Neal Martin on Natural Wines

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Neal Martin on Natural Wines

#1 Post by larry schaffer » August 31st, 2017, 12:23 pm

Borrowed from a Facebook post from Harmon Skurnik:

Neal Martin of TWA on "Natural Wines". Bravo!

"For the record, I do not detest natural wines. Trust me, I’ve got a Jules Chauvet tattoo. (Actually, that’s a lie; I just stencil it on whenever I visit one of the so-called “Gang of Four.”) I have rated many in this very publication highly—evidence available to view on the database. By the same token, I never put them on a pedestal just because the winemaker follows non-interventional winemaking and leaves the bags of sulfur unopened. I judge what sloshes around the glass. Therein lies the problem. Without the protective layer of SO2, natural wines can vary as wildly as the yeast that made them once they have been shipped abroad. Those that love natural wines accept variability as part of the package. It is no different to how most of us put up with corks knowing that a percentage are spoiled by TCA. When your job is to match what I find in my glass to yours, then it can become problematic if there is wanton unpredictability.

On one occasion, I enjoyed an evening with three natural wine producers: Christophe Pacalet, Mathieu Lapierre and Agnès and Alex Foillard (wife and son of Jean Foillard). It was so refreshing to hear these three talented winemakers espouse the philosophy of natural winemaking without lecturing, without a sense of dogma. Mathieu Lapierre produces his Morgon with and without SO2, thereby giving importers and consumers the choice. He has never given the slightest hint that one is superior to the other, and frankly, it is not easy to tell the difference side by side. And it is worth remembering that the godfather of the natural wine movement, Jules Chauvet, never wrote that winemaking should eschew sulfur altogether. Rather, he advised its minimal use during the fermentation so that native yeasts can translate where they come from without interference, as part of a holistic approach that goes back to removing chemicals and herbicides in the vineyard and carries through to bottling without fining or filtration. This is actually where the late Chauvet and I would disagree because I believe terroir is articulated with bottle age, as testified by the thousands of bottles I have tasted over the years, including many tasted blind where terroir was unmistakable. Too little sulfur is just as bad, if not worse than too much, since all you can glean from such wine is the winemaker’s thinking rather than the patch of dirt it came from.

I loathe the hectoring that surrounds natural wines: the religious zeal and the black and white polemics. I detest the idea of one straightjacketed approach being superior to any other and the snobbery it entails. Not wishing to tar everyone with the same brush (but I am going to anyway), I am tired of meeting sommeliers bragging about their oh-so-bloody natural wine list, speaking as if any wine that has ever used sulfur should be cast out and belittled, looking down their noses at the panoply of sensational life-affirming wines from Henri Jayer to Henri Lurton, from Manfred Prüm to Manfred Krankl, Max Schubert to Von Schubert, now deemed heretical by ideology. The manner in which consumers are brainwashed into believing that natural wine is the be all and end all is, to coin a mot du jour, fake news. I prefer my fermented grape juice not to be the color of Donald Trump and reek of cider and puke. Many well-crafted and fault-free natural wines deserve their place in cellars, wine lists and dinner tables, and add another color to the spectrum of wines...like orange. However, you can put it on the record that this writer could not give a Maria Thün-prepared shit whether it is made organically, biodynamically, with or without sulfur and nor should you. Nor should anyone."
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Well....

#2 Post by TomHill » August 31st, 2017, 3:38 pm

larry schaffer wrote:Borrowed from a Facebook post from Harmon Skurnik:

Neal Martin of TWA on "Natural Wines". Bravo!

"For the record, I do not detest natural wines. Trust me, I’ve got a Jules Chauvet tattoo. (Actually, that’s a lie; I just stencil it on whenever I visit one of the so-called “Gang of Four.”) I have rated many in this very publication highly—evidence available to view on the database. By the same token, I never put them on a pedestal just because the winemaker follows non-interventional winemaking and leaves the bags of sulfur unopened. I judge what sloshes around the glass. Therein lies the problem. Without the protective layer of SO2, natural wines can vary as wildly as the yeast that made them once they have been shipped abroad. Those that love natural wines accept variability as part of the package. It is no different to how most of us put up with corks knowing that a percentage are spoiled by TCA. When your job is to match what I find in my glass to yours, then it can become problematic if there is wanton unpredictability.

