That was a tweet I responded to the other day, but I needed more than 140k.
Natural wine bars existed in France since 1982, in the past five years wine bars and wine -oriented restaurants who focus on them in that city exploded to over 160 in Paris. There's at least one in virtually every appellation in that country, from hill top remote towns like Valvigneres to Toulouse and even to Beaune.They've blossomed like dandelions in Brussels, the UK, the US and Scandinavia. As wines, they've spread to Austria, never left the country of Georgia, and finally has gone wild in Italy. Israel is sadly slow on the uptake. But Australia and the United States have a new generation of winemakers side-stepping school and making wines in the old fashioned way.
When I published The Battle for Wine and Love in 2007, there were maybe three wine makers who made wines I would happily drink on the west coast. Today I might be able to say I can count them on three hands. In a few years, that will pop.
The formation of groups where winemakers can exchange tastes and ideas has helped. Austria's got one, Spain has one, France, one + numerous tasting events (La Remise, Haute les Vins, La Dive, ViniCircus---a score more.) Italy's natural wine groups are fractional, now there are about 3 -4 splinters. As a result where five years ago in Italy there were a few handful of natural wines, today there are a good 100 + producers, new producers mixed in with the older traditionalists. Carso, up north, is crawling with them. Mt. Etna in Sicily is vino naturale a- go- go and even more shocking, there are natural Chianti's and Brunellos and Barolos. Rome has a natural wine bar, (no broken knee caps yet) and there's an Italian natural wine guide.
Wine importers trawl the international wine shows ( mostly occur in France and Italy) for new finds. Good luck to them. Competition is fierce. New York City has more than five importers specializing in them. California has about five as well. Okay, so Napa is slow to embrace the wines on their restaurants list, understandably, but affirmative in Sonoma, Bay Area and LA, there's natural in Las Vegas, a wine bar in Kentucky and natural wine in the Carolinas. Speaking about Kentucky, one reader of this blog, who happened upon The Battle in a used book store is now a faithful follower of Chambers Street. He just got a passport and is thinking about going on Europe Natural this summer.
The powerful ambassadorial wine tasting, The Renaissance des Appellations travels globally. Yes, that one is for Biodynamic wines but there's plenty of overlap in the natural wine world. The Italian organization, Vin Natur is one organization alone that has 142 producers in 9 different countries, held a tasting and conference in Zurich this Fall. There, Terje Meling, head of the Norwegian monopoly, considered the largest buyers of natural wine worldwide, presented his deadpan rationale for their buying practice. Customer demand. Beyond that? The 'natural wine' world has reintroduced a variety of kinds of wines to the public. No longer only red, white and rosé, there is orange as well. Barrique has given way to anfora and old wood and concrete. Red wines can be delicate or medium weight. Maybe it's circumstantial but I do accredit the wine geek pushing the wine envelope with embracing variety, and this whether natural yeast or not, is a very good thing for everyone.
In short, evidence of growth is circumstantial, and I hope it always stays that way. But it is there. These wines are not for everyone for sure, but there is still a very strong demand that exceedssupply. So, is it just noise?
And is it a movement?
Where there is growth, where there is pooling of talent and pooling of ideas, where there is cross pollination, and deep kissing on the dance floors, where there are wild packed tastings in limestone caves and in conference centers where there are groups that form and exchange information, wines, fun and drama, there is life. Here exists a strong and often fanatic community of the makers and the drinkers. This movement is about as much white noise as the anti-war movement in 1970. And mostly people are knocking them back with gusto and little ceremony.
A writer recently wrote, "To call the “natural wine category” a “phenomenon” is an exaggeration. If it is a phenomenon, then it is a very small one and certainly not “the most powerful movement rocking today’s wine market.” It represents a tiny fraction of the global wine market in terms of both value and volume.
Well, then I say, this is a phenomenon because this is a desire that is people driven, not market. The winemakers are growing, the drinkers are growing, hell, I can't get the wines I want anymore. The competition is cut throat and if I dont' act quick, the stores run out of them. I hear the same complaint from Pascaline Lepeltier up at the restaurant Rouge Tomate in New York City.
Big Wine and the conventional wine world might be slightly threatened but not desperate. That might change if ever ingredients will be required on a wine label. I imagine their lobby $ will be too strong, the ingredient list, while nice, won't ever happen. But one can see it on negative tweets and attacks on natural wine. I do find it amusing to see the use of the world nature/natural catch fire on the Lallemand catalog.
* Yeasts selected from nature. The word occurs 9 times on that one page. There are yeasts pointed to the natural and organic community. Prediction? This will step up
I would imagine that their yeast etc sales are not impacted. Their money is safe. Natural wine folk tend to make very little wine, and losing their market share, no big deal. But what happens when natural gets industrialized in the way organic food is now? What happens when the demand for these kinds of wines hits the supermarket? What happens when Whole Foods bends to their customers demands to get real with their wine program, and presents wines from the bottom up that are natural or natural enough? That's when the impact will happen. And it will. But the companies will adapt. They'll find some way to make money when the yeast and sulfur sales decline.
This is not a fad. Or at least no more a fad than heirloom tomatoes and good taste is a fad. Now, bad taste? That can be a fad. Just look at fashion from the 80s, or hot pants.
No matter what you call minimal intervention wines, it's all about returning to a more sensible time in wine making when an ego stayed out of the winemaking and stayed in the farming and what was in the glass dazzled.
But take a look at that above graf. Is it inflammatory? To some people it is. And that brings up the vitriolic axe that even my fellow wine writers need to grind. I understand the threat from Big Wine (wineries + chemical farming/oeno companies) but I can't understand those who need to attack a group of winemakers who dare to go natural and those people who seek them out. The name calling and bickering is as bad as it ever was in the sandbox at the erobertparker.com board. The point is to keep focused on the wines and not the debate, because how can you possibly debate something that is delicious and is not overly processed. I fail to see the argument.
So, long term ramifications? When people wise up to the ingredients inside a wine other than grapes, demand will accelerate. Big companies like Gallo, Boisset, and who knows, probably even Yellow Tail will have their "natural" wine line extension so they don't lose the supermarket sales. More wine makers who are happy with small scale production will see if they make the wine they actually want to drink, there are customers waiting to drink with them. And happily, more and more farmers will be going organic, biodynamic and the real love of farming will come back to the vigneron. Who knows, we might even get a real word in this country for one person who makes the wine tends the vine.
So, noise? I'm not a betting woman, but I might make an exception here. You in?
By the way, on another wine note. Had the NV Bereche et Fils Extra Brut Reserve, it was just gorgeous. (also at Chambers)