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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Natural Wine, Natural Women, and Natural Men

I was thinking the other day…about natural wines! Again! Actually I was sitting on the bench in the courtyard of the bodega tasting a sample of one of my wines, and daydreaming and fantasizing!!!

It was a lovely sunny day, and nice ‘n’ cold too. The whole courtyard is a suntrap, as the wind can’t get in there, so it’s really pleasant to just sit there in the sun, and let my mind wander.

I can’t remember now how I got to thinking about women on that occasion – there must have been some Freudian connection to natural wine, because that's what I was thinking of first. Anyway, I was thinking that there are some interesting connections between natural wines, natural women and natural men!!!

[BTW, if you’re thinking that I have too much time on my hands, or that I should be doing something more productive, instead of sitting around fantasizing, ... well, you’re wrong! Because this is the season for actively not intervening in the winery! All my wines have either finished fermenting, or are still fermenting away very slowly, or are just sitting there, dormant and evolving over the cold of winter. So there’s not really much to do in the bodega. In theory, I could have them analyzed and then “correct” them, with unnecessary interventions, substances and aggressive processing. But why do that? I taste them regularly, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them (touch wood!), and I don’t think they need to be “corrected”. Like all artisans, I don’t make my wines according to a formula, and every year my wines are slightly different and they turn out the way they turn out. So, sitting in the sun and fantasizing is OK!]

Back to the point!

Thinking about it, the majority of women are quite non-natural these days - because they intervene a lot on their bodies: firstly, (starting from the top) they intervene on their hair in every possible way, both by adding chemicals and substances, and also with aggressive processing. For example, using hydrogen peroxide to make themselves blonde; and tints, dyes, hennas, etc to make themselves dark. Using curling devices to curl straight hair, and special ironing devices to straighten curly hair! Then (moving downwards) they shave off all their body hair, or most of it, especially their underarms, and legs and ‘tidying up’ the pubic bits!

The majority of men are more natural, or rather, less non-natural, because we don’t intervene so much. Just a touch of SO2 at bottling, oops, I mean just shaving our facial hair in the morning and nothing else.

Now why is that? Well, as usual, it’s probably a sexual attraction thing! ie hairiness is a masculine trait, and hairlessness is a feminine trait; but even though we both have hair, men are not naturally as hairy as bears and women are not naturally as hairless as pigs! Less hair = more feminine = more attractive, so off they go and shave off everything they can! But by the same token, more hair = more masculine = more attractive, so why don’t we all have full beards, and use all sorts of tricks and interventions to make our beards bigger and bushier? Or even try to make the rest of our bodies even hairier? In theory, we’re actually making ourselves less attractive by shaving off our facial hair. Go figure!

There seems to be an interesting parallel in consumer preferences here. It would seem that the vast majority of humans prefer both non-natural mates and non-natural wines, while only a tiny minority prefers natural wines, natural women with all their body hair, and natural men with all of theirs!

That was Part One.

Then, another day, after having had those thoughts and before actually writing up this post, I did a bit of research on the internet, to try and find out why we men shave off our beards, and why women shave off all their body hair (and why natural wine shouldn’t contain any hair at all!).

Let’s start with the men. It turns out that men have a long, long history of shaving their facial and even head hair. Ancient Egyptians and ancient Greek soldiers did it, to reduce the risk of being grabbed and beheaded during combat. The Romans carried on this tradition which became widespread over the whole male population, and being clean-shaven was equated with freedom and civilization, while beards were the mark of slaves and barbarians. Things took a turn for the worse with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and facial hair has been in and out of fashion here in Europe ever since, thanks to the ‘barbarian’ Germanic and Slavic influence! I couldn’t find any historic references to men shaving other parts of their bodies, and in modern times only for minorities, like some cyclists, swimmers, models, etc, who do it for professional reasons, and some individuals who do it for personal reasons.

Now for the women. In this case, it turns out that women for all of history had never intervened on their bodies and never ever shaved anything. Except maybe queens, aristocrats and prostitutes. For several reasons. A practical reason was that that the razors historically available and used by men were rather inconvenient and even dangerous to use on awkwardly located body parts, and in fact could even be used as weapons. Hence the existence of professional barbers. Another reason was cultural, ie women’s clothing (and men’s) throughout history always covered the entire body except hands and face, which may have been due to the climate in colder regions of Europe, and also due to the Judeo-Christian tradition of ‘modesty’ and repression of sexuality. Whatever. The fact is that women basically didn’t shave anything on a daily basis until relatively recently.

It seems that the reason the majority of women shave so much in modern times is the fault of one man, back at the beginning of the 20th century! King C. Gilette was a man with an obsession, and he devoted his entire life to inventing, designing, manufacturing and selling ... the safety razor! Incredibly, there had been no advances in razor manufacturing technology since the Bronze Age! Anyway, Gilette eventually got his big break in 1918, when he managed to get a safety razor included in each infantryman’s kitbag during the First World War, and so made his fortune. But not content with that, he decided to target women too. The ‘Underarm Campaign’ started in 1915, ran through the 20’s and was highly successful, helped perhaps by the clothing fashion of the times which saw the first ever introduction of sleeveless dresses and tops, and by the popularity of ‘women’s magazines’ for the advertising. Then came the ‘Leg Campaign’ starting in 1918, which was also successful, but not so much, perhaps due to the invention and popularity of cheap rayon stockings.

And the rest is history, up to modern times: at one end of the intervention spectrum, we have aggressive processes like full Brazilian waxing, laser hair removal, creative topiary, etc, and at the other extreme we have a minority of Naturalistas questioning the need for all these bodily interventions in the first place. Just like natural wine! Hey, maybe there’s a Natural Woman Movement out there too!?

Well, all of the above sort of explains the 'when' and the 'how', but not really the 'why'. I would love to delve further into this question.

I suppose, ultimately, despite all the arguments and reasons for and against shaving body hair, and for and against interventions in wine-making, there's just no accounting for taste - neither in women, in men nor in wine!

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