On one occasion, I enjoyed an evening with three natural wine producers: Christophe Pacalet, Mathieu Lapierre and Agnès and Alex Foillard (wife and son of Jean Foillard). It was so refreshing to hear these three talented winemakers espouse the philosophy of natural winemaking without lecturing, without a sense of dogma. Mathieu Lapierre produces his Morgon with and without SO2, thereby giving importers and consumers the choice. He has never given the slightest hint that one is superior to the other, and frankly, it is not easy to tell the difference side by side. And it is worth remembering that the godfather of the natural wine movement, Jules Chauvet, never wrote that winemaking should eschew sulfur altogether. Rather, he advised its minimal use during the fermentation so that native yeasts can translate where they come from without interference, as part of a holistic approach that goes back to removing chemicals and herbicides in the vineyard and carries through to bottling without fining or filtration. This is actually where the late Chauvet and I would disagree because I believe terroir is articulated with bottle age, as testified by the thousands of bottles I have tasted over the years, including many tasted blind where terroir was unmistakable. Too little sulfur is just as bad, if not worse than too much, since all you can glean from such wine is the winemaker’s thinking rather than the patch of dirt it came from.

I loathe the hectoring that surrounds natural wines: the religious zeal and the black and white polemics. I detest the idea of one straightjacketed approach being superior to any other and the snobbery it entails. Not wishing to tar everyone with the same brush (but I am going to anyway), I am tired of meeting sommeliers bragging about their oh-so-bloody natural wine list, speaking as if any wine that has ever used sulfur should be cast out and belittled, looking down their noses at the panoply of sensational life-affirming wines from Henri Jayer to Henri Lurton, from Manfred Prüm to Manfred Krankl, Max Schubert to Von Schubert, now deemed heretical by ideology. The manner in which consumers are brainwashed into believing that natural wine is the be all and end all is, to coin a mot du jour, fake news. I prefer my fermented grape juice not to be the color of Donald Trump and reek of cider and puke. Many well-crafted and fault-free natural wines deserve their place in cellars, wine lists and dinner tables, and add another color to the spectrum of wines...like orange. However, you can put it on the record that this writer could not give a Maria Thün-prepared shit whether it is made organically, biodynamically, with or without sulfur and nor should you. Nor should anyone."
Well....can we say SweetAlice here?? [stirthepothal.gif]
I couldn't agree more w/ Neal's take on the subject.
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#3 Post by c fu » August 31st, 2017, 3:44 pm

Sounds good to me.
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#4 Post by Mark Golodetz » August 31st, 2017, 6:50 pm

Well written and spot on.
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#5 Post by Nathan V. » August 31st, 2017, 7:48 pm

Mark Golodetz wrote:Well written and spot on.
Except it's at least a decade too late. It's not really like that anymore.
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#6 Post by c fu » August 31st, 2017, 7:50 pm

Nathan V. wrote:
Mark Golodetz wrote:Well written and spot on.
Except it's at least a decade too late. It's not really like that anymore.
in what sense?
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#7 Post by Jim Anderson » August 31st, 2017, 8:51 pm

What puzzles the dickens out of the natural wine thing is who is anointed as a natural wine producer and who is not. Using SO2 is by NO means a disqualifier for being seen as a natural wine/winery at least in some (relatively large) circles of the natural wine pantheon. Nor is filtering. Nor is using vineyards that are not organic. But you can use organic vineyards, not filter and use minimal SO2 dosages and not be seen as a natural winery. In Oregon, as of late, this has become especially true. I don't care. I don't need to be seen as a natural winery. I'm just saying I don't get why the entry to the club is entirely and utterly subjective and the standards vary not only entirely but vastly.
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#8 Post by Ian Sutton » September 1st, 2017, 6:24 am

Hi Jim
It is indeed subjective, and that is the danger of a simplistic label 'natural' to represent something that has lots of variables. I understand some object to screwcaps, yet here is a solution that positively demands reduced S02 additions.

If the competing authorities could get together, then I could see an alternative whereby a set of answers to relevant questions are submitted by wineries wishing for accreditation. Based on these answers, a simple scale e.g. one leaf, two leaves, three leaves is awarded according to the overall impression based on the answer. Up to them whether they want to police this, but the costs would ramp up significantly if they close to do that (c.f. demeter for Bio-Dynamics).

I can't see it happening soon, not with competing showcase events and differing views of what natural really is. Wild west for a bit longer I reckon.

Whilst Neal appears like he was trying to be balanced, I found that piece to lean a little against the natural wine movement, mostly in such emotive terms as 'cider and puke', 'religious zeal' etc. while avoiding the equally stupid barbs that fly the other way. His comment about judging the wine in the glass is something we all need to do in this often adversarial argument.

Personally I'm open to try & taste, though with cellaring very much a key part of the hobby for me, the concerns about which wines will survive / improve in the cellar will probably keep me from delving too deep. However I am keen that some of the thinking challenges the wine industry of just how much intervention / treatment is necessary. In that sense, I'd love to see an inclusive accreditation, that acknowledged those making some effort / treat only when absolutely necessary, rather than a simple binary choice of natural vs unnatural (sic.). That graded scale alluded to above.

