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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

My Back-Label Dilemma Revisited – and Resolved!

Back in April this year (2012) I wrote a post about my back-label dilemma (here)

Before anything else, I’d like to thank Ryan Opaz, Hank Beckmeyer, Laura Gray and Arnold Waldstein, who all commented on that post and helped me with their input.

Basically, I was wondering exactly what (and how much) information to put on my next batch of back-labels, both from a practical and also from a legal point of view. And whether I should include what the wine does NOT contain and what was NOT done to it.

So, after much thinking over the last 7 months, here’s what I came up with for the back-label:

Well, as you can see, it’s a sort of compromise. I think the label itself provides quite a lot of general information, and it has a QR Code which leads to this page (here) where much, much more info is available for any potential customer who is thinking of buying the bottle.

Here’s a copy of it below, for your convenience, so you don’t even need to lift a finger to click through!
Mind you, I can't get the formatting to show correctly here, so maybe it's better if you do click through and see the page properly!!!


QR Code Page

Thank you for scanning my QR Code and coming here. If you don’t find the information you’re looking for on this very page, it will probably be on another page of this same website.

Failing that, you can contact me directly anytime, by email ( or even by cell-phone (+34-687-050-010); but bear in mind that I live in Europe – so if you call me, please try not to wake me up in the middle of the night!

Below is the information that I would have liked to put on the back-label directly, but didn’t do so for several reasons: too much information to fit, probably not legal and maybe confusing or counter-productive to some people. But if you’re reading this, then you’re a wine-geek and so you won’t be confused!

I hope you enjoy my wine. That’s basically why I made it! I hope you liked the aromas and tastes, and I hope you found it interesting and complex and expressive of its terroir, and worth talking about.

The following information refers to the six (6) different wines imported into the USA in 2012 by José Pastor Selections:

1. Vinos Ambiz Airén 2011
2. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Maceración Carbónica)
3. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Orange)
4. Vinos Ambiz Malvar 2011 (Tinaja)
5. Vinos Ambiz Tempranillo Crianza 2010
6. Vinos Ambiz Titulciano 2010 (Temp, Graciano, Sirah)

These wines contain the following INGREDIENTS:

· Fermented grape juice

And they don’t contain the following additives:

· Industrial yeasts to give false and artificial tastes and aromas
· Industrial bacteria
· Industrial enzymes
· Colorants (like Mega Purple)
· Preservatives
· Flavour enhancers
· Added acids
· Added sugar, added fruit juice, added fruit extract
· Added water
· Wood chips
· Artificial tannins

These wines underwent the following PROCESSING:

I did these things:

· Crushed the grapes
· Pressed the grapes
· Racked the wine from one tank to another
· Clarified the wine using gravity, time and the cold of winter

And I didn’t do these things to them:

· Spray pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc onto the grapes
· Heat the wine up
· Cool the wine down
· Filter it
· Add any substances for clarifying or fining the wine
· Use reverse osmosis
· Use spinning cones
· Use cryo-extraction
· Use sterile filtration
· Use any other unnecessary terroir-masking intervention


So what do you think?

Is there anything objectionable here? Illegal? False? Misleading? Is it helpful to consumers? Is it a good idea or a bad idea in general to do this?

I would really appreciate any sort of feedback.

And I haven’t actually sent the files to the printer’s yet, but they are ready to go, so I’m still in time to modify, if necessary!

And of course I can modify the QR landing page anytime.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Natural Wine Debates – Critics Barking Up the Wrong Trees?

There’s so much to be said and debated about natural wines, so many topics and issues related to natural wine that are not only interesting in their own right, but which could be of benefit to the whole wine world, especially to consumers, but also to the trade. Like the following:

- Can/do natural wines express their terroirs better?

- Is there a point at which too little intervention destroys terroir, just like too much intervention?

- Transparency and honest labelling of ingredients and processes?

- Environmental impact of natural wines?

- Health implications of natural wines?

- When is a wine fault not a wine fault?

- Are natural wines more delicious and alive?

- What could be learned from natural winemaking, that could lead to improvement of ALL wines?

-   ... and many other interesting questions ...

