that see more manipulation. I don’t see the latter as less natural, just more manipulated.

    It’s just frustrating to see so little critical thought from the media on this topic. At least Alice Feiring put out her list of natural winemaking precepts – it still suffers from the convenience factor, but it’s a great start for others who are passionate about the topic to start from.

    In the meantime, I’ll go read another wine story about how soulless, manipulate winemakers are ruining the world while unwittingly giving those same winemakers’ wines 97 points.

    OK, back to waiting for grapes to ripen.

    …Michael

  23. Hi all,
    gdfo is right, IMHO. ‘Natural’ is just a buzzword in this context. I have been saying for years now that “Green” is just the new religion for the masses. Just as all established religions started with a great core idea and got corrupted when they had to be marketed, so is the case here. Let me put it simply, there are no unnatural yeast. Even commercial yeast are natural. Most organic breads you buy are made with commercial yeast. The basic idea of having producers (and I don’t care if it is bread, cheese or wine) be more in touch with the way their product is made is AWESOME and I support it any way I can, but I do not belive in promoting misleading terms.

  24. Ian Johnson says:

    Steve. Who are you kidding? If this column was truly and purely natural you would have written it with an fountain pen and blotting paper and none of us would have read it. Let’s be honest around here.

  25. Ian Johnson says:

    The wine business is like many other trades. The medical industry has it’s Witch doctors and doctors who shun any form of natural medicine in favor of every vaccine possible and every prescription written.
    In our business we have people who practice their viticulture as a religion. Some truly believe in it and others simply use it to market their
    wine. This topic of natural, sustainable, organically grown, organically produced, biodynamically produced grapes and wines is intensely divisive. It certainly provides for great and entertaining debate. Unfortunately, the producers who portray this holier-than-thou attitude are seen as the face of natural wine.
    The truth is there are more producers of “natural” wine who are simple, modest people. Ted Lemon of Littorai is one example. He does everything he can to limit the use of organic chemicals in his vineyard but is the first to concede that without these chemicals he would lose the crop. Obviously, we can surmise that there is a correlation between crop health and quality wine.
    It would be pleasant if the self-righteous wackos and the people who seem rabid about bashing all of natural viticulture would disappear for a short while. They cloud the water and perpetuate bad information. Where are the moderates who understand this? Is putting a spin on everything simply the way things are done in our time? I hope not.

  26. Steve,

    Adding the words grapes and sulfur dioxide doesn’t take up too much room. :) I do hear you – I am not sure the point of the warning label and it takes up so much room.

    Oded,

    You are right, yeasts are natural (though some have been genetically modified). I think it is an interesting way to look at it.

    Stewart,

    Not sure I agree – on our side by side trials, yeast had a clear impact. Not like harvest date but still big. As I mentioned above, it is just an easy way to look at it. Not perfect, just easy.

    I agree that wine should taste great first. If a wine-maker tries to do as little as possible to make it taste great, I don’t think he or she should be criticized for that.

  27. I think the problem has more to do with market share. The US wine consumer is finally asking questions about how the grapes were grown and how the wine was made, just like they want to know where their produce, meat, bread, or fruit comes from. Most in the wine industry were not prepared for this. Including the media. This is evident in this piece.

    Many in the US wine industry have not really ever had to disclose their farming or winemaking practices, but this is changing, and changing fast. Now you have wineries that are explaining their practices, and what do we have here from Steve? He uses the term ‘greenwashing’. Gotta love wine politics. I’m sure there are some wineries that could be guilty of this, but to paint such a broad stroke by stating “greenwashing is a perfect way to describe a large part of the whole natural, green, sustainable, organic, biodynamic thing.” WOW, that comment couldn’t be more ignorant.

    What exactly is the problem with marketing how you farm your vineyard or how you make your wine? It’s logical and advantageous to do so. It’s no different than advertising who your Consulting Winemaker to the Stars is, or that you use 100% New Oak, or the $300 price tag on your ‘new’ wine. Marketing is critical.

    Steve, I’m going to bet that same winemaker (if he really exists) never referred to himself as a ‘natural’ winemaker. Do you really not know the definition of “natural wine”? Seriously, you must be joking. There are some amazing examples of ‘natural’ wines that I would imagine that you have access to. This is assuming that you know of these wineries. Maybe this is the problem. I think your post would come off less ignorant if you took the time to explore this movement, try the wines, and then report responsibly about them yourself. Not that this movement needs your scores or opinion, but it would give you and Charlie a bit more foundation for your arguments. But then, you both have been scoring and writing about a certain style of wine for decades. You’ve been reporting on the “improvements” in wine technology for decades. So, why look back? Why be thorough in reporting.

