On the use and abuse of terminology.
There has been some very ill tempered commentating going on in the last week relating to the use of the term ‘natural’ to describe wines.
While I agree with those who feel that it unfairly stigmatized those wines deemed not ‘natural’ I feel that it’s almost certainly too late to do anything about it. Like it or not the horse has bolted, there’s no use shutting the stable door now.
However, I also feel that we’re doing the consumer a slight disservice and underestimating their ability to deal with things. Most general consumers are unlikely to come into contact with minimal intervention wines unless they happen to be in a wine bar or specialist shop that deals with them. The likelihood is that there will therefor be someone who can explain the distinctions to them.
Moreover, I think that people who attack the category miss the essential broadening of the category that has taken place. The natural church seems to me a very broad one. Where the essential feature is a belief in offering as honest a representation of the growers terroir as possible. It is in this sense that winemaking additions and manipulations are frowned upon as it is viewed as altering or touching up the picture.
I personally have no problem with wines that are made in this way, there is a goal to the winemaking process, and that is to produce a high quality product that will please consumers, it may be to make something that will age wonderfully, and it is here that I should mention that most of my stand out greatest wine drinking experiences have been from wines that were made from non organic vineyards, and probably quite heavily sulphured too. Age ameliorates many things.
So with this in mind what then is the importance of natural, why does it seem to have such a siren call to people? Why has it been so enthusiastically embraced in some of the less well-known corners of the wine world?
Personally I think it’s because it has come as an important corrective movement. For a grower faced with his plot of vines, none of which are proscribed noble varieties, he or she in maybe in a marginal climate and as such isn’t going to be able to make rich luscious, expensively oaked wines. What to do? Accept ones place in the lower order and carry on making unprofitable bulk wine for a dying domestic market? Or celebrate the intricacy of their particular patch of terroir? Homogeneity is never interesting, embracement of diversity only makes the world more interesting.
Yes there are extremists, yes there are wines that are cidery, cloudy, slightly faulty, but to me using these to tar everything under the natural umbrella is akin to knocking everything out of Bordeaux on the strength of a couple of 200% new oak St Emilion garagistes.
The pendulum of fashion is swinging, and the thing I find most exciting about the natural movement is how it will change the middle ground, as that is where most of us actually live and drink.