The latest stimulant to drag me out of natural wine commentary retirement was the 'debate' during the European Wine Blogger's Conference in Turkey. Turns out this wasn't a debate as much as it was a presentation--one that could have been entitled, Natural Wine? Sorely missing on the panel was a winemakeris committed to working with nothing added or taken away. Without it, the genre of wine was merely a headline without a voice.
Dr. Jamie Goode was given the thankless task of faith keeper. As the first voice up he was at a clear disadvantage. He gave a peaceful, what's the big deal about talk, when he needed a take no prisoner approach. Had he come at the end or in the middle, I'm sure he might have added some more zing. But the take-away from his seven minutes? "Hey, I like many so called natural wines. After all, mostly all wine is natural."
The others following were not as doveish, after that, it was everyone into the sandbox!
Winemaker Virgile Joly, works in organic and gave a nice presentation of the kinds of wines he makes starting with very conventional wines. His point of view was; see? Even in the conventional wines, they're pretty minimal and additives are harmless. For some reason he neglected to bring up added tannins, gum arabic, grape concentrate, PVPP (used widely in rosé and keeping brett down) etc. He also never addressed the machines that can press a wine into a taste profile. (RO, MOX, Thermovinification, Rotor Fermenters, Spinning Cone, Dialysis..etc.). He actually did defend Thermovinificaion, "Well, you kill everything off in the wine but then you can use less sulfur."
Maurizio Ugliano of Nomacorc made his most compelling contribution when answering Alder Yarrow's statement from the audience. Visibly frustrated, Alder raised the point that the panel discussed additives but never brought up machinery or process such as reverse osmosis.
Dr. Ugliano answered Alder as if he were a school boy on the slow track. The machines, he said, merely sound scary because people don't understand that there's nothing unhealhty about them.
No one was talking about the health issues here. Natural is about working with nature not by extruding alcohol, water and sludge, reconstituting to the winemaker or marketer's parameters.Dr. Ugliano was the one who didn't understand.
Finally we had Robert Joseph, the most polished presenter with a strong point of view that woke the hungover morning crowd up. His opener was that natural wine is akin to free jazz, not his cup of tea.
Interestingly, he noted Clos Roche Blanche L'Arpent Rouge (pineau d'aunis) his favorite of the previous night. But it wasn't natural, he said. He drew this conclusion because the wine didn't taste like Frank Cornelissen's, (who's latest offereings, by the way, are fabulous). Well, it couldn't. One is northern clime, the other is southern. One on limestone, the other on basalt, one raised in tank and barrel the other in anfora. One whole cluster, the other destemmed. Not to say anything about pineau d'aunis vs. Etna varietals. The wine couldn't possibly have anything in common with it, except a similar philosophy presented in different ways under different conditions.
I understand Robert is not fond of orange wine, but not all orange is natural, (though undoubtedly the finest ones are). He doesn't like cloudy or apple cidery tastes, but he might be surprised that while some natural wines have these visuals and flavors, not all do, and when in balance, some of us don't mind. He will be surprised to hear that many people do indeed consider Clos Roche Blanche natural, in fact they've been working organically with minimal intervention and what some would consider dangerously low sulfur for close to two decades. They were early participants in the La Dive Bouteille, the most well known of the natural wine shows. And to quote Gravner, to make natural wine you must be a natural person, well, that discribes CRB's Catherine and Didier.
Robert and I need to sit down and drink. First we need to establish that not all Orthodox Jews are payis and streimel wearing Satmers, yet they both observe shabbos. Then onward. We'd have a good time. I'm sure of it.
Whether or not you like the wines, they've brought up the debate that keeps on giving. The discussion is open, what is wine and much intervention is too far? What is wine and what is Twinkie and where do the twain meet?
The wines have brought philosophy and taste back to the forefront and in this way, putting culture and the importance of farming front and center. This cannot be bad, even if you're forced to drink a magnum of Cornelissen's Munjabel Rosso No. 8MC (pass the bottle here please.)