    I would encourage you and Charlie to do more homework on this topic. Natural wines have been around for a long, long, long time. Even in Napa, California. How do you think those old vintages of Inglenook are still so alive? I don’t think George Deuer ever used commerical yeasts, Velcorin, wood chips, or Reverse Osmosis. I’m also gonna bet that he neither fined or filtered his Cabernets. I bet both of you have been fortunate enough to try older vintages of these wines. Did you ever consider “how” they were made? Could that have been reason those wines have lasted? It would be an interesting discussion.

    The ‘brett’ comment is also telling. You can have ‘brett’ or ‘TCA’ in wines that are made in many different ways. To state that ‘natural’ wines have a higher percentage of ‘brett’ issues, is patently false.

    It would also be worth noting that even in the “natural’ wine community most people hate the term ‘natural’. But, this wasn’t mentioned in the post either.

  28. Jeff V., I don’t think I said I was “against” natural wine, whatever that is. I said that I look for one thing when I review wine: its interest value. It is of little consequence to me how the winemaker achieves that, because I review wines, not for myself, but for my readers. My job is advise consumers what to spend their money on. Consumers are looking for delicious, drinkable wines, so that is what I’m on the lookout for. If I had a different job, I might have a different point of view, but I don’t. The “decades” of experience you refer to mean that I have a pretty good barometer of what people want in a wine. It’s not my job to promote a particular style of winemaking, or to put down “interventionist” winemaking, or to engage in “wine politics.” It’s simply to hunt out the best wines, and also to determine if they’re values.

  29. There are folks doing the “natural” wine thing and based on my clients who come in, they are not at all impressed with natural wines. One in particular, we all feel for this cat. He’s super nice and down home with great hospitality but the wines lack. They lack the necessary free so2 levels to prevent spoilage org’s from partying. They lack filtration which helps remove microbial funk and also helps define the fruit.

    “Natural wine” does not = natural cellar sanitation. One must top weekly with low ph vino if they’re going to ride the natural or organic or bio d or sustainable… I get tired trying to differentiate among them all. Time for Inman Pinot Gris.

  30. Randy, I can relate. One cannot be seduced by individual winemakers despite their message. The truth is in the bottle.

  31. Ian Johnson says:

    Randy. Natural winemakers can use organic sulfur to top of barrels. If wineries choose not to they are fools. There are many organic chemicals and treatments that can be used in the vineyard against maladies of the vine, many of which are also used by conventional vineyards. Organic copper for Downy mildew, Phomopsis cane and leaf spot. Organic sulfur for Powdery mildew and Botrytis. Checkmate for mealybugs. Bacillus Thuringiensis for Apple Moth. The list is long. All natural products. Just because a winemaker is ignorant to the use of natural products shouldn’t be a reflection on natural viticulture as a whole.

  32. Ian Johnson says:

    Randy. Forgot to comment on filtration. Filtration does not belong to the domain of conventional winemaking. It is perfectly natural to filter or fine a wine. Clarification is neither natural or not.

  33. Ian Johnson says:

    Randy. One last thing and I will leave you alone.
    You state ““Natural wine” does not = natural cellar sanitation”.
    This is completely untrue and you have to be held accountable for making such statements. Steve. You know these points and should back me up lest this misinformation continues unchecked.

  34. Ian, I back you up!

  35. Ian Johnson says:

    Cheers mate.

  36. Whoah! Go to work for a bit and Ian gets all bound up. First off, thank you for adding a few tidbit of info I was previously unaware of re: “natrural wines”. The point I was trying to make with the cellar sanitation is that one must be extra diligent in the cellar if one is going to go the “natural” route. I was poking a bit of fun at the word natural as I’m still a bit unsure of what it exactly means, although I’m interested in the concept. Based on my personal observations, natural winemaking requires an absolute clean cellar in order to control the va. It sounds like you are not from this planet or at least this country, because in THIS country, the word natural, in the context of food, means nada, thus the need to be more specific, like “organic” which actually means something legally.

    Give me a break Ian. Lighten up.;)

    So please Ian, hold my personal observations accountable… Tell me the things I’ve actually experienced within the realm of “natural” wines are misstatements.

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