But are these topics being discussed and talked about? No, they’re not, as far as I can tell. I suspect that many producers, distributors, traders and consumers of natural wines know the answers to these questions already, and are just quietly getting on with it, ie growing grapes, making wine, distributing it and drinking it! And even though we’re a tiny insignificant percentage of wine production (the last figure I read was < 0.05 percent) we're happy and growing.

So what are the angry critics so angry about? Beats me, but this is what they’re focusing on:

- The word ‘natural’

- The words uttered by certain individual natural wine marketers

- The existence of a “Natural Wine Movement”

- Funky wines

Go figure! I STILL don’t understand what makes them some of them so angry and vitriolic, and others just obsessed with these topics to the detriment of other more interesting ones. And I’ve been thinking about it and trying to engage with them for about two years now.

I’ve changed my opinion several times over those last two years as to what their problem is. I used to think, at one point, that they were worried about losing market share, but I realize now that that’s just ridiculous. Even if there are 100’s of natural winebars in Paris, New York, London, Tokyo, etc, and 100’s of natural winemakers, and 1000’s of natural winelovers, the numbers are just too tiny to be taken seriously!

So why are they focussing on those four boring and unfruitful topics? Are these topics interesting to winelovers? to the general wineloving public who might want to learn a bit about natural wine?  Well, I suppose a little bit in a superficial gossipy sort of way, but I really don’t think that they’re worth taking all that seriously. Basically, they’re not central or core topics of interest or of use to someone wanting to find out about natural wines. Like I said, they’re very soundbite generating, they may help to sell more newspapers or drive readers to websites, but really they don’t address any of the important, interesting or useful issues raised by natural wine. Are they useful, productive, beneficial, constructive topics to invest ones time on? Not really, but let's have a look at them anyway:

The word ‘natural’

So, what is the critics’ problem with the word ‘natural’? A number of separate things, as I’ve discovered over the years:

1. The fact that wine is not actually natural, in the primary dictionary-defined meaning, ie natural in the sense of occurring naturally, like a mountain, a tree or an ocean, without any human intervention. They point out in excruciating detail, that wine is not actually natural because it has to be made by humans. Hmmm! And then the critics go on to provide umpteen examples of how wine isn’t natural: vines have to be planted in rows, trained on wires, pruned with man-made scissors, the grapes then have to be harvested either in man-made boxes or by man-made tractors, taken to a man-made building full of industrial machinery and equipment, subjected to processes like crushing, pressing, racking, filtering, etc, bottled in man-made bottles, etc, etc, zzzzzzz, snore, yawn, ad infinitum. There is sometimes an attempt at humour at this point, like: for a wine to be natural it would have to drip out of the grapes all by itself into a hole in the ground to ferment there all by itself and be drunk before it turns into vinegar, ho, ho ho!

Well, what can one say to that? Well, apart from just ignoring it (probably the most sensible course, and in fact the one that many natural wine people have chosen), I say this:

To me it's a fascinating linguistic and semantic topic in its own right, and there are many serious and reliable sites on the internet where such topics are discussed, ie how the meanings of words in the English language evolve over time, how new meanings are created and acquired, how old meanings fall into disuse, etc.

I would recommend anyone interested in the semantics and etymology of the word ‘natural’ to look out one of these sites. My favourite one is Anatoly Lieberman’s blog on the Oxford University Press. I’ve actually consulted this very question with him and he even posted a reply, which you can read here. Interestingly, he also pointed me to a secondary meaning of the word ‘natural’ in the Oxford Dictionary, 1991 Edition, which is “manufactured using only simple or minimal processes;”. Interesting!

2. The fact that calling a style of wine ‘natural’ implies that all other styles are un-natural? Well, is that really a fact? Does everyone automatically think that? Always? Well, I myself used to think so a couple of years ago, but not anymore. The English language is full of words whose opposites could have connotations and implications. Perhaps it may be true the first time you hear the phrase ‘natural wine’ when you tend to take the meaning literally, but after a period of exposure and use, I think the secondary meaning is the one used by all language-using humans.

Think about “organic” agriculture and “organic” fruit and veg. Who in their right minds, when they buy some organic potatoes thinks that non-organic potatoes are in any way inorganic? After all, the primary dictionary definition of ‘organic’ is in fact ‘made up of carbon atoms’!!! Same thing applies to ‘natural’. maybe this same debate raged in the 70's when organic agriculture started becoming popular?

