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Tuesday 6 September 2011

Let's Hear It for Industrial Wines

A parody. Imagine a crazy fantasy world dominated by natural wine corporations, where the vast majority of the world population drink natural wine, where hype and convention and globalized values rule, where wine is rated and sold based on Joly Points... and where industrial wine-makers are the weirdos that are misunderstood (willingly or otherwise), ridiculed and attacked. This is the sort of post you could expect to read.


A new book was the subject of a review at "WINEBLOG"

The book is entitled "Industrial Wine" and it's by FRED BLOGGS and A.N.OTHER.

Put me down as one of the dissenters. There’s no such thing as industrial wine, if what you mean (which is what’s generally meant) is the absence of natural processes in winemaking. Because winemaking is a natural process. Manipulated wine isn’t wine at all, but a chemical compound.

To be honest, you have to grant that while “industrial wine” might mean manipulated in theory, it really just means more manipulation than normal in practice (which is what it has to really mean if the wine is to be wine at all). Even with that caveat, I still have a major problem with the whole concept.

Wine’s main goal is to be good, not “industrial”. In fact, “industrial” is a pretty nebulous concept when everyone is processing their wine with as little manipulation as possible, even those who would claim to be the avid adherents to the creation of “industrial” wine. There are some who really take the manipulative thing pretty far. Maybe for them the use of the term “industrial” wine is a little more apropos. But based on my tasting, another term, “bad” wine, is equally apropos. Since wine that’s really not made with all nature's processes at our disposal tends not to be very good, and lasts way beyond its natural lifespan. I think most practitioners who preach “industrial” wines, but who produce high quality wines, in fact eschew the more radical “industrial” practices.

For reasons I’ve harped on at length, the theory that one wine is better than another quickly yields to the reality that trying to say what is a better wine is a really mushy endeavor. There’s no real agreement among wine tasters, since so much of what one means when pronouncing one wine better than another is simply
that one wine meets that particular wine taster’s preferred wine profile. I.e., if you like big wines, the big wine is preferred. If you like lighter, wines, then a lighter wine is the “better” wine.

The one place where I would definitely recognize that one wine is better than another is where one of the wines has a serious flaw. I do think that a wine that’s horribly infected with Mega-purple, or one that’s totally dominated by artifical tanins, is clearly inferior to a clean, well-made wine. But that’s about it when it comes to superiority of one wine over another. And the more “industrial” a wine, the more likely it is to be flawed.

So when an “industrial” winemaker proclaims that his wine is superior, he’s expressing his own subjective, and highly biased, opinion. And, to my mind, that opinion is less than worthless when repeated studies have failed to show that chemical farming, for instance, really translates into a superior product. And when he says his wine expresses the “banality” of his vineyard, he’s mostly mouthing what has become accepted but meaningless “winespeak” of our age.

You get a bunch of wine tasters together, even not very experienced ones, and exept for the most obvious examples (and maybe not even then), they will repeatedly identify the vineyard, region, state, and continent of the wine they are tasting. If "banality" had the meaning so often subscribed to it, then blind tasters should always fail to accurately identify the wines pedigree. But they can’t.

None of what I’ve said means that I favor the profligate use of all sorts of natural processes in the vineyard on a prophylactic basis. But the use of some natural and sustainable techniques when conditions require some sort of response to the bad hand nature has dealt you, is far better than letting your grapes go to hell. And use of one natural process (biodiversity, for example) to try to control weeds through predation really isn’t in my mind, in theory, any different than using some other natural process for weed control.

So put me down as one who, when he hears the terms “industrial wine” or “chemical wine”, really hears “bunk”.


The above is a parody of this post:

Sadly, as is generally the case with these natural wine bashing posts, all the author did really was to touch on the usual stereotypical and boring side-issues. I really wonder why it's like this. Do the authors not do any research at all? Do they just listen to what their like-minded friends utter and then turn it into a post? Where do they get their misinformation? It just seems to be blind faith and no reasoning, an irrational desire to destroy some kind of conspiracy.

To address the points briefly:

The flaw thing. Yes, it's like "I've tasted a few wines from Burgandy and I thought they were flawed, therefore all wines from Burgandy are flawed" !!! Give me a break! Whoever said that there are no bad natural wines? It's just like any region or style of wine - some are good, some are bad. Some you may like, some you may not. Most natural wines are not high in VA, nor are they oxidized. Most natural wines in fact fall in a standard range of acceptablity for all the different characteristics of wine; though some push the envelope, and that's where many conventional tasters find flaws where none exist. Many, though not all, conventional wine tasters are too used tasting big 'soups' laden with sulphites, enzymes, tanines, flavour-imparting yeasts, oak-chips, etc, that they have difficulty appreciating the taste of a real, natural, authentic, un-overly-manipulated wine!

Identifying the terroir. This is new one for me - I've never come across this 'argument' before. So experts are unable to identify a particular wine blind and say where it comes from! What on earth is that supposed to prove or disprove? That the whole concept of natural wine is rubbish? Or what? In fact, thanks to the increasing globalization, homogenization and standardization of industrial wines, it IS very difficult to tell any of them apart, no matter what region, country or continent they come from, or what grape variey was used. All the chemicals no doubt taste the same and are probably manufactured by the same few multi-nationals. This is why more and more people are drinking natural wine!

Spraying. Who said natural winemakers let their grapes go to hell? There are numerous natural, organic, sustainable, non-polluting, non-toxic techniques for ensuring healthy grapes even in adverse climates. The info is out there, so I won't bore you all with it here.

Gasoline for tillage. Jeez! Who said natural winemakers all use tractors for tillage? There are other techniques for weed control, which again I won't bore you with here. And in the case of natural winemakers who do use tractors, I'd say that the use (or abuse) of internal combustion engines is part of a much larger problem that affects the entire population of car-owners, not just grape-farmers.

Manipulation. This is the key concept for natural wines (IMHO), though the author doesn't quite get it. He seems to think that natural winemakers think that manipulation is bad. Duh! Obviously we have to manipulate, as the vines don't prune themselves, nor do the grapes pick, crush or press themselves. Etc, etc. We don't think that manipulation is bad and we know that it's not natural to plant vines in rows, and to prune them so they produce more grapes and less foliage; and we know it's not natural to crush and press grapes using machines. Etc, etc.

What natural winemakers and natural winelovers are against is "excessive" and "unnecessary" interventions and manipulations. I won't bore you all with a long list (the info is out there), but it includes things like adding artifical colourants, enzymes, industrial yeasts, bacteria, oak chips, acids, tannins, micro-oxygenization, reverse osmosis filtering, and in general using substances and techniques that strip the wine of its originality and authenticity and turn it into an industrialized homogenized product.

What was the point of that post? and of many like it? Why are these people trying to debunk natural wine as a category? Do they not realize that there are thousands of natural wines out there, all different from each other? How can they say that they're all bad? Can they not just stick to their globalized brands and leave us alone? Are they scared of losing market share, or what? Do they believe that they're protecting innocent winelovers from unscrupulous fraudsters? I really don't know.

One thing I do know, though, is that more and more people are drinking, and buying and demanding natural wine. That's the bottom line, and all the rest is words, words, words.

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