Joe Dressner, renown importer of natural wines passed away Saturday. My heartfelt condolences to his family and all those who feel his absence. 60 is way too early to go.
I did not know Dressner, so I defer to Eric Asimov for the eulogy (and the inability to resist interjecting a bit of the “don’t-analyze-wine-or-use-specific-descriptors” ideology into said eulogy). Not sure how Dressner and I would have got on, but I suspect we’d be at odds about the idea of “natural” wine.
Quite serendipitously, Joe Roberts reviewed the movie ” Wines From Here” today – about a week after Jamie Goode’s Book “Natural Wine” hit the shelves.
I pushed, in the comments on Jamie’s blog and the Palate Press review, for concretes about what distinguishes a “natural” wine from the alternative (“unnatural”?…). What discernible characteristics differentiate it from more manipulated, “inauthentic”, wines?
I like to have these things spelled out. Call me weird. Alas, I heard nothing but crickets.
“Wine is artifice”, asserted Larry Brooks (as did several other winemakers), when I was interviewing him for a three-part blog piece about “wild” yeasts (on winesooth.com). My friend, Jeff Miller, agrees. If wine grapes, left untouched, ultimately turn to vinegar (or ethyl acetate or some other undrinkable funk), then “Authentic Wine” is just “inauthentic”, “unnatural” wine made with a different intervention/manipulation paradigm.
In Joe Robert’s piece, a “natural” winemaker is quoted as saying:
“Our goal is to do nothing [to the wine]; so if we have to do anything, we want to do as little as possible.”
If we understand that the natural history of grape juice is NOT wine but vinegar, then the above statement is like saying:
“Our goal is to do remain virgins; so if we have to have sex, we want to do it as little as possible [so we remain virgins].”
Just what am I not supposed to do in the vineyard to prevent loss of vines to nematodes, gophers or Pierce’s disease and loss of fruit to powdery mildew or botrytis?
What should I not do in the cellar and yet ensure that brettanomyces, dekkera or other spoilage species do not make my wine undrinkable (if a touch of brett gives wine complexity, how do I ensure that I get only a the right amount of “touch” in my wines)? How do I keep my wines stable if I do not make enough to afford to lose a few gallons in filter pads or do not have the ability to bottle in sterile conditions, under negative pressure?
It doesn’t help the no-chemicals ideology of “natural” wine advocates when studies indicating that sulfur dioxide may have a “positive effect on a grape berry’s composition” like this one are published. Similarly, the contention that wines made from organically grown grapes are somehow better, are discounted by findings like these (Stu Smith must have loved that one!).
So maybe all that “unnatural”, aberrant, deviant, perverse manipulation is about keeping the wine clean and ensuring it does not spoiled -as is well argued here.
When former banker, then self-proclaimed wine expert was anointed by Robert Parker as his successor to the throne of the California Wine Pontificate, he said (in one of the interviews immediately following) that he’d be looking for “authenticity” in the wines he reviews. In almost the next breath, he admitted 1) limited familiarity with California wine and 2) having visited Burgundy (the other end of his wine beat) only a few times.
“Authentic” means “the real thing”. To know it when you see it, requires familiarity – both with the genuine article and the counterfeit. So you can understand why I had to self-administer the Heimlich maneuver after getting hit with that absurd bolus of verbal vomit. I may have been able to tolerate it if he’d made drug references and wore thumb rings….
But, I’ve gone afield of my intended point:
I’m willing to make a small batch of “natural” wine from the same lot of fruit as I make the rest of my wine this year. This will likely be Suisun Valley Montepulciano. I have no control over growing, but once the fruit is in my possession, I can make it any way I want to.
All I need is the “natural” wine proponents to tell me how to make my batch of “natural” wine:
- What should/can I do at crush? Can I add bisulfide, tartrate, DAP? (should I even bother checking pH and specific gravity?)
- How do I prep my fermenter (I propose using a stainless steel fermenter to make a 3 gallon batch)
- Do I inoculate with malolactic bacteria?
- How do I prevent contamination with ambient yeasts in my 12′ by 12′ basement, which is open to the crawl space, where all sorts of insects that traverse the space and, along with even the lightest draft, carry all species of microbes (conditions not too divergent from those in the cellars of those “natural? winemakers)?
- What are we looking for? What in the finished wines will be the correct character of my “natural” wine? What will be the hallmarks of “unnatural” wine?
Please, tell me.
Finally, who will sit in judgment and discernment over these wines?
Please, tell me.