If It’s Not Natural Wine, It’s Fake Wine

Fake wine copyAt the risk of beating on a horse that is live and well, I'm compelled to remake a few points about the Natural Wine Movement that very much need to be driven home. The movement, which some will say does not exist, continues to see its most ardent champions display a most insidious form of promotion that is both disingenuous and dangerous.

I want to draw your attention to one of two "Natural Wine Fairs" that will be occurring in London in May. This one, promoted and organized by Doug Wregg, director of sales and marketing of Les Caves de Pyrene in London, is called "THE REAL WINE FAIR".

I think it is very important for readers to stop and consider the implications of the name of this fair before going any further because it is exhibit number one of the dismissive, derogatory and denigrating way in which so-called "Natural Wine" is not only be promoted by its loudest champions, but also by its quiet adherents who choose not to speak out against this kind of dishonest marketing.

I've often made the point that while no wine can honestly be called natural, the term in nonetheless used as a way to suggest that those winemakers who choose to categorize their product under this heading and those that champion wines they place under this bogus heading, do so in order to lift up their wines by demeaning all others that, if not "natural", must be something else—Un-Natural.

The very same idea is behind calling this upcoming event The REAL Wine Fair. Anyone who wants to defend the use of this term the way the term "Natural Wine" has been defended, by claiming that it does not imply all other wines are Un-Natural (or in this case "UN-Real"), will not even receive the deference of a quiet listen from me, nor should they from you.

It seems to me that you have to possess a pretty large sack of stupid toted around in a wheel-barrel of conceit in order to pronounce that your tasting will finally present to the public the "real" wines.

Wregg explains, in typical "natural" wine champion language, what tasters of these "real" wines will get at the "Real Wine Fair":

"Real wines taste of themselves and where they come from; they are not manipulated with chemicals and other winemaker’s tricks and tropes. They are more natural, more tasty (dare we say) and in the age of conformity and mediocrity they are probably “unreal”.

When champions of natural wine compare their objects of desire with the rest of the world, they inevitably, as Wregg does, imply that all other wines are manipulated with chemicals, created with trickery and, as a result, are unauthentic. In the above quote, Wregg is happy to go beyond implication and suggest that those wines that don't show up at his REAL WINE fair are mediocre.

Lest you think Mr. Wregg's practice of denigration marketing is an anomaly, consider the words of an organizer of another "natural wine" fair happening in London at precisely the same time as the "Real" wine fair. Isabelle Legeron, one of the most prominent promoters of these wines is organizing RAW: The Artisan Wine Fair, happening in London also in May. Consider this statement from Ms. Legeron:

"Most wines, including some Bordeaux crus classés, Champagne Grande Marques and household brands are nowadays no longer made exclusively from grapes. They are products of the agrochemical food industry.  The concept of wine's 'poetry', its artistry or romantism, or indeed its exceptionality as a product with a sense of place is becoming rarer."

Suffice to say, Ms. Legeron is a charlatan who doesn't know what she is talking about. She condemns "most wines" as though she has tasted most wines or knows anything about "most wines". She doesn't. Yet in order to promote her favorite wines, she is compelled to denigrate and disfigure "most wines" as unauthentic and absent any connection with the place where the grapes are grown. This is not only hogwash, but the kind of statement made by an ideologue most willing to tear others down in order to lift herself up.

In an interview with himself on his own website for the "Real" wine fair, Wregg is asked why there is so much criticism of natural wine today and what motivates it. His response is a stunning portrayal of irony:

"There is a vogue for antagonistic and snide journalism that does not reflect well on the industry…Natural wine annoys some people who believe that it is a movement (it isn’t) and that its adherents have arrogated to themselves the moral high ground. That would be irritating if it were true; instead it is the overwrought columns and blogs of established critics and bloggers have lowered the tone of the debate by means of perpetual misdirection and mild to outright offensiveness."

Offensiveness? I direct you to the name of Mr. Wregg's Fair: The REAL Wine Fair.