Anyway, that's another fascinating semantic-linguistic issue best discussed in the non-wine forum of your choice!

3. Certain critics have written or implied that the “Leaders” of the “Natural Wine Movement” actually took an active decision to deliberately call their wines ‘natural’. This is an extraordinary assumption to make, especially as these critics are well-educated intelligent writers. Another piece of evidence that makes me think that they don’t do any research before posting.

If they had done some research, before typing up their posts, they would have discovered that the term ‘natural wine’ has been around for a long time, since 1907 at least, and that it wasn’t invented a few years ago by the evil scheming leaders of a shadowy movement!!! Again, there are some good linguistic history forums out there in the internet. See the French Wikipedia entry for natural wine here, if you're interested.

The words uttered by certain individual natural wine marketing persons

This always makes for a good headline or sound-bite, because it’s so easy to take words or whole sentences out of context and base a whole ranting natural-wine-bashing post around them.

It’s ridiculous to generalize what an individual says or writes, to a whole group of individuals who may or may not agree with them, is it not? Seems like common sense to me.

And anyway, I don’t believe that the comments, opinions, viewpoints and soundbites you can find online about natural wine are a true reflection of the reality on the ground. I am sure that many people are bored to tears by the semantics debate and by the utterances of individual naturalistas that don’t represent the rest of us.

The existence of a “Natural Wine Movement”

Certain critics seem to know nothing about natural wine and the people involved in it, and give every impression that they haven’t even bothered doing any research before posting or commenting. They have this imaginary fantasy in their heads of what they think natural wine is about and they just run with it despite any evidence to the contrary.

For example they believe that there’s a “natural wine movement” out there, with a dogma, beliefs, leaders, etc. They constantly write things like “The Natural Wine Movements believes that ...”, “The Naturalistas say that...”, “The champions of the Natural Wine Movement...”, and the like. You’d think that after so many years they’d know that there is no movement, organization or body. It’s just a motley collection of winemakers, distributors, winebars, restaurants and above all consumers, who share a liking for a particular style of wine.

Obviously, there’s a sort of movement, or affinity, in the loose, vague sense that all these people share certain interests; for example, they are all are concerned about the environment, and/or their health and/or have an interest in drinking and talking about complex terroir-expressing wines. But there’s certainly no official, formal movement with leaders and articles of association, etc. There are no official spokespersons who can speak for anyone apart from themeselves.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve posted a comment on various blog-posts saying just that, but has it had any effect? Nope! They go right on posting about how “The Natural Wine Movement believes this, that or the other”!

Another thing I’ve noticed is that they hardly ever give names, surnames or links, when they make some sweeping generalization. The few times they do provide a link, and if you follow it, you can see that the person in question is actually quite reasonable and that the quote has been taken out of context and its meaning distorted.

Faulty wines

Another case of generalization. The classic sentence is “I’ve tasted natural wines before, and they’re oxidised, cloudy, Bretty, stinky, taste of cider, etc, insert your adjective here”. I've come across a few attempts at humour and/or creative writing at this point too!

The obvious reply to that is so obvious that it seems like a waste of time actually writing it! But obviously the reply is that of course there are some bad natural wines out there – just like there are bad examples of ANY category of wine you care to mention. DUH!


My learning curve has been long and slow!

At first (a few years ago) I used to get very angry and upset when I read about any of those four boring side-issues I’ve just discussed above. And I even wrote stuff (posts on my own blog and comments on other blogs) that I now regret.

Then, more recently I went through a “constructive engagement” phase, where I was reasonable and polite, and took a lot of time to do research and attempt to explain things. But to no avail!

Now, I think I’m entering the “Just ignore this” phase. I have plenty to be getting on with! Apart from growing grapes, making wine, promoting it and selling it, I would also actually quite like to write about it, and about natural wines in general.

I have in fact been guilty of complaining about a lack of debate about the issues that “I” believe are interesting and useful, but haven’t actually done anything about it! Hopefully that will change soon, and I hope to participate in some 'interesting' discussions in the future!
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