Wine Talk

Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere

Natural wine...

Posted by Giacomo Pevere, Jan 25, 2012.

The discussion about "natural wine" Vs "industrial wine" is really hot in Italy. After hundred of posts, articles and discussion i can resume my opinion: 1) i like good wines, 2) i don't like bad wines, i can just add i particulary love territorial good wines.

Too much simple?

There's some hot discussion around and not for all the issue is so simple. That's a couple...

http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/20...

http://fermentation.typepad.com/fer...

 

Now i'm waiting for the flame... :)

 

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Replies

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Reply by EMark, Jan 25, 2012.

Jack

The discussions that you cite are pretty funny.  Although we do our share of intellectualizing here on the Snooth Forums, I'll bet that by and large the majority of participants would agree with your 1, 2 philosophy.

Wondering why people stake out claims to opinions that are hardly defensible, my guess is that they have to do something to distiguish themselves from their competitors.  If they stake an outrageous claim and watch the reaction, then they have succeeded.  An old Hollywood maxim is "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

A particularly good technique is to state something without proof.  A significant percentage of your audience will accept it as true.  By the time somebody with time on his hands does the research and offers disproof, nobody cares.   You've succeed.  You've moved on to new territory, and your followers hail you as a bold thought leader.

Personally, I have no horse in the Natural Wine game.  I'm with you.  I like good wines.  In all honesty, I do admit that I drink a fair amount of not so good wine, but that's another, mostly personal, issue.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 25, 2012.

I agree.

Most of the "natural" wine talk is BS.

You graft a vine that's been bred from something originating in the Middle East onto a rootstock from another continent an ocean away.  You plant the vines in orderly rows.  You cut off most of the branches and then during the growing season, you pull off leaves and pull of grape clusters.  If you're in a desert country like Spain, you don't spry for fungus. If you're in a damp and gloomy place like the Loire or Burgundy, you spray but only a little bit.  You pick the grapes when they have just the right amount of sugar but not too much.  Too much isn't natural, just enough is.

You take the grapes to the winery because they don't run over by themselves.  You don't add yeast but you hope that whatever yeast is around will be adequate, even if it's the exact same "commercial" yeast that blew in from your neighbor's place.  You might keep the temperature cold "naturally" by using freon or some other compressed gas, and you might ferment in the all "natural" stainless steel tanks.  You might not add sugar but if you do, you only add a little bit, which is OK.  But of course, you don't add water, because that's not natural. 

Then, when fermentation is finished, you don't put the wine in new oak barrels but you put it in natural old oak barrels or in cement tanks or something and of course you don't filter, or if you do, you just filter a little.  When you put it into bottles, you don't add sulfur beforehand, or if you do, you just add the "minimum" amount, not the "maximum" amount, whatever that could possibly be.

That's pretty much it.  You call it "hands off" winemaking. Except of course, when it's hands on. You don't actually do much that's different than what people have always done but somehow what you do is natural and what they do is industrial.  And of course, like the guy says, after you drink enough of those wines, you can't stand to drink anything else.

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Jan 26, 2012.

Quote GregT, quote!

I'm not against natural wine, the good ones, and i think is fascinating talk with some producers understanding why and how they walk this way and tasting their wines. I don't like fundamentalists of natural wine, too many times just an excuse to justifying stinks and imperfections of wine.

I love who decide to walk his own way and just taking about what he do and nothing else. I have a huge example close to me, Josko Gravner, he makes wines as he want experimenting, making mistakes, admitting mistakes and coming back looking for new (or old) ways and never saying a word against. Luckily is not the only one.

I drink your wine because is good, not because you have the "natural wine" label.

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Reply by EMark, Jan 26, 2012.

I think GregT's submission pretty much locks up his "Ambrose Bierce Paragon of Sarcasm" title.  His post is excellent. 

Of course he was someshat redundant.  I thought his first paragraph was inelegant, but, then, he writes four paragraphs saying the same thing in glorious detail.

Bravo, GregT.  Multiple thumbs up.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 26, 2012.

