A month ago or so I wrote a piece about how some people seem to get very hot under the collar about natural wines. I thought that I would leave it there but the argument has come up again in French social media and I can’t help stirring the pot a little.
It actually started with a well known British writer who attended RAW the wine fair in London devoted to natural wines. His comments bugged me a little, saying that he was going but not sure why as the wines would be wild and murky. So why bother going if you’ve already made up your mind to dislike them?
There followed an article in Le Monde which upset many people because a) Le Monde hardly ever covers wine and b) having chosen to do so the article was an attack on conventional and organic winemaking and the use of sulphites and pesticides. Its preference for biodynamic and natural wines angered some with comments in response that included one claiming that organic wines tasted blind are ‘nefarious plonk’ (infâmes piquettes).
On Facebook one winemaker stated that he could tell those who like organic and natural wines at a dégustation because they are the sandal wearing ones who never smile. Clearly he hasn’t seen me!
Then today an interview with Stéphane Derenoncourt, well known winemaker and consultant in Bordeaux. He made some valid points about Bordeaux losing touch with reality because of its collector status and high prices and how lower down the scale Bordeaux winemakers are suffering and out of fashion. So far so much in agreement. But then a final statement in which he attacked natural wines as undrinkable and badly made. Out of the blue. Now he may have been asked this as a final question to make headlines for the new magazine in which the interview is a feature but it did seem somewhat gratuitous.
Why are these people so angry and hostile towards natural wine and even organic and biodynamic wines?
I suspect because they are trendy and therefore some might see them as a fad which will disappear.
Partly because some in the natural wine movement do proselytise rather and other wine makers must get fed up of being told they are damaging the earth etc. Understandable. Many conventional winemakers do minimise their use of pesticides and see the use of sulphur and copper as part of organic winemaking as rather hypocritical.
Perhaps it’s the lack of clarity about what constitutes natural wine, but then those who make it often don’t like regulations. But they do not follow the winemaking which many were brought up with and educated in so it makes them uncomfortable.
However, to dismiss all natural wines as murky bacterial soups is nonsense and lazy generalising. Yes there are some bad natural wines, bad organic wines and bad biodynamic wines. But equally there are many more examples of bad conventional wines. There are many great wines in all categories.
Ironically I was at a very good tasting this morning of older vintages of conventional wines from around France including excellent Grand Cru Chablis 1989, Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf Du Pape 1996 and Le Pape Sauternes 2005. There is room for all kinds of wine and personal choice is paramount. I like some wines, I don’t like others. I like conventional, organic, biodynamic and natural wines. I do not criticise a type of wine and, by extension, those who like them. I do not generalise about types of wine and those who drink them.
It’s only natural. So calm down, enjoy a glass of wine and try before you criticise. It’s Languedoc Wine Day tomorrow (May 29th) so make it a Languedoc wine, in whatever style you prefer.
May 28, 2015 at 7:02 pm
Why do people get so agitated about natural wine? Okay, remember, I’m no fanatic. There’s profound “natural wine” and volatile, oxidised and vinegary natural wine. But the whole movement challenges the hegemony of the existing elites in wine and their views, whether that be journalists, consultants, winemakers or others in wine. It’s the “stamp on a spider” syndrome – fear. I just read a piece where the author quoted Robert Parker getting very personally nasty about Rajat Parr, and he’s only making wines with lower alcohol and more freshness. I really think it does people no good at all to get gratuitously cross or insulting about anything like alternative winemaking practices and the people behind them. What’s upsetting is that such people don’t even feel the need to defend the chemicals and manipulations “they” use. The market will decide. For me there is room for all good wine, whether that be from Chateau Pichon-Baron, DRC or Taittinger, Gut Oggau, Arnot-Roberts or Julie Balagny.
May 28, 2015 at 11:16 pm
Couldn’t agree more with all of that David. Obviously my palate is changing due to spending time with so many natural producers but I still recognise good wine from whatever source. Nor do I dismiss the efforts many now make to look after their terroir. I just wish there was :-)a little less in fighting and a bit more tasting of each other’s wines 🙂
May 28, 2015 at 7:06 pm
I guess my problem, Alan, with the whole natural wine movement is that it is based on absolute bollox. Natural Winemakers make good, often great, wines because they care about their vines, their land and pay huge amounts of attention to the whole wine-making process. To pretend their success is down to holistic, caring, apply-some-goat’s-horn-now-because-the-moon-is-in-Jupiter is simply ludicrous.
ps went to the afternoon session of your “Fine Wine” tasting which despite showcasing some magnificent wines only confirmed my prejudices that paying huge amounts of money for bottles that need decades of cellaring only to be corked or faulty is simply A Game For Fools…
May 28, 2015 at 11:24 pm
I did like some but was disappointed by the Burgundy and Bordeaux. I have plenty of wine from both regions and hope they’ve aged more serenely! Natural wine is less about biodynamics and more about sulphites though there is crossover. The term natural is possibly a cause of some friction, as if claiming the moral high ground. But you’re right that good or great winemakers are those who devote themselves to their soils, vines and cellars. I find it hard to accept so much of the biodynamic ideas but if it reinforces their motivation then I’m a laissez-faire guy.
Shame we were on different tastings it would have been good to talk again, hopefully we can sort something out soon,
May 29, 2015 at 4:12 pm
Indeed, hope our paths cross soon
LikeLiked by 1 person