When the #WOPN asked me to be on the above, I joked that it was not a panel but a lynch mob. Oh, it really was a joke. I didn't need my flak jacket at all. I was really happy to be part of this. And yes, nervous.
7 winemakers: Bradley Brown (Big Basin Vineyards), Peter Cargasacchi (Cargasacchi Wines), Nathan Kandler (Thomas Fogarty Winery), Scott Kelley (Estancia Winery), Brian Maloney (DeLoach Vineyards), Clark Smith (Wine Smith Wines) and Joe Wright (Left Coast Cellars
1 journalist: Me
1 moderator: Writer John Haeger
A controversial topic. Naural Wine
For me, I had a difficult task; finding a California pinot natural enough to pour to illustrate a philosophy. I had to gorget that I just don't like pinot as expressed in California. The grape there shouts a nut of fruit I find difficult. Some producers tease it up, some try to 'tame' it down, but in the end, I look for forest and they give me sunshine. Pinot for me is a girl who has to hide in the shade.
So, I called up Gideon of Clos Saron. His wines are always expressive of place and low intervention. The last two vintages, not yet released, have no sulfur at all. Those would have been perfect, but I had to go with something from the past. Perhaps, for a 2005? A more subdued year? Untasted, I chose it and hoped #1--I could ID it in the blind tasting #2-It furthered the cause.
We all were given a wine to blind taste and comment on. I was confounded by my assignment. I wrote in my notes, if California can do this, forest and rose, I'm wrong about the grape in the state. Turns out, it was Oregonian, Left Coast Cellars.
I gave it high praise by saying, "Not a bad drink." I hadn't realized that we had any Oregon wines. I thought they all had to be Californian. Note to self: go with your instinct.
Clark Smith was given the Clos Saron. He proffered a classic, well done tasting note; violet, complexity. He nailed the wine's vintage. (I hear the section to the left of the panel had a funky bottle, sorry about that guys.)
After the blind portion we then introduced our wines. But, Clark Smith gave a speech instead of a wine commentary. He used the time to create some sort of platform, and requested a natural wine definition. God knows why. This whole definition heads to one goal, "Define and destroy." Know the enemy and get rid of it. Perhaps that was his point.
"How do you define a philosophy," I asked. He also made the plea for transparency in the industry, yet he himself, disclosed nothing about how he made his wine.
Scott from Estancia said he felt like a natural winemaker even though he does use adds and subtractions. Interestingly enough, other than John Haeger, our moderator, he was the only one on the panel who had read Naked Wine and he boldy brought their most processed wine. He admitted inoculations, that he preferred punchdowns to pumpovers, (seen as more 'natural.') He didn't use enzymes. The wine was hollow. I assumed reverse osmosis along with a slew of other possibilities.
With so many people on the panel there was little time to be rowdy or really dig into any one issue, but in the last few minutes when Clark, who came with an agenda, it seemed, brought up the threat of biogenic amines and their carcinogenic threat and so natural ferment was the unseen danger. "This kind of science just pisses me off," I said.
Were these studies trumped up to promote the bioengineered yeast as well as to support inoculations. When the natural yeast thing becomes prevalent, the companies stand to lose a bundle. Yeasts are not cheap, nor are they necessary.
Wine has been made naturally for eight thousand years. To say the natural process of fermentation is dangerous, is to say a hydroponic tomato is healthier because fewer people are allergic to it than organic heirlooms. Hell, it's alcohol. Too much alcohol is dangerous. Enough is beneficial. Common sense seems to be lacking in science. What did I once write? They could use a philosopher on the staff of UC Davis instead of so many scientists?
Allen Meadows came forward about the issue of fining and filtering, which he saw as one of the tenets of natural wine making. I fear I cut him off, correcting him about natural ferments and low-no sulfur as being the foundation of natural. And as far as F &F, it was Robert M. Parker Jr, a famous voice against natural wine, who made no F&F a requisite to 'fine wine'. "Any good winemaker who works naturally would always lightly fine or filter if they need to, please do not pin that dogma on the naturalists."
When Peter C. said that is what all winemakers do, I had to reflect that yeasts, bacteria, enzymes, tannins, chips, oak flavor, mega purple, micro ox, etcetcetc.... are not needed to 'save' a wine, but to manipulate it. This is a huge philosophical difference.
The last minute tuffles were about the mindset of manipulating fruit in the vineyard through irrigation, how that mindset is against the vin naturalists philosophy. Would love to sit down with Peter Cargasacchi for a good dialogue on this issue and especially how nursing a wine through irrigation might be another philosophical departure that he and I have, but another time.
Heading out to the bus I saw Scott from Estancia and asked him what he did to lower the alcohol.
"Damn, I forgot to talk about the spinning cone," he said.
It was pretty funny, omission or is it just that spinning and reverse are so commonplace and accepted that it just didn't seem important.
That night I was lucky enough to go to the Vintage Burgundy dinner. I was by myself and was going to just run in, taste the wines and leave. But instead I stayed, and maybe it's the magic of the the still young and vibrant, 1972 Doudet-Naudin Corton that kicked off the evening, but I had a terrific time. And whether or not I prefer Burgundy to Pinot, what does it really matter, as long as wine oils the conversation. There was plenty of it over the weekend.