Sheesh Mark, inelegant?!! Heavens to murgatroid! My problem is not that I don't like natural things, but there's a false dichotomy - once you state that item A is natural, then what is item B? And that might even be OK if there were a bright line distinction. You could say, for example, that any grape harvested at over 26 brix could not produce a wine that is "natural". That of course, means that you've come up with a definition of "natural" that may be at odds with the normal English definition of the term, but so be it.

Then if you engage people, they get a little angry and these conversations turn into religious disputes. Even that might be OK if people were really able to distinguish things.

I've told this story before, but I was having lunch with some people in a vineyard in Argentina. In the distance I saw what I thought was a spray cloud and I asked if they were spraying. It was of some concern because I wasn't keen on sitting out in the middle of a chemical cloud. The winemaker with some surprise and irritation, asked what I was talking about. I pointed to the cloud in the distance and he said it was just a truck rumbling down a dusty road in the distance. So I asked if he sprayed and he said, "for what?" They're so dry and so high, they have next to no disease pressure and no fungal pressure. Nor do they fertilize. Because of principle? Partly I guess, but mostly because of economics. It's expensive to buy those things and that would raise the cost of the wine. In addition, as he pointed out, Argentina is so corrupt that if you bought fertilizer, you'd never really know what you got anyway unless you were to have it analyzed somewhere, which would of course, cost additional money.

Organic grapes? Yep. Biodynamic? Nope. "Natural"? Please.

Is he typical? I don't know. But I know plenty of people in Spain and France who are like that. They make wine as simply as they can because the "manipulations" of course, cost money and frankly, aren't necessary. So who are the producers against whom the "natural" wine proponents are rebelling?

We took the wine to a respected person in NYC who is a proponent of "natural" wines. He tasted it and announced that it was manipulated stuff that was made with commercial yeast and that he couldn't buy it.

Bierce eh? One of his drinking buddies was the great H.L. Mencken. Imagine hanging out with those two!

Bierce was a little bitter tho, wasn't he? He was the guy who defined happiness "as an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Hilarious to be sure, but kind of harsh.

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Reply by EMark, Jan 27, 2012.

Touche.  ;-)

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Reply by williamsimpson, Feb 1, 2012.

It really ticks me off when natural wine (no real definition) is spoken of in the same sentence as biodynamic wine.

The latter requires a full transformation of the vineyard, recycling,very hard work, no chems, submission to the phases and cycles of wind, moon and stars, and in my experience results in wines that are the purest expressions of the fruit, with a life in the mouth unlike normallly made wine.

Top producers and top terroirs are increasingly switching to it because you can taste the difference.

What is "natural wine"?

Unlike BIO or "vins d'issus raisins biologique" I have had unusually thin and light red wine from the Coteaux de Tricastin appelation, which would normally be purple and with tannic grip. It differed and was better the next day, but who wants to wait a day to taste wine at its best. Yet when I open the Bandol from Dom Terrebrune, for example, the unlovable Mourvedre grape literally flaunts its fruit and rapes the mouth.

Its naughty to give up on natural wines but I have had similar disappoitments from a very fashionable wine shop in Dulwich yet a 100% success rate with biodynamiques

 

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Feb 1, 2012.

I haven't agronomic knowledge to speak deeply about natural, biodynamic or bio-somethingelse but what's the real difference beetween biodynamic and natural? Both use no chemical product against parasites. Both try to have a healthy soil. Both don't use chemical fertilization... so what's the difference? Moon phases? Not at all, moon phases are followed by the big part of wineries not only natural o biodynamic. So why biodynamic must be better than natural? In Italy just as example the most important association of natural producers have a biodynamic past, they consider biodynamic not enough so they move on. So what?

Ultimately williamsimpson what really matter is the wine, do you produce great wine? Natural, biodynamic, something else? Is still great wine and don't worry magic powders never produce great wine.

 

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 1, 2012.

From what I understand, the biodynamic philosophy is to use less chemicals and less polutents in the vineyards, and less non-sustainable energy in the winery. So take Pontet-Canet's desire to add a horse per year to replace mechanical harvesting, with the addition of Solar Panels for energy in the winery and you're on a biodynamic track. I'm sure i'm missing some other strategies here.

