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Monday 27 February 2017

Live Wine Milan 2017 - a natural wine fair

The other day (17th and 18th Feb) I was at Live Wine in Milan, one of the many natural wine fairs held in Italy these days. There were at least five others that I could have chosen from, for example Villa Favorita, Cerea, Fornovo, Sorgente del Vino or some others.

In France also there are at least 5 or 6 good natural wine fairs to choose from, though I probably won't go to any in France this year. In contrast, in Spain there are only 2: Vins Nus held in Barcelona and organized by the Spanish natural winegrowers association PVN (Productores de Vinos Naturales = Producers of Natural Wines); and the other one is called H2O and is organized privately by Laureano Serres and/or Joan Ramon Escoda, both natural wine producers from Catalonia.

Another difference between the Spanish natural wine scene and the French/Italian one is in the numbers of producers and visitors that show up at the fairs. The Spanish fairs have about 30/40 producers and about 1000 visitors/day, while the smaller Fr/It fairs have about 200 producers and receive about 3000 visitors.

Yet another difference that I noticed was the age range of the visitors. I couldn't help noticing it, as I was standing at my table, pouring wine and talking to them for 10 hours/day! The majority of my visitors were in their 20s/30s (and very few older people), whereas at the Spanish fairs I go to, it's the opposite way around, ie very few young people and an abundance of old coots!

Why is this? Why such a great difference between Spain and France/Italy? All three countries are major historical producers of wine, all producing the same volume of wine each year (about 50 million hl/yr), but that's the only similarity. As far as natural wine is concerned, I'd guess that there must be about 500 producers in France and 500 in Italy; but there are only about 50 in Spain.

An interesting question to ponder, no? I'm afraid I have no idea why there is such a difference. Any theories welcome.

And to finish off, a nice photo, which has nothing to do with the above. This is of my Doré vineyard which I was in the other day, at about 800 m between El Tiemblo and Cebreros, in the Sierra de Gredos. Still unpruned as yet.

Doré vineyard in Sierra de Gredos

Monday 13 February 2017

Natural Wine. Nobody knows what it is!

Natural Wine

Nobody knows what it is!

Well, actually, quite a lot of people know what it is. It’s just that there’s no legal or official definition. So this can cause a lot of misunderstandings or even arguments.

This lack of a clear definition seems to be a good thing for many mainstream press journalists and writers, as they can just churn out the same old hackneyed topics time after time. I personally haven’t read anything original in the last 4-5 years. Does that mean it’s all been said then? Hey, maybe everything really has been said, and if I were to do a bit of searching on the internet and make a summary of all the ‘takes’, ‘positions’, ‘postures’ and ‘stances’ on all the ‘issues’, ‘sound-bites’,  ‘talking points’ and ‘philosophies’, I could post a really comprehensive and definitive post, and there would be no reason for anyone to bore anyone else with their unoriginal thoughts J.

Ach, if only I had the time to do that!

Sadly (or rather, fortunately, for you all!) I have far too many natural wine related tasks to be getting on with. Apart from writing 2 posts/month (self-inflicted goal), I also have to grow grapes, make wine, and thirdly sell said wine. Those three tasks being the top-level of their particular multi-branched, multi-twigged, multi-leafed tree.

A few months ago I was talking about the definition of natural wine to a visitor to my vineyards, and I believe I may have come up with an original sound-bite. I said “Natural wine is a bit like pornography – it’s difficult to define but you know it when you see it!”  Well, it’s not totally original, because someone really did say that – about pornography. But I’m claiming the prize for saying it first about natural wine J

Anyway, in this post I’d just like to repeat a message to all those writers and bloggers and commentators who insist on saying things like “but it can’t be ‘natural’ because the vines are all planted in rows, and then pruned, and then the grapes are crushed using machinery, etc, etc” you get the idea.

My message is: adjectives in English (in fact most words in most languages) have many different meanings! This is so blatantly obvious that that I’m left kind of speechless (or wordless!). Just open up a dictionary and you’ll see. For example I just typed “online dictionary” into Google and the first one on the list was and after typing in “natural” I got 31 different meanings of the word natural. Thirty-one!  Obviously many of them are pretty similar, but look at definition No.7:

having undergone little or no processing and containing no chemical additives:
natural food; natural ingredients.
Compare organic (def 11).

That’s obviously the meaning that natural winemakers, distributors and retailers are using when we write about natural wines. Whereas the boring pedants who bore us all with their boring utterances are sticking to definition No.1:

existing in or formed by nature (opposed to artificial):
a natural bridge.

The same results come up for any dictionary you care to consult. And it works for just about any word in the English language!

Another message I have is this one: Why don’t they all go and bore the pants off the producers, distributors and retails of natural gas? There are many, many more consumers of natural gas than there are of natural wine, and the gas industry moves vastly greater quantities of money. And as if that weren’t enough reason, according to their meaning No.1, natural gas is much, much more artificial than natural wine, as it requires incredibly expensive and complex technology to produce the stuff! J

Having delivered my messages, I would also like say why I believe that natural wines are ‘better’ in all possible senses of the word than industrial-chemical-commodity-supermarket wines (ie about 90% of the wines produced in the world today):

1.              Natural wines are better for the environment. I don’t think there’s even any debate on this point, is there? Industrial-chemical vineyards pollute the environment (groundwater, soil, lifeforms, everything) even if they abide by the letter of the law.
2.              Natural wines are 100% risk-free in terms of human health (final consumers and workers on the land and in wineries).  No debate there either, surely?
3.              Thirdly, and this point is immensely debatable, natural wines taste better, are more interesting, are expressive of their terroir and grape variety, are more digestible, and generally just more soul-raising and inspiring of joie-de-vivre! Not all natural wines are like that, naturally! There will be some that are crap, but I’d say most of them are like that. Just go to any natural wine fair and try to find a bad wine. This is 2017! Decades have passed since the latest modern natural wine renaissance. The bad one have been weeded out and have disappeared.

Here's a couple of photos:

A worm
Worms are a sign of a healthy, living uncontaminated soil. You don’t see them in the 90% of agro-chemically exploited vineyards. (I say ‘exploited’ and not ‘farmed’ because it’s an insult to farmers to use the same verb to describe what the industry is doing to the land).

My vineyard and the neighbour's vineyard
 Spot the difference. Which vineyard is clean and alive and allows its vines to be healthy and vigorous  and to produce healthy, balanced, complex and delicious grapes? And which one is polluted and dead?
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