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#9 Post by Neal.Mollen » September 1st, 2017, 6:44 am

Very sensible, I think.
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Yup....

#10 Post by TomHill » September 1st, 2017, 7:27 am

Ian Sutton wrote:Hi Jim
It is indeed subjective, and that is the danger of a simplistic label 'natural' to represent something that has lots of variables. I understand some object to screwcaps, yet here is a solution that positively demands reduced S02 additions.

If the competing authorities could get together, then I could see an alternative whereby a set of answers to relevant questions are submitted by wineries wishing for accreditation. Based on these answers, a simple scale e.g. one leaf, two leaves, three leaves is awarded according to the overall impression based on the answer. Up to them whether they want to police this, but the costs would ramp up significantly if they close to do that (c.f. demeter for Bio-Dynamics).

I can't see it happening soon, not with competing showcase events and differing views of what natural really is. Wild west for a bit longer I reckon.

Whilst Neal appears like he was trying to be balanced, I found that piece to lean a little against the natural wine movement, mostly in such emotive terms as 'cider and puke', 'religious zeal' etc. while avoiding the equally stupid barbs that fly the other way. His comment about judging the wine in the glass is something we all need to do in this often adversarial argument.

Personally I'm open to try & taste, though with cellaring very much a key part of the hobby for me, the concerns about which wines will survive / improve in the cellar will probably keep me from delving too deep. However I am keen that some of the thinking challenges the wine industry of just how much intervention / treatment is necessary. In that sense, I'd love to see an inclusive accreditation, that acknowledged those making some effort / treat only when absolutely necessary, rather than a simple binary choice of natural vs unnatural (sic.). That graded scale alluded to above.

Regards
Ian
Totally agree here, Ian.
And I, too, picked up a bit of a bias against natural wines.
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#11 Post by Pierfrancesco Bini » September 1st, 2017, 8:42 am

OMG, a little bit of a bias against natural wines.

That's ought to be terrible.

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Yup....

#12 Post by Neal.Mollen » September 1st, 2017, 8:48 am

TomHill wrote:
Ian Sutton wrote:Hi Jim
It is indeed subjective, and that is the danger of a simplistic label 'natural' to represent something that has lots of variables. I understand some object to screwcaps, yet here is a solution that positively demands reduced S02 additions.

If the competing authorities could get together, then I could see an alternative whereby a set of answers to relevant questions are submitted by wineries wishing for accreditation. Based on these answers, a simple scale e.g. one leaf, two leaves, three leaves is awarded according to the overall impression based on the answer. Up to them whether they want to police this, but the costs would ramp up significantly if they close to do that (c.f. demeter for Bio-Dynamics).

I can't see it happening soon, not with competing showcase events and differing views of what natural really is. Wild west for a bit longer I reckon.

Whilst Neal appears like he was trying to be balanced, I found that piece to lean a little against the natural wine movement, mostly in such emotive terms as 'cider and puke', 'religious zeal' etc. while avoiding the equally stupid barbs that fly the other way. His comment about judging the wine in the glass is something we all need to do in this often adversarial argument.

Personally I'm open to try & taste, though with cellaring very much a key part of the hobby for me, the concerns about which wines will survive / improve in the cellar will probably keep me from delving too deep. However I am keen that some of the thinking challenges the wine industry of just how much intervention / treatment is necessary. In that sense, I'd love to see an inclusive accreditation, that acknowledged those making some effort / treat only when absolutely necessary, rather than a simple binary choice of natural vs unnatural (sic.). That graded scale alluded to above.

Regards
Ian
Totally agree here, Ian.
And I, too, picked up a bit of a bias against natural wines.
Tom
Against the wines, or the winemakers and adherents? Could be both I suppose, but he seemed more chafed about "the hectoring that surrounds natural wines: the religious zeal and the black and white polemics." He did note that the inconsistency bottle-to-bottle was irksome I suppose.
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#13 Post by JonF » September 1st, 2017, 8:54 am

If this doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

[youtube]fi3OW6LsZ9Q[/youtube]
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#14 Post by Frank Drew » September 1st, 2017, 9:20 am

larry schaffer wrote:Neal Martin of TWA on "Natural Wines":

"However, you can put it on the record that this writer could not give a Maria Thün-prepared shit whether it is made organically, biodynamically, with or without sulfur and nor should you. Nor should anyone."
I disagree with that, at least as far as not caring how the grapes are grown; I don't think it's at all a given that the various chemical treatments done to our foodstuffs are entirely benign. Biodynamic might be mostly wasted effort (but not harmful), and I don't have very strong thoughts about sulfur, but I'm fine with organic anything that I'm putting in my mouth.

