Stepping outside his usual role of editor of Alquimie Magazine, Josh Elias talks candidly on his affections for ‘natural’ products.
I have a beard and I wear Oliver People’s glasses. I’m part of ‘new wave’ media and I love to drink Riesling. I used to be the stock in trade of punch pushing sommeliers and now I write. My horoscope projects a daily love of ‘natural’ wine and indeed, I love gulping the good stuff. What I’m not so fond of is the label for this category of wine. ‘Natural Wine’?
‘Natural wine’ is a movement that is very much defined by what it isn’t; no pesticides in the vineyards, no additives in the winery, no critics, no ‘winemakers’. ‘Natural wine’ is a truly democratic movement. You heard me. It is democratic. No listen to me, you aren’t listening. It is democratic. By the people, for the people. It is a new wave. A revolution and so “the beat goes on, yes the beat goes on.” – Macho Man Randy Savage
I can’t help but be repulsed by the general aura of vociferous and sycophantic ‘realism’ that has piggybacked on this particular wine category. By creation of the category, it seemingly renders all other wine ‘synthesized’? As an asthmatic, I can speak to ill-affects of excessive sulphur-dioxide levels in wine. However, does the inclusion of any additive render a product artificial? What then of dried fruit? It’s not quite grape drink vs grape juice is it? Consult Dave Chapelle on those definitions.
No doubt, the most industrialized bulk produced wine undergoes a plethora of mechanical intervention. With modern technology, almost any element of a wine can be manipulated. No doubt, this is something more consumers should be alerted to. However, I’d have thought that this distinction is amply covered by organic and biodynamic certifications without the need for a new religious sect.
I’m wary that this little rant is like sticking my hand into Rudolph Steiner’s beehive, so I’ll tread carefully on this most sacrosanct turf. I’ll draw my subtle line in the elusive continuum of the many first world wrong’s scratched into my soul. The dogma that has become the ‘natural’ wine Conga line, I believe, is it’s own worst enemy.
For all of us that read about wine, which includes you, yes you, most importantly, you, we learn to embrace the beauty of the variables; the vineyard, the vintage, the varieties, the peacefulness of the land, the fauna, the flora, the richness of agriculture and between all of us, almost anything and everything that makes wine such a true and agriculturally reflective beverage.
I contend that the moniker of ‘natural wine’ is the witness protection for wine. Once it is categorized as such, the variables that went into the production of the wine, most frequently, disappear. They are swept under the iron curtain of ‘natural’. They are marketed to the consumer as ‘wine… but… a new type of wine’. The grape varieties; unimportant. The vineyard; some place. The vibe; natural. At best, it initiates some of ‘less-initiated’. Join us. Be included. And even then, would you consider yourself one of the ‘unfortunately’ less initiated?
To borrow / mis-appropriate / steal / vandalize a quote from Kurt Vonnegut – “It was sort of ice-cream cone on fire.”
The artisans and vignerons that make this sort of wine, I’m fairly confident, largely disregard the label of ‘natural’ wine. They craft a wine that suits their expression and they largely do so, in solitude. It’s the chanting masses marching behind them, in cities far away from their vineyards, that need chiropractic re-adjustment.
Take for example two of the elder-statesmen cast under the projected moniker of natural within the Australian Wine Industry; Anton Van Klopper and Tom Shobbrook. They are two, very different men, so amazingly vibrant, richly engaging bounties of humanity. When Tom hugs you, it is a sort of warm human blanket of an embrace that shifts internal organs and bestows happiness upon the recipient. Anton on the other hand, is seasoned to the point of piquant. He’ll talk you through the night until all but his consciousness waiver. They are real people, every bit as much as Michel Rolland or Aubert de Villaine.
Their wines shine in the glass. Tom’s Didi Giallo; a golden yellow sort of Sauvignon Blanc elixir with tropical notes, herbal complexity and lip-smacking acidity - it is a delicious drink. The hedonistic fruit reflects the Australian sunshine. It speaks of with bold personality of a variety, a place and a friendliness. It’s so much more than ‘natural’. On the other hand, I enjoyed a gander at Anton’s 2014 Lucy Margaux Syrah at a wine bar recently. The wine is bristling with cherry and plum fruit, anise spice and sappy tannin. The wine is a rich, bold and an irresistible juggernaut of energy.
Anton’s wine is crafted in the Adelaide Hills and Tom’s in the Barossa Valley. The wines are expressions of those people, their place, their grapes and they evoke unique, beautiful and different reactions.
The modern wine critic champions crisp fruit, clean acidity and freshness. I too search for wines with ‘vitality’. A slogan not unlike that of an Australian supermarket chain, we are the fresh wine people. What of it? What relevance is this to the moniker of ‘natural’ wine? In fact, when ‘Natural Wine’ is pronounced in the accent of an Australian wine-judge, the phrase can infer microbial fault or oxidized juice. To this extent, natural is a prerogative term. Go figure. All of a sudden you are part of the gang. But apparently gang smells like wet Band-Aids?
I’ve watched consultant winemakers pull their hair out about certain ‘natural’ wines only to praise others. I’ve seen battle hardened wine critics do the same about bulk produced, super-market wines. Surely, producer must be our first consideration, not ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ or ‘kosher’…. I jest. We all respect Kosher wine. (mood is sarcastic)
The mood is now serious.
Natural wine deserves neither special treatment nor prejudice. It should be welcomed into the fold of all the wines of the world, if that would be diluting the brand, so be it.
The wine is here to stay, the label, not.