September 30, 2009

Unadulterated wine

I have been thinking about natural wine, in light of my previous post about water-backing, and the links to related websites I posted. My thoughts went something like this: wine is anything but natural. Wine does not occur in nature, barrels do not assemble them selves, grapes do not jump in voluntarily. What they (natural wine enthusiasts/advocates) are talking about is not neither natural wine, nor authentic/traditional wine (I don’t want to get into a discussion about defining the terms traditional or authentic). What they are talking about are unadulterated, transparent wines. As I pointed out, there are all sorts off things one can put into a wine to push it towards one “expression” or profile. You can highlight aromas, and introduce bouquets. You can manipulate body, texture, and alcohol. All of these actions are generally used to “design” a wine to fit a model consumer, or create a more standardized product that fits a user groups needs.

The natural wine movement is advocating that wine reflect its context (I will use context, rather than terroir, as its and easier term to agree upon), and that this context be considered and appropriate. They are arguing for non-mass market wine... that wine be unique, individual and handmade (even non-corporate).

So, what does appropriate mean? Well, if a grape variety in one region ripens to 26 Brix or higher, you may be pressured to inoculate with yeast that has a high alcohol tolerance, or cause you to add water, and thus acid, in order to make a “balanced” wine. Whereas, said variety in other regions often delivers ripe flavors at lower alcohols without additions or manipulations. Case in point: Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. I know a lot of people like it; I don’t. It taste like cola and vodka, not wine. However, the other night I drank a Grenache from the same region, which was more balanced and appropriate for a region that has so much sun and heat. But grenache is a different product, does not fly off the shelfs. Someone thought about that, and still planted it anyway, because they knew it was a better choice. I suspect that the wine making practices were also considered and appropriate. Let me be clear; I’m not opposed to a little chemistry in wine making. Stuck fermentations, partial malo-lactic conversion - these are real problems that wineries face, and must have an answer to them in order to keep their business vital. Similarly with their vineyards, real problems such as rot, mildew and pests have an impact on livelihoods, and few of us have the tolerance for risk (or the financial freedom) to watch a product go to ruin just for an ideal. I just hope that when faced with these problems, farmers and winemakers would opt for the lease invasive intervention.

This is what I believe the natural wine movement is advocating, and I believe that it will catch on, eventually. Organics has convinced many people to consider health over price; fair-trade has encouraged people to think about the social impact their purchases make. Natural wine is asking us to really consider what goes into our wine, and whether responsible choices were made during its production.

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