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#15 Post by Eric Ifune » September 1st, 2017, 9:31 am

However I am keen that some of the thinking challenges the wine industry of just how much intervention / treatment is necessary. In that sense, I'd love to see an inclusive accreditation, that acknowledged those making some effort / treat only when absolutely necessary, rather than a simple binary choice of natural vs unnatural (sic.). That graded scale alluded to above.
I think one problem is that some very good winemakers who follow many of the precepts of natural winemaking don't really care if they are accredited or not and won't submit wines to any panel.

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#16 Post by Ian Sutton » September 1st, 2017, 9:44 am

Hi Eric
Indeed true, though unless I was strident in my approach and felt the 'natural' label was the most important selling point for my wine, I'm not sure I would bother if I were Foradori, Pepe or the like.

What we have at the moment is a binary choice, albeit inconsistently applied.

I'm sure the strident natural wine enthusiasts would distrust a sliding scale, seeing it as diluting the aims, however it would be sad if they saw it as an all or nothing choice, rather than an opportunity to help all producers make positive choices to cut back on the pharma/chemical where practical.
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#17 Post by William Kelley » September 1st, 2017, 10:28 am

Jim's point about the difficulty of defining natural wine is spot on; and for all the words that have been expended on the subject, sometimes by very bright people, we are still a long way from agreeing on any oenological definition. After all, if SO2 is not the line in the sand, then why isn't DRC ranked at the top of any list of natural wine producers? All of which suggests we may be looking for the wrong kind of definition.

Simon Schama's remark on the historian J. H. Plumb, 'stymied by an aesthetic in search of a didactic', has often come to mind when reflecting on the natural wine movement. But perhaps it would be fairer to say that 'natural wine' is more usefully understood as a movement in wine culture than in wine making.
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#18 Post by Arv R » September 1st, 2017, 10:44 am

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#19 Post by Jim Anderson » September 1st, 2017, 11:06 am

William Kelley wrote:Jim's point about the difficulty of defining natural wine is spot on; and for all the words that have been expended on the subject, sometimes by very bright people, we are still a long way from agreeing on any oenological definition. After all, if SO2 is not the line in the sand, then why isn't DRC ranked at the top of any list of natural wine producers? All of which suggests we may be looking for the wrong kind of definition.

Simon Schama's remark on the historian J. H. Plumb, 'stymied by an aesthetic in search of a didactic', has often come to mind when reflecting on the natural wine movement. But perhaps it would be fairer to say that 'natural wine' is more usefully understood as a movement in wine culture than in wine making.
Exactly.

I ended up at a tasting/book signing of Alice's in NYC last year at a place called 10 Bells (I believe). They were tasting a flight of very, very natural Georgian wines. They were, (ahem, cough, hmm, ahem, cough, cough) interesting.

What I found is that regardless of the potability of these wines was that the conversation all revolved about history and process. Those were ABSOLUTELY the defining characteristics to the tasters.
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#20 Post by m. ristev » September 1st, 2017, 11:23 am

the ten bells is a very poor caricature of the natural wine world. for me it is possibly the worst wine bar in nyc. also they charge something like $500 for a bottle of selosse initial which is absolutely ridiculous considering the atmosphere and lack of service.
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#21 Post by GregT » September 1st, 2017, 11:37 am

Jim - that's what Neal was talking about. As to who is natural and who is not - it's the writers who dictate that isn't it? A producer can claim to be "natural" and do things another claimant would not do, but it's writers who tend to be the most strident about it. Even Joly, who is all biodynamic and everything, is utterly charming when he talks about it and even in his writing. He's a salesman first and foremost and has convinced people that the story matters more than the wine, and some writers carried that banner. But I think there's less and less conversation about it, at least less than there was a few years ago., Perhaps people decided at some point that splitting academic hairs is silly when we should all be enjoying the wines we like.

BTW, contrast Neal's piece with Bob's tweet. Note that Ian said he found it to be a little biased, regardless of whether it was against the hectoring, not the wine.

Perhaps. But we all agree that overall it was quite reasonable and measured.

That's why it won't be remembered as well as the wonderful AFWE!
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#22 Post by Jim Anderson » September 1st, 2017, 12:01 pm

m. ristev wrote:the ten bells is a very poor caricature of the natural wine world. for me it is possibly the worst wine bar in nyc. also they charge something like $500 for a bottle of selosse initial which is absolutely ridiculous considering the atmosphere and lack of service.
Was just meeting a friend there (who had an obligation to say "hello" to Alice) before going to Mission Chinese. All good at that point.
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#23 Post by c fu » September 1st, 2017, 12:43 pm

JonF wrote:If this doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

[youtube]fi3OW6LsZ9Q[/youtube]
I really like the cross section of hip hop and fine wines. I see it more and more on instagram.
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#24 Post by Mike Francisco » September 1st, 2017, 1:56 pm

This reminds me of the whole "Oak is the Devil" v "How do you know it's wine if it's not really oaky?" fight.

