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Monday, 27 April 2015

Natural Wine Movement Entering Phase 2

I had a nice "Aha" moment a few days ago when I read Alice Feiring's article in Punch Magazine (here), in which she casually mentions that the Natural Wine Movement has moved on into "Phase 2"!  And then proceeds to discuss a whole batch of "Phase 2" concepts!

On the one hand I felt a sort of relief and I uttered a silent "At last! About time too!", because it was starting to get really tiresome reading the same old unfounded criticisms, attempted humour, and fantasy misconceptions coming from wine-writers and bloggers who either do it on purpose or who don't bother to inform themselves or do any due diligence on the realities of natural wine. Over the last year or so I've managed to restrain myself from actually replying to these posts in writing, but I haven't been able to stop myself from thinking up replies in my mind, which I find really annoying because I could be puting all that brain power to better use! Ha!

And on the other hand I thought "What? Phase 2 has started without me!!!? And here's me still miserably thrashing around with outdated and demodé Phase 1 stuff!!  This cannot be!"

So how to drag myself into Phase 2? I think I will actually have to write down all these mental replies to Phase 1 concepts that have been in my head recently. But not publically. I won't bore the people who read my blog with that sort of thing (again!). I will just pour it all forth onto paper in private, and it will be a sort of catharsis, a cleasing, an expurging from my mind of useless concepts, that have become boring, and that have served their purpose. I hope.

For me, these Phase 1 concepts include things like:

1. The semantic meaning of the word "natural" (Actually I dealt with that particular issue to my entire satisfaction here)

2. The existence or not of a "Natural Wine Movement", which has "champions", "dogmas", evil marketing ploys, etc  (I can sense a Hosemaster-style parody deep within me - if only I had the writing skills to materialize it!)

3. Blanket statements (humorous or not) about natural wines in general, ie "The champions of the natural wine movement believe that...."; "natural wines taste of ....."   Ach, these are just so stupid and annoying

4. Assorted nonsense, ie "It is essential to use SO2, otherwise....",  consipracy theories, ie "marketing to hoodwink the unsuspecting public", fantasy genre creative writing, eg "I raised my eyes heavenwards as yet another putrid brew was proffered to me by a bearded, tree-hugging ...", etc

Yes, enough of all that. Even though I find some of it interesting in its own right (like the semantics), I really ought to focus my mental energy on serious and interesting Phase 2 issues, and just totally forget about the denigrators.

And what are these Phase 2 issues anyway?  Well, Alice Feiring covers a good number of them in her Punch article, but basically, I believe that they all boil down to the question of whether a substance or a technique helps the wine express its terroir or not.

By focusing ALL my grape-growing and wine-making decisions through that lens (ie, whether it helps express the terroir better or not), all that Phase 1 nonsense above will automatically disappear from the agenda.

Example 1: Should I spray herbicides in my vineyard(s) to kill off the weeds or not?

Phase 1 answer: Herbicides are bad for the environment, kill micro-life, insects, pollute the ground-water, pose risk to larger animals and human vineyard workers and possibly neighbours and end consumers of the wine. Therefore no herbicides, irrespective of whether the wine will express the terroir better or not. Decision taken from a (higher) moral, philosophical (dogmatic) level, not from a (lower) mere wine-making terroir-driven level.

Phase 2 answer: By killing off the weeds, and microbes and insects, etc I am reducing biodiversity and placing the vines at risk of attack by disease, insects, etc because I have killed off the preditors, and I will be obliged to use more chemicals to combat this possible attack, which will affect the quality and taste of the grapes. Also the herbicides have empoverished the nutrient quality and quantity of the soil, and it may be necessary to use additional chemical fertilizers. The vines will be unbalanced, will lack certain elements and have an overabundance of others, and will not be able to produce balanced complex healthy must. Therefore, no herbicides, and seek other solutions. Decision based on soil-vine-grape-must-wine quality, which happily coincides with the environmental aspect of the question.

Example 2: Should I add any SO2 to my wines?

Phase 1 answer (by a sans-soufriste): No, never. I believe that SO2 is a barrier between the expression of the terroir and the taster. Any level of SO2 means that the terroir has not been expressed as well as it could have been expressed.

Phase 1 answer (by me): By default, No. If my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is no reason for me to use any SO2. But if I need to use some small amount for whatever reason then I will.

Phase 2 answer: hmmm, this one is more tricky! Lets see. If I'm making a young wine to be drunk within the year, then my Phase 1 answer above is valid. ie, assuming that my grapes are healthy and my equipment is clean, there is virtually no risk of the wine spoiling. It will certainly evolve, but not spoil. So my choice is one of taste: do I want to 'stabilize' my wine, in terms of colour and possible aromas and taste? or do I want to let it evolve naturally, ie becoming darker, losing its fruitiness, becoming more sherry-like? Which is the most faithful expression of the terroir?  Is the expression of the terroir better in say January when the aromas and tastes are fruity and intense? or the year after, when there is less fruit, the wine is more Sherry-like, and has other different non-fruit complexities?  If I add SO2, the wine will never evolve (or will it evolve much more slowly?)

But what if I want to make a 'crianza' or vin-de-guarde type wine which will have a long elevage both in barrel/amphora and in the bottle? Well, I have to plead ignorance here. The oldest wine I have is a Tempranillo 2010, which was bottled in 2011, and was made without any SO2, and it's still showing perfectly well! I don't know. I will have to think, and read, and ask about this.

Example 3: What containers should I use? Stainless steel, clay amphorae, concrete, plastic, wood?

Phase 1 answer: is based on the pros and cons of the characteristics of each material. Eg, stainless steel is easy to clean, and poses a very low risk of contamination, but it's expensive, completely non-porous to the atmosphere, and there are possible electro-magnetic issues.

Phase 2 answer: hmmmm, tricky again!  In the Sierra de Gredos or in the SE of Madrid I don't have hundreds of years of experience and opinions and consensus of what the terroir ought to be like, to draw on, like in say in Burgundy or Chianti. How do I even know what to aim for? La Mancha has historically only ever produced vast quantities of table wines (with a few isolated exceptions) and Sierra de Gredos is in a similar situation, ie no critical mass of producers/tasters/commentators/consumers of quality wines. Any suggestions welcome!

Cheers! Give me more juice!

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