Since I last wrote on the subject in the spring, the natural wine debate has only heated up and taken some unexpected turns. From Alice Feiring to Jancis Robinson, Steve Heimoff, Jon Bonné and Mike Steinberger, a lot of people have pitched in with their point of view and sometimes controversies, as I point out on this Palate Press piece published today.
The main point of the piece, however, was not to add to the controversy, but rather to bring the story back to a more practical level. Over the last few months, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with a number of vignerons who aim at making natural wine (which I’ll define, in the strict sense, using Alice Feiring’s idea of “nothing added, nothing taken out). And the talk was fundamentally down-to-earth, focused on the health of the vines and the requirements of making good wine with minimal use of technology and chemical additives of any kind. I heard little ideology, much more conviction developed through practice, in the field and in the cellar. And that’s what I wanted to give a sense of with that article.
It’s good to focus on the point of view of experienced practitioners like, say, Paul Draper, whose words on winemaking published on Alice Feiring’s blog are a true pleasure to read – and an instructive one, at that – or Jared and Tracy Brandt, whose manifesto, published last year on their blog, is a very intelligent statement of intention and observation.
Still, one of the things that strikes me in the ongoing debate surrounding natural wine – and which I didn’t get too in the current story – is how some people dismiss natural wine by saying that it is “impossible” to make good wine in this nothing added, nothing taken out approach. This includes some winemakers who either state that “all wine is natural” or that natural fermentations are “dangerous”.
I beg to differ. Not out of dogma, but simply of what I’ve tasted and even worked on in the cellar, as I’ve been lucky enough to work on crush at Closson Chase vineyards in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where the focus is clearly on natural fermentations and where sulfur is applied sparingly, for most cuvées. I’ve seen things move forward to delicious finish without any intervention other than a careful watch. Not that it’s always perfect without any further ado, but it’s certainly very possible.
I personally don’t understand how a winemaker can come to see something that is done regularly and successfully as “impossible”, when empirical evidence says otherwise. Maybe it’s not just the fans of natural wine that are being dogmatic.