In general I do lean toward the movement, but I have a hard time with people passing off dirty bad wine with "it's natural". Clean and natural are not opposing concepts.

I think it really all boils down to three questions.
Would I prefer the wine I am buying be as natural as possible? Yes
Does the wine taste good and like it should? Yes
Would I like more then a passing resemblance bottle to bottle? Yes

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#25 Post by Ian Sutton » September 1st, 2017, 2:09 pm

An interesting branch to the discussion - asking if Natural wine movement is more consumer / wine writer / sommelier driven, than driven by the wineries. I'm not close enough to say, but it certainly does appear that way.
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#26 Post by Eric Texier » September 1st, 2017, 3:10 pm

Well, obviously Mr Martin hasn't had the chance to taste an aged Chauvet wine... and I doubt his knowledge of Chauvet's work is first hand. Sounds like coming from something like "Chauvet for dummies".
Disappointing for the least. Nor really surprising though

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#27 Post by c fu » September 1st, 2017, 3:13 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:An interesting branch to the discussion - asking if Natural wine movement is more consumer / wine writer / sommelier driven, than driven by the wineries. I'm not close enough to say, but it certainly does appear that way.
I was at dinner in portland a couple weeks ago where the wine pairings were included. Somm was big on the all natural wine movement, just completely trashing all non-natural wine as an abomination and how you're ingesting all these disgusting chemicals in your body etc. So I guess i'd say she's at least pushing it ha ha.
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#28 Post by M. Dildine » September 1st, 2017, 3:16 pm

If people choose to make and drink "natural wines" more power to them. I've tasted a few, and as for me - I'm out!
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#29 Post by Mike Evans » September 1st, 2017, 7:02 pm

M. Dildine wrote:If people choose to make and drink "natural wines" more power to them. I've tasted a few, and as for me - I'm out!
And I've tasted thousands and I'm in.

I'm critical of much of the dogmatic hyperbole from some around some natural wine, and rarely if ever buy a wine just because it is a "natural wine." But I've had enough extraordinary natural wines that I find the broad negative generalizations about them to be profoundly stupid. I also don't find noticeably fewer incidents of brett, VA, and other flaws in conventionally made wines from highly regarded producers as I do from good natural wine producers.

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#30 Post by M. Dildine » September 1st, 2017, 7:17 pm

Thousands? With good results?

I'm convinced. I'll try a couple more.
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#31 Post by Mike Evans » September 1st, 2017, 8:15 pm

M. Dildine wrote:Thousands? With good results?

I'm convinced. I'll try a couple more.
Good enough results that I probably have at least several hundred bottles in the cellar. I would buy by importer. Look for Louis/Dressner, Selection Massale, Jenny & Francois, and FiFi as a starting point. Not every wine imported by each of them is going to qualify as a "natural wine" to the most dogmatic, but I don't care much for the opinions of the most dogmatic.

Biodynamic producers such as Huet, Leroy, Nikolaihof, and Zind Humbrecht pretty much all qualify as natural wines by any rational definition as well. Funny how the critics don't seem to mention them when painting with a broad brush about the tendency of natural wines to be flawed and unstable.

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#32 Post by M. Dildine » September 1st, 2017, 8:21 pm

Thanks Mike. I've had good luck with biodynamic producers here in California (Littorai is an example).

How do you define "natural wine?" My definition (perhaps too dogmatic) is sans-sulfur.
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#33 Post by Mike Evans » September 1st, 2017, 8:48 pm

M. Dildine wrote:Thanks Mike. I've had good luck with biodynamic producers here in California (Littorai is an example).

How do you define "natural wine?" My definition (perhaps too dogmatic) is sans-sulfur.
I'm choking back a rant about the asinine fixation on sulfur by some in the natural wine camp. My own standard would be organic or biodynamic farming (though I have absolutely no problem with lutte raisonée, I'm not convinced it qualifies as natural winemaking), ambient yeast fermentation, not adding anything or taking anything out so no filtration or fining, with the exception to not adding anything being at most a judicious sulfur addition at bottling,

I'm a lot less dogmatic about natural wine than many. I'm comfortable with that. It isn't a moral or religious crusade for me, it is about trying to drink the most interesting wines I can, and many of the most stunning, pure, transparent and expressive examples I've had have been natural wine. In regions where cheap industrial wines are very common, like Beaujolais and much of the Loire, natural winemaking is also an indication that producers are striving for quality instead of making a commodity.

