amarchinthevines

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

Natural news

10 Comments

As a result of my interest in wine, natural wine in particular, I read lots of articles, tweets and other media sources. Quite often these include attacks on the whole idea of natural wine, clichés about it being a fashion rather than serious wine and generalisations about faults. There are some writers and wine industry people who get very worked up about the idea of people enjoying wine and dismissing such people and their ability to appreciate good wine.

One issue which regularly upsets such critics is the very term ‘natural wine’. It involves human activity, vines don’t grow naturally in rows, fermenting in vats or barrels – all are not natural processes so the term is misleading they cry. Recently I read about one Chilean minimal intervention producer criticising the term because it diminishes the role of the winemaker.

It was interesting, therefore, to read a tweet from wine writer Simon J. Woolf about an Australian article on the term natural wine. In it writers Sue Dyson and Roger McShane outline their research which shows that the term ‘natural wine’ has been used for centuries. They found it used at the end of the 17thC by a Swiss writer who abhorred the ‘abuse’ of wine by adding things to it or ‘refinement’. In 1731 an English Dictionary defined “Natural wine is such that it comes from the grape without any mixture or sophistication”. By 1869 the article shows a French description, “Natural wine is the term applied to the product which contains no other matter than the grape when fermented produces“.

These definitions could apply today and show, to my mind, that modern natural wines are simply a return to classic winemaking. The lack of definition of what constitutes a natural wine leaves them open to criticism and abuse. And, this point was further highlighted in a recent article by Alice Feiring entitled ‘Is Natural Wine Dead?’.

In this New Yorker article Feiring expresses regret that many have jumped on the natural wine bandwagon and how many of those are taking shortcuts to cash in. Bigger companies seeing marketing opportunities sell wines labelled natural since they contain no added sulphites though the base wine may be machine harvested, artificial yeasts added etc. Other winemakers are trying to make wine without experience and the results are often faulty which adds to the generalisations mentioned above.

I think Feiring has a point. I see wines on UK retail shelves promoted as natural which I would not consider to be so. I have tasted faulty wines at fairs events but then I have done at conventional wine fairs and far more dull, characterless wines. However, the lack of definition does facilitate this usurping of the natural wine label.

That said there are waves of new winemakers who are producing great wines. Just this week I had a terrific Cinsault from Alexandre Durand of Peira Levada in Faugeres, Dynamite. Fruity, enjoyable but with a lovely mineral streak of freshness and complexity. With this new wave in France and around the world those of us who enjoy natural wine are still in safe hands.

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.

10 thoughts on “Natural news

  1. What I think the main problem is with the term “natural wine” is that it lends itself as a stick with which its detractors can beat it. As for faulty natural wines, they exist, of course, but on a wine forum recently, when asked to name names detractors could only mention one producer, and one whose wines are generally held to have got less “faulty” in recent years at that. This was a group of “knowledgeable” men complaining about natural wine, but only one poor winemaker was directly named.

    Bandwagon jumping is inevitable. The genre is not only successful but it has captured the imagination of a new demographic, and the big boys are not blind to the preferences of younger drinkers. But the label doesn’t always dominate the wine. Many Australian, and certainly South African, winemakers go about making wine in a natural way without shouting about it. Increasingly, wines are being made this way and I’m sure the genre will gain perfect acceptance once the dinosaur critics have moved on.

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    • ” Many Australian, and certainly South African, winemakers go about making wine in a natural way without shouting about it.”
      I’ve visited hundreds of French wineries over the years, and only once, fairly recently, did anyone use the term “natural wine” or some French equivalent. And most of them have been small wine producers, many of them organic and/or biodynamic.

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  2. Couldn’t agree more. In The Adelaide Hills producers were simply getting on with the winemaking and leaving it to others to categorise the wine. Unfortunately the term has become pejorative. Great wines like Alexandre’s just go to show that great winemaking defies such categorisation – it’s just really good to drink

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  3. I think people get far too hung up about the use of the word “natural”. It’s just a word, which for the most part I believe people understand in the context of wine. And I feel the same way about “orange” wines for example. Is it really a problem that orange wines are more amber than orange? Do we also need to talk about purple and yellow wines, rather than red and white? Or, to return to “natural”, does use of the term really imply that other wines are unnatural? No it doesn’t – no more that using the term “organic” implies that other wines are inorganic. Is it a problem that “still” wines move if you swill your glass? I could go on, but you will be pleased to know I won’t 🙂

    Anyway, thank you for that article, Alan – some interesting background about the term.

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  4. Thanks Steve, appreciated. I have to agree on all counts. Why get so worked up about a word? But then I probably do when I see some wines described as such from sources I know really don’t justify it. In the end it’s all about the quality in the bottle, not the label on the outside.

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  5. ” There are some writers and wine industry people who get very worked up about the idea of people enjoying wine and dismissing such people and their ability to appreciate good wine.”
    That’s a problem I find with “natural” wine industry people and writers. For example, one semi-prominent writer criticized my criticism of a particular producer’s “natural” wines, saying that my palate obviously was trained on conventional junk and therefore couldn’t appreciate the definitely disgusting wines I tried. I won’t name the writer or the wine producer.

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    • And that’s the sort of comment which gives everyone in the natural wine scene a bad name. Dismissing the taste of people is just idiotic, let’s not beat around the bush.
      My tastes have certainly changed in recent years and I find many conventional wines a bit dull and heavy but I can appreciate great winemaking of any type and would certainly not dismiss others with differing opinions.

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      • Everyone has the right to an opinion, but problems occur when opinion is presented as fact, because then only one person can be right if there is disagreement. It happens with all sorts of wines, but more so I think when natural wines are involved, as opinions there often differ so greatly, and I have certainly seen it in both directions across the “natural divide”.

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      • Thank you. If more natural wine supporters were as reasonable as you, there would be fewer arguments. When I replied to the above-mentioned writer that the 2 wines from the same producer were tasted by 4 of us and all agreed they should both be poured down the drain, he responded that our palates were all probably trained on conventional wines so we couldn’t appreciate those 2 wines.

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  6. Absolutely.
    Sadly this is a feature of our times

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