Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc

Becoming naturalised



En français

I have spent most of the last 25 months living in the Languedoc and as that period draws to an end I have begun to feel naturalised: my French has started to adopt a local accent such as ‘veng’ for ‘vin’; I tut at anybody and everybody; I rush for a jumper if the temperature dips below 20°C; I even went to a rugby match!

We are searching for a house to move more definitively to the area, it is where I feel happy, healthy and home. Sadly, when I look back across the Channel I see little to make me feel at home there. Brexit has seen a fall in the £ of more than 20% in less than four months. There has been a startling increase in racist and homophobic attacks. The government (with an unelected Prime Minister) is hell bent on going it alone, prepared to do without the EU single market even if it means damaging the economy. Companies such as Nissan have warned they will leave the UK if that is the case yet the government ploughs on determinedly. The 48% who voted to Remain in the EU are ignored, reviled and, today, told that they should be silenced.


Mrs. May told her Party, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

Worrying times. Is it any wonder that I, proud to be a citizen of the world, feel more naturalised here in the Hérault? Though Robert Ménard, the far right mayor of Béziers, is doing his best to out do May’s government by opposing the housing of immigrants relocated from Calais to the town. He sanctioned this poster for example:


As for wine?

After a few tranquil months natural wine has again become the focus of attacks and disparaging remarks by those who seem threatened by it.

In France, Michel Bettane, elder statesman of wine critics, accused natural wine drinkers of being ‘peu democratique’ in their words and ways. No great surprise from a man whose connections make him part of the wine establishment.

In the UK one of the most respected and established of wine merchants, The Wine Society, published this statement from one of their senior buyers.


“Prone to spoilage, high proportion not particularly pleasant to drink, rarely demonstrate varietal character or sense of place.” A damning list. And I am a member of this co-operative group!

Again I feel alienated from mainstream opinion. Sykes is talking complete rubbish and dismisses great wines and talented winemakers with generalisations and prejudice.

I don’t always agree with Alice Feiring, one of natural wine’s more celebrated advocates. However, in a recent article she stated that she cannot support faulty winemaking and those who seem to favour it as an expression of their anti-establishment credentials. I agree. Wine must be drinkable, must be pleasurable, must, above all, be interesting. I could name dozens of natural wine producers who make great wine, it just happens to be natural wine. Are Barral, Foillard, Métras, Coutelou, Occhipinti, Radikon, Ganévat etc making wines as Bettane or Sykes describe?


Tasting Casa Pardet in 2015, a moment when wine stops you in your tracks and makes you say, wow

I have tasted many natural wines which sing of their cépage and origins, wines from France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Australia. They tell a tale of their producer and their terroir. They are interesting, some stop you in your tracks and make you reflect on their beauty. Rather those than the very many dull, monotonous wines which taste the same as everybody else’s from Otago to Oregon.

I do enjoy conventional wines, I really like some of them. However, I often find more excitement and interest in the many, well-made natural wines.

Long live freedom of movement, long live the Languedoc and long live great wine.

I am becoming naturalised.



Mas Coutelou Roberta 2003, fresh as a daisy in 2016. Take note Mr. Sykes

Author: amarch34

I'm a recently retired (early!) teacher from County Durham in North east England. I am going to be spending most of the next year in the Languedoc leaarning about wines, vineyards and the people who care for both.

4 thoughts on “Becoming naturalised

  1. “Naturally” I agree.

    That newspaper headline could be interpreted as a being-fascist provocation for the thugs to go and bully 48% of the population.

    But on the subject of natural wine, I agree. Bettane is one reason I am not renewing my sub to World of Fine Wine. Basically, he’s a boring old fart who won’t stop banging on about natural wine in a journal that pretty much never covers any natural wine producers anyway.

    As for The Wine Society, they should know better as they do sell a number of natural wines. Anyone who TODAY says that a high proportion of natural wines are unpleasant, or that a “high proportion” are prone to spoilage obviously doesn’t drink many.

    Why is the natural wine phenomenon so successful in all of the major wine consuming cities in the world – London, Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Vienna, New York and so on? That’s another discussion, but I can tell you that it isn’t because the wines taste unpleasant and are prone to spoilage, you silly little man (him, not you)!

    Of course you only have to go to London or any of those other cities to find new wine merchants, independent shops, bars and restaurants that are thriving selling these wines. Even that forward thinking bastion of tradition, Berry Bros.

    Watch out Mr “I prefer Cru Bourgeois Boredough” Wine Society conservative, they will steal your business when all your old customers die!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks David, and of course I agree wholeheartedly. I found Sykes’ comments both dispiriting and alarming. I find it hard to believe that there are still people who would write such crass generalisations but especially someone in a senior position in a ‘company’ in whom I have a share. I understand that some people find some wines difficult, as I said I would not buy wines from some producers myself. To dismiss everything though, it’s like me saying that all Chianti is rubbish because I drank one bottle which did nothing for me.
      We seem to live in a world of polarisation, exaggeration and intolerance – and that is the most frightening aspect of all.


  2. Not sure whether I agree with Sykes or not. What does he mean, I wonder, by a “high proportion”, and does he mean by “not pleasant to drink”? What, indeed does he mean by “natural wine”? I really don’t know. Many natural wines would be hard to identify alongside their conventional-but-well-made brethren. There – I am at it too – what do I mean by “many” – to be honest it is an easy cop out to use words like that.

    On the other I have certainly had a few natural wines that seemed to me (as a non-oenologist) to be riddled with brett, and as far as I could tell showed no “varietal character”, and probably no “sense of place” (whatever that means). They were certainly weird. But on the other hand they gave me a great deal of pleasure, which as far as I am concerned is what matters. But would Sykes have enjoyed them? I suspect not. And to be frank I too would probably tire of them if nothing else was available. But to me the joy of wine is having a great range of alternatives available.

    To be honest, I generally feel more comfortable not sticking labels on wines. I am interested in a geeky sort of way in types of yeast,and how sulphur is used, but it is not something to stick on a banner to march behind. As you said at the end of you last comment, Alan, polarisation, exaggeration and intolerance in the world is frightening. In wine I think it is also rather silly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the comments Steve. Funnily enough I was writing my wine of the week update yesterday and was thinking how daft so many labels are. Jonathan Hesford for example has no truck with organic wines yet uses less SO2 than some ‘natural’ producers. As Vincent Pousson wrote a while back it is imprtant to remember that in the term natural wine is the word wine, and you have to ensure that the wine is drinkable and pleasurable, that is its purpose. Many natural wine advocates (of which I am one) do not help themselves by preaching as if they alone have the moral high ground
    I have drunk natural wines which have been faulty and many I would not care to try again. However, I could say the same for conventional wines, eg whilst in Alba in August I chose a well respected producer whose wine was riddled with volatility and brett. Many wines here in the Languedoc could have been made anywhere, without sense of place or grape.
    It is a question of know your producer as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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