I've also had great success aging modesty priced natural wines from the Loire and Beaujolais in particular for two decades or more, which is one reason I scoff at some of the claims of their fragility. There is a lot of unclean crap being produced under the natural wine mantle. But there is a lot of crap being produced by conventional producers as well, including a lot of wines that aren't unclean only because they been stripped of their souls in pursuit of avoiding such flaws.
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#34 Post by M. Dildine » September 1st, 2017, 8:50 pm

Mike Evans wrote:My own standard would be organic or biodynamic farming (though I have absolutely no problem with lutte raisonée, I'm not convinced it qualifies as natural winemaking), ambient yeast fermentation, not adding anything or taking anything out so no filtration or fining, with the exception to not adding anything being at most a judicious sulfur addition at bottling,
Mike, if that's your standard, then I too have tasted "thousands" of natural wines with excellent results.
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#35 Post by Mike Evans » September 1st, 2017, 9:08 pm

M. Dildine wrote:
Mike Evans wrote:My own standard would be organic or biodynamic farming (though I have absolutely no problem with lutte raisonée, I'm not convinced it qualifies as natural winemaking), ambient yeast fermentation, not adding anything or taking anything out so no filtration or fining, with the exception to not adding anything being at most a judicious sulfur addition at bottling,
Mike, if that's your standard, then I too have tasted "thousands" of natural wines with excellent results.
The standard I gave is pretty consistent with that I've seen from most of the standard bearers of the natural wine camp. Kind of makes me wonder what all the anti-natural wine fuss is about.

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#36 Post by M. Dildine » September 1st, 2017, 9:34 pm

Mike Evans wrote:
M. Dildine wrote:
Mike Evans wrote:My own standard would be organic or biodynamic farming (though I have absolutely no problem with lutte raisonée, I'm not convinced it qualifies as natural winemaking), ambient yeast fermentation, not adding anything or taking anything out so no filtration or fining, with the exception to not adding anything being at most a judicious sulfur addition at bottling,
Mike, if that's your standard, then I too have tasted "thousands" of natural wines with excellent results.
The standard I gave is pretty consistent with that I've seen from most of the standard bearers of the natural wine camp. Kind of makes me wonder what all the anti-natural wine fuss is about.
Yeah. I believe that most of the California producers I purchase from are generally within that standard. All of Turley's vineyards, for example, are organically farmed and they use native yeasts, minimal sulfur, etc. Ridge has long served as a standard bearer for minimal intervention (and listing any and all intervention on the label). Rhys vineyards are essentially biodynamic.
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#37 Post by Ian Sutton » September 2nd, 2017, 5:14 am

Mike Evans wrote:
M. Dildine wrote:
Mike Evans wrote:My own standard would be organic or biodynamic farming (though I have absolutely no problem with lutte raisonée, I'm not convinced it qualifies as natural winemaking), ambient yeast fermentation, not adding anything or taking anything out so no filtration or fining, with the exception to not adding anything being at most a judicious sulfur addition at bottling,
Mike, if that's your standard, then I too have tasted "thousands" of natural wines with excellent results.
The standard I gave is pretty consistent with that I've seen from most of the standard bearers of the natural wine camp. Kind of makes me wonder what all the anti-natural wine fuss is about.

Hi Mike
I think the extremist positions on either side of the debate cause the fuss. Emotive arguments (e.g. the sommelier mentioned upthread, some of Alice Feiring's views, etc.). Then there is the "it's all cider and vomit, that's got a half life of 20 mins" rhetoric from the other trench. Not really the material to promote a grown-up discussion.

I guess that any listing of factors should also extend to vineyard practices, most obviously in the use / non-use of sprays and other chemical treatments, but also potentially to use of machinery vs. hand labour. If we wanted to get too hung up on a strident view of what 'natural' is, then vine training and pruning would be banned as well!!

We're human, it's natural (oops) to latch onto a single idea (S02 additions) and make it the be all and end all of the debate, but there is much more to it than that. However trying to lay down a precise cut-off to a binary decision then either becomes farcical, or false.

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#38 Post by Riccardo Campinoti » September 2nd, 2017, 5:33 am

Mike Evans wrote:
M. Dildine wrote:Thousands? With good results?

I'm convinced. I'll try a couple more.


Biodynamic producers such as Huet, Leroy, Nikolaihof, and Zind Humbrecht pretty much all qualify as natural wines by any rational definition as well. Funny how the critics don't seem to mention them when painting with a broad brush about the tendency of natural wines to be flawed and unstable.
I think the difference is that the producers you mentioned have been making great wines for years (if not decades). They are fantastic winemakers before they are natural winemakers.
Most of the critics of natural wines are fed up with poor winemaking being mistaken for natural.
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#39 Post by Doug Schulman » September 2nd, 2017, 6:26 am

Riccardo Campinoti wrote:
Mike Evans wrote:
M. Dildine wrote:Thousands? With good results?