As far as "natural", I would tend to think this is more of a "hippie" thing like going back to the way wine used to be made before various advanced technologies in the vineyard and winery. The result here is most likely non-judicious use of (or lack thereof) technologies and therefore making mediocre wine just for the sake of being natural. Would expect these "natural" types to implement biodynamic trends to the fullest as well.

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Feb 2, 2012.

Jonderry, here in italy natural is more on the science way than "hippie" one, deep studies on what can be done to have an healthy vineyards without using chemical products and that's for me a good thing. Of course i like the "idea" of producing wine like this without "not natural" products, what i don't like of the natural world (bodynamic and biologic include) is the idea, many natural taliban have it, that the natural wine is the only TRUE wine, and as you say sometimes this become an excuse to produce mediocre wine with lot of defect. A stink wine is a stink wine and stinks are the result of a bad job done. Honestly this are just a little %, usually i have tasted really good wines. Probably best natural producers are those that you don't know if they are natural or not, always work so well because they learned to work from their fathers and they don't need "natural" (or biodynamic o biological) label.

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Reply by williamsimpson, Feb 2, 2012.

Giacobbe, I do not know the situation in Italy, only France.

It sounds like we are both most interested in the taste of the wine.

It also sound like your definition of natural would be mine in an ideal world (maybe in Italy!)

In London, as a wine consumer, I have found "natural wine" label is a way of making a poor wine in some way justifiable. It does not use preservative. It has no animal products used in fining. The grapes are hand picked etc. But the wines have been a disappointment to me.

To get ecocert Biodynamique qualifications I think the process is more rigorous, and there are very involved calculations made about recycling everything, position of planets, winds, etc, that require a transfornmation in vineyard practice, to deliver, time after time, great results in the mouth.

As this site tries to pass on what we found, I am passing on that there is a difference in my experience, between 100% satisfaction (Bio) and 100% moderate disappointment ("natural").

In France the membership of "Vignerons Independants", shown by a sign of a unisex peasant carrying a barrel, seen on the bottle neck or label, is also a guarantee of reliable wine. It tends to be a Vini Tipici, made in the traditional ways of the region by the family business, and can range from a village wine to grand cru burgundy. This seems to have a kind of standard about it. As a consumer we learn to value the same things time after time, in my experience of Italian wine it is the family name that counts for the most, the wines that are good year after year. In France it is the same too, but having the Bio or VI standard helps me to gamble successfully on new wines.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 2, 2012.

I remember my anthropology prof kicking my tush when I was a freshman in college, not because I'd pulled in Aldous Huxley's Island (published posthumously), a work of fiction, to serve as a focal point for a discussion about social norms and structures and utopian attempts, but because I used the term 'natural' (as in 'more natural society') to describe some of the things going on in Huxley's isolated island world. She said she'd fail me if I ever used it again.  ;-)

'Natural', other than perhaps as a word to describe something occuring in nature, has absolutely no precise meaning. It's entirely subjective. "Oh, that response is a 'natural one'." "Huh?? No it's not!" Ever had a discussion like that?

So in Giacobbe's Italy we have 'natural' as being more science based than the more mystical/magical biodynamic. In Jon's California we have biodynamic as more rigidly disciplined and structured, while 'natural' is more touchy-feely, amorphously hippie-like bull-nonsense. William over in England seems to agree with California.

What I want to know is what's the difference between biodynamic and 'biologique'? That hair being split, I think we can say that 'natural' is really nothing more than an advertising/marketing term that attempts to get someone to feel good about whatever food product you're making in whatever way.

Generally a term to be avoided, I think...

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Reply by williamsimpson, Feb 2, 2012.

I entirely agree dmcker.

Natural has sprung out of nowhere and is being passed off as meaning something.

There's no difference betwen the bio words. One bio- is the English word and the other is the French. France uses it in the context of the grapes "being issued" biologically, meaning through bio treatment of the vines and terroir - vins d'issus raisins biologique. this is measured and only vineyards that make the required standard can get the label

 

 

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Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Feb 2, 2012.

As u say dmcker these are just word to indicate a concept. Of course natural and bio-something are just terms maybe not perfect words for a agronimic/winemaking theory, nature produce vinegar from grapes and not wine, that's the true. But as every language is just a convention, all of us use this terms and honestly i hope nobody think seriously that winemaking can ever be totally natural.

