Veneto winemaker activist Angiolino Maule took to the stage with an aura so intense, I saw him as the Clint Eastwood of the Western wine world.
At the outset of the "Natural Wine, the scientific approach," tasting/seminar in Zurich last week, Maule briefly delivered an overview of his group, VinNatur.
His members work naturally to produce wines of terroir, and wines that do not pollute the land or the consumer. To insure his flock behaves (and to try to keep the group safe from poseurs) he tests their finished wines for pesticides, herbicides and sulfur. If after three years those pollutants aren’t diminished, members get the boot. No matter how you feel about the biblical nature of the testing, it's Maule's group and he gets to decide who plays. So no problem so far. In addition, the group is engaged in active research, how does yeast work, how does one reduce copper and sulfur in the vineyards.
With Isabelle Legeron as the day's MC, the day then commenced. First up, Claude Bourguignon.
Down to the flashing fingers ringed in silver and his thick, wavy head of hair, the soil scientist is a royal. He is also a limestone supremacist ("7% of the earth's geology is limestone, and 55% of that is in Burgundy."). His last name, after all is Bourguignon and the stretch of the Cote d’or is his benchmark.
Speaking in machine gun fast English Claude's presentation had at its core the two types of wines, wines of technology and wines of terroir. Land should trump climate, he said.
Besides the obvious, you are what you eat, it seems to me that there's another factor; climate will change yet the soil is constant. He then added, that the natural approach, the least intervention you can get away with, is the only path to express terroir.
As illustration, CB stated, "New Zealand will finally make good wine when they stop with big canopy & irrigation." (Note the limestone supremacy example. NZ has a great deal of it.)
In other words, perhaps if the New World listens to the soil first and stops with the meddling technologies, (especially irrigation which CB is violently opposed to), they will make wine that is true to their place.
His illustrative example was of course Burgundy.
In Burgundy the cooler and higher elevation is in the Cote de Nuits and it is more suitable for reds. The Cote de Beaune is warmer and for some reason more suitable for whites. The monks knew what they were doing, as they made their decisions based on the quality of the soil, the quality of the mineral (limestone) content of the clay.
During the long day there were calls from the peanut gallery for a natural wine definition. For me it is sufficient to say, "Wines made with as little manipulation as possible, wines made with the goal of nothing added and nothing taken away." But others seem to either this is not enough or refuse to hear it and instead need a very detailed iron clad set of parameters.
Seems to me a set of rules would be a dangerous situation. If there are rules then one can get around it. How does one have rules, afterall, for a philosophy?
I kept on thinking about the Dogme rules. I loved Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves as well as Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration. Both powerful and brutal. Dogme could well be the film version of vin naturel, especially with their view of chastity. Rules were broken from the first film. Some of the rules prohibit creativity. Though the ideal to create film with as little artifice as possible is an interesting one, especially in an artificial medium. The movement 'died' in 2005.
The day was long and ended up with my past neighbor, Jonathan Nossiter (Mondovino) gave some random thoughts. He is eloquent. He speaks six languages (or is that seven) fluently, studied ancient Greek, studied painting, claims Brazil and Italy as homes and frankly, makes me feel like the village idiot.
But the talk was a very good one.
Jonathan with some dejection said, "There is no room for film as cultural expression any more." And that was his lament, also about wine. As far as definition? It is useless to define. He riffed more on my dogme thought from another side of the film divide, saying, " Rules for natural wines, like telling the Italian film directors of the 1950’s, Rosselini, Visconti, Fellini let’s make rules for neo-realism. If you don’t make films in this way, you’re out of the movement."
He then switched to the Nouvelle Vague, "We need to change our head, the same way that the films of Godard changed the film world. I didn't like all of his films, but Godard made people question what is the basis of making the film. He turned narrative on its head and it makes people question what is the reality. There isn’t one person since, even conventional films in Hollywood, who don’t question what it is they are making, who hasn’t rethought what is a film narrative.
The natural wine movement is doing that to any winemaker.
And with that we went off to taste the wines in the back room. What did I find.........(coming up next)