I'm convinced. I'll try a couple more.


Biodynamic producers such as Huet, Leroy, Nikolaihof, and Zind Humbrecht pretty much all qualify as natural wines by any rational definition as well. Funny how the critics don't seem to mention them when painting with a broad brush about the tendency of natural wines to be flawed and unstable.
I think the difference is that the producers you mentioned have been making great wines for years (if not decades). They are fantastic winemakers before they are natural winemakers.
Most of the critics of natural wines are fed up with poor winemaking being mistaken for natural.
This bolded statement is along the lines of a point I was about to make. When I see something like this:
Ian Sutton wrote:I found that piece to lean a little against the natural wine movement, mostly in such emotive terms as 'cider and puke', 'religious zeal' etc.
, my reaction is that such statements are against bad winemaking (which so often nowadays passes as acceptable if one calls it "natural") rather than being against "natural" wine. If I said a lot of mass market jug wine tastes boring and homogenized, I wouldn't be against all typical winemaking, would I? Or against all large-scale wine production? Even in Ian's mostly reasonable response, I think this one line shows that "us vs. them" mentality that so drives me crazy about this movement. It doesn't need to be read into Neal's piece, in my opinion. If hipster somms, writers, and the like weren't too busy telling the story to consider whether or not a wine is delicious and clearly expresses its origins (of grape variety(-ies) and of place), people wouldn't need to call attention to the fact that quite a few wines currently on the market, and even on wine lists in big cities, do actually smell like cider and vomit. I would say that only something akin to religious zeal would cause so many winemakers, writers, and wine buyers to think this is acceptable.

This is not to say that a relatively hands-off approach is automatically wrong. I think the huge difference, and what distinguishes the several truly great biodynamic producers from the "natural" camp, is that the former would never sell such blatantly faulty wines. They would, and obviously do, take measures to prevent those problems from becoming so severe, in whatever ways they think will achieve that result with the least amount of intervention. Far too many of those who call themselves "natural" (a group with whom I suspect Leroy, Huet, ZH, etc. have no interest in being associated) will simply do nothing and then sell extremely flawed wines wines based on that dogmatic approach.

One doesn't need to think the basic idea of doing as little as possible is wrong to point out the obvious ridiculousness of this movement. The big question is what the intended end result is, which should really define what "as little as possible" means. On its own, that idea leads to vinegar or worse. With appropriate goals, it can lead to some of the best wines out there. Of course, despite what the most vocal advocates tell us, it isn't the only way to get there, and it certainly isn't the only way to produce wine that is not unhealthy to consume in moderation.

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#40 Post by m. ristev » September 2nd, 2017, 6:31 am

most of the dogma abiding producers are very young and have only jumped onboard rather recently. obviously the veterans who have been making wine for decades tend to produce a more cogent wine. also, it is possible to make clean and stunning wine completely sans soufre. it is also very difficult to do so. that is why i prefer the producers who at least use a bit at bottling. sticking with louis dressner producers is another safe bet. jenny and francois not so much, for me their selection is a bit of a minefield. for the record, i greatly dislike the natural wine scene but there are some truly special wines you would miss out on if you wrote it off completely.
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#41 Post by Jim Anderson » September 2nd, 2017, 9:46 am

Riccardo Campinoti wrote:
Mike Evans wrote:
M. Dildine wrote:Thousands? With good results?

I'm convinced. I'll try a couple more.


Biodynamic producers such as Huet, Leroy, Nikolaihof, and Zind Humbrecht pretty much all qualify as natural wines by any rational definition as well. Funny how the critics don't seem to mention them when painting with a broad brush about the tendency of natural wines to be flawed and unstable.
I think the difference is that the producers you mentioned have been making great wines for years (if not decades). They are fantastic winemakers before they are natural winemakers.
Most of the critics of natural wines are fed up with poor winemaking being mistaken for natural.


This. Many times over. I see it from within and
In Oregon and Portland especially inexperienced and/or poor winemaking combined with oddball varieties/lower grade Pinot Noir fruit are oft times being celebrated as natural winemaking or out of the box winemaking. It's missing the point of things but in the harder core circles the ability to sell one's self as idiosyncratic is huge.
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#42 Post by Todd Hamina » September 2nd, 2017, 10:17 am

Mike Evans wrote: Biodynamic producers such as Huet, Leroy, Nikolaihof, and Zind Humbrecht pretty much all qualify as natural wines by any rational definition as well. Funny how the critics don't seem to mention them when painting with a broad brush about the tendency of natural wines to be flawed and unstable.
I would never include any of those producers as "Natural" because they predate this ambiguous term.
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#43 Post by Todd Hamina » September 2nd, 2017, 10:20 am