In italy to indicate not natural wines now is used "industrial"... another convention, of course nobody can seriously think about wine like a motown product (not music, cars...  lol).

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Reply by JonDerry, Feb 2, 2012.

Definitely agree with "natural" being all marketing hype and it's basically an "untrustworthy" sticker as far as i'm concerned. Cool story about your college prof., I had some great ones myself when I was in school.

Had this poly sci prof (who was a cattle rancher in the offseason) from Nebraska lecture us about how that half-eaten dinner you throw away could never have fed the starving kids in Africa, among other things, that always stuck with me.

Anyway, I have respect for tags like "sustainable farming" and even biodynamic for the most part. Reducing the use of harmful chemicals and pollutants, and in the trend of the world going green are great inventions in the vineyard and in the winery for the most part. Except when it goes too far just for the sake of it, that's what I believe we have here with the "natural" movement. In my industry, it's kind of like "organic" skin care, a trend that is thankfully fizzling after gaining some steam a couple years ago. 

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 2, 2012.

'Organic' is, also, predominantly a marketing word of fuzzily little true meaning. I would hope all the wine I'm drinking is both organic (not in-organic in the chemical sense) and natural (as in issuing from the natural world, with a bit of help from human hands).

So now should we define 'industrial' in the wine context?  ;-)

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Reply by gregt, Feb 2, 2012.

Well as you guys have pointed out, a big problem is defining what you're talking about. The dichotomy between "natural" and "industrial" is really mind-bending.

On the one side, you have the little winemaker, carefully tending his grafted vines and letting grasses grow between the vines and then he picks by hand and stomps the ripe grapes ever so carefully and lets them ferment with native yeasts, finally bottling without fining or filtering.  You hope he washed his hands once in a while and you heard that he washed the bottles - they're of course collected from the village as the peasants empty them.

On the other side you have Yellow Tail - their production facility looks like an oil refinery.

And there's absolutely nothing in between.

Natural and industrial. Because if you're not one, you surely must be the other.

Funny thing is, who do you think really has to "manipulate" the grapes? The peasant who makes some undrinkable wine in his barn? Or the peasant who decides he has special terroir that needs to be expressed and happens to be in the fine region where the law allows him to chaptelize if needed, or acidify, but not both in the same vintage?

Or the large producer who has the market power to tell the growers what to do and to test the grapes coming in and then can just blend them all together?  Gallo was sold Syrah instead of Pinot Noir and nobody knew the difference. It may have been industrial but it was also pretty clean.

It's a completely false dichotomy to call wine either natural or industrial, and it's not uncommon.  Not only are they two poles, there are many other points at which one can stop.

As far as biodynamics, that's a whole separate issue that's been discussed.  Not only do you need to do things according to the various planetary cycles, you have to accept the dogma.  Just like I can't call myself Catholic w/out accepting the tenets of the faith, I can't be biodynamic w/out accepting the tenets of the faith. It's not a matter of simply eschewing pesticides and fungicides, it's a whole belief system, and that system informs all of the rules and potions that you're supposed to use. 

For a workable definition of "natural", you can check out the Louis/Dressner site where he listed a few things that he thought mattered.  Most people focus on "native" yeast and "minimal" sulfur, both of which are completely meaningless to me. 

Anyhow, if you want to know about biodynamics, you can read the unreadable wild psychotic ramblings of the founder, Rudolf Steiner, or his pre-eminent disciple, Nicholas Joly. And to be certified, there's an organization that tests the depth of your belief.  Not quite as rigorously as Torquemada might have, but who knows, in time, perhaps they'll see the utility of his approach. 

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Reply by gregt, Feb 2, 2012.

BTW, if anyone is interested in what Chapoutier has to say:

http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/529697/chapoutier-pours-scorn-on-natural-winemakers?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

I think he's as interested in the shock value of what he says as he is in the validity of his argument.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 2, 2012.

Nicholas Joly as Torquemada. Good one, Greg! 

Guess I better stop drinking his wines. But they are so tasty...  ;-)

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Reply by gregt, Feb 3, 2012.

He's actually coming back to town in a few days. Super likeable guy actually.  Just crazy as a loon!

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