And +1 what Jim said, there's a slew of swill in Oregon right know that is downright flawed. I'm embarrassed for them. They are the folks who sprint the first few miles of a marathon.
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#44 Post by Jim Anderson » September 2nd, 2017, 10:20 am

I'm racking wine for assemblage as I type this. Racking about 440 gallons of Balcombe Vineyard, Block 1B. We farm this vineyard. We have farmed it organically for about 10 years. When the fruit came in I added 50 grams/ton SO2. The wine was mostly whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeast. It never had an SO2 addition during elevage and I just added 100 grams of SO2 to the tank (30 ppm free SO2 which may get adjusted after settling depending on how the wine holds on to the SO2 but any further addition would be around 10-15 grams). The wine will be bottled unfined and unfiltered. My point is not to read you my resume or tell you how virtuous the winemaking is. In fact, the opposite. It is to describe how, amongst the few folks i actually know and whom are discussed regularly here, utterly common this is in well made Oregon Pinot Noir production.
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#45 Post by Todd Hamina » September 2nd, 2017, 10:27 am

Drops the mic...
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#46 Post by GregT » September 2nd, 2017, 10:27 am

Good stuff Jim but as far as how many grams of SO2 is "enough", do you think any wine writer actually has an idea, based on the specific fermentation in question?
in the harder core circles the ability to sell one's self as idiosyncratic is huge.
Absolutely. I once was in Mendoza having lunch at a vineyard. We imported the wine. Off in the distance I saw a plume of what I thought was some crazy spray. I asked the winemaker and owner if that's what it was. No, they replied, we don't use any sprays for disease or pests. Those are dangerous and expensive and it's so dry up here that we don't have any real disease to worry about that spraying would cure.

"So your wine is "natural"? I asked. They looked at each other. "Probably," they replied, "what does that mean?" So I talked a little about it and they nodded their heads. "I didn't know that, why don't we say that on the bottle?"

They looked at me like I was a little nutty. "Why?" they asked. "Who cares about the way the wine is made? Who buys wine that way?"

We didn't get very far but months later I was at a wine store in NYC showing the wine. The owner is a friend so I won't mention who, but they're big on "natural" wine. He tasted the wine, wrinkled his nose, and announced that it was made with commercial yeast. He had no interest in industrial wine. Meantime, he had never been to the bodega, never talked to the winemaker, never seen the grapes or the facilities. We remain friends but I was quite disappointed.
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#47 Post by Jim Anderson » September 2nd, 2017, 10:47 am

Enough is in the eye of the beholder. There are charts that synch up pH levels with the "necessary" amount of SO2. I think they're bunk and I don't use them (although,certainly, lower pH wines can, in theory, be stable with very low SO2 additions). It's experience with one fruit and resulting wines and the desire, in my case anyway, to have the wines as pure as is possible while still preserving them in a manner that allows them to express what they do over the course of time. So, good old fashioned learning I guess.
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#48 Post by GregT » September 2nd, 2017, 11:10 am

Off topic but since you brought it up, I'm curious - is this when you usually harvest or has the heat changed the harvest date? Also - isn't it like 100 degrees up there? Assuming that's not typical, how is that affecting harvest, etc? Those are Mendoza temps, but I guess I always assumed it was a little cooler up your way.
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#49 Post by Jim Anderson » September 2nd, 2017, 11:27 am

GregT wrote:Off topic but since you brought it up, I'm curious - is this when you usually harvest or has the heat changed the harvest date? Also - isn't it like 100 degrees up there? Assuming that's not typical, how is that affecting harvest, etc? Those are Mendoza temps, but I guess I always assumed it was a little cooler up your way.
Well, I guess we do harvest about now these days. New normal. Hopefully we are still at least 3 weeks out as my last bottling day is September 21st! Probably no such luck. I am going to visit a couple of vineyards this afternoon but they are both just Pinot and I know I will pick Chardonnay in advance of them. Will look at that on Monday.

It will likely be highs around 100 for the next 5 days or so. That also seems to be the new normal. However, in Oregon 100 is not an all day event. When I got to the winery today at around 7:30 it was 58. At around noon it's not yet 80. No, this is far from ideal but it is not unmanageable. The 15s out of Oregon from the better producers are terrific and that was a more torrid year than even this.
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#50 Post by Mike Francisco » September 2nd, 2017, 3:50 pm

Mike Evans wrote:
Good enough results that I probably have at least several hundred bottles in the cellar. I would buy by importer. Look for Louis/Dressner, Selection Massale, Jenny & Francois, and FiFi as a starting point. Not every wine imported by each of them is going to qualify as a "natural wine" to the most dogmatic, but I don't care much for the opinions of the most dogmatic.
I would add Weygandt Metzler to that importer list as well.

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