Some have criticized "natural" wines for the example of some bottles to be terribly flawed, unable to travel, and for having the tendency to degrade in the bottle. I won't undertake this kind of criticism. Criticizing an entire category of wines for the sins of a few is akin to what Mr. Wregg and Ms. Legeron do in categorizing all but "natural" wines as less than authentic, dangerous to your health and lumping all other wines into a "industrialized" category. It is unworthy of anyone with a thinking cap nearby.

Yet as long as the champions of this movement continue to engage in their unprecedented brand of Denigration Marketing for the sake of selling wine, they can continue to count on normal folks criticizing their efforts as the dismissive work of an unethical band of marketers.

They should be avoided like the plague that is their practice.

I wouldn't be so strident on this issue if the practice of denigrating down the vast majority of artisan wines made in the world wasn't so dangerous. We are one Huffington Post article and another 60 minutes segment away from an uninformed public being convinced by an uneducated media that most of the wines you drink are bad for you or produced in a laboratory, an idea so far from the truth, yet promulgated by the Natural Wine promoters. It's not just uncouth, it's dangerous to the entire wine industry and particularly to those that produce outstanding, authentic, wines that aren't labeled "natural" by the adults in the industry.

55 Responses

  1. ryan - March 20, 2012

    In fairness Isabelle is an MW, and has done a long series of videos, here’s one: http://www.travelchanneltv.eu/videoguides/feature.asp?Title=Isabelle+Legeron's+Guide+to+Wine+Touring+in+Victoria&ID=74#.T2jHbWKkBXc
    She has tasted more wines than most. And has defended all wines in her series of videos, granted from an earlier time.
    Disclosure: she is a friend of mine.
    That said, I like the idea that “real wine” is not helpful. I do see problems with the idea of the term. But then how do you feel about the book “Authentic Wines” …similar problem, right?

  2. Donald Edwards - March 20, 2012

    Firstly, I think you are reading into the naming of the fair slightly more than is acceptable. I believe Doug is implying that the wines at his fair are all Real (by his definition) not that all other wines aren’t.
    Secondly your comments regarding Isabelle are dangerously close to being very rude given that she’s an MW who passed the tasting exam with honours. Also her statements regarding the extra, which some may deem unnecessary, additions and manipulations which are common place across some segments of the industry are manifestly true.
    You muddy the waters by implying that both Doug and Isabelle are denigrating all other artisan wine producers, this is certainly not the case. Both are trying to open up a bit more of a dialogue regarding what is, and isn’t done to wines which arrive on the market.
    (disclaimer, I’m involved with the RAW fair, but I would have responded similarly even if I wasn’t)

  3. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    I have no reason to believe your comments have anything to do with any association you have with RAW, but are rather your own comments.
    That said, I don’t care if Ms. Legeron is a Master of the Universe. Her comment that MOST wine are agrochemical products or that wines that exhibit place are rare could not be made by someone who is concerned with communicating the truth.
    If Mr. Wregg and Ms. Legeron are really wanting to open a bit of dialogue, they might consider doing so without opening their conversation with bomb tossing.

  4. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    You can read my thoughts on Jamie’s latest book here: http://fermentation.typepad.com/fermentation/2011/12/authentic-wine-and-mistaking-the-tail-for-the-snout.html

  5. Antonin Iommi-A. - March 20, 2012

    First, I think you can’t avoid categorization ; you just can’t. Otherwise, close all blogs, all wine press, all debate. There are billions of wines : how will you talk about them, without making any kind of group ?
    OK, sometimes, it goes too far. Sometimes, it’s not information – it’s activism. But, well, a “fair” is not a media ; the guy behind “Real Wine Fair” is not a journalist. He’s an activist, and we read him that way.
    So when you say those people are dangerous, you forget that point : they are not medias ; they set up events, according to their ideas. That’s it, and that’s very different. So to me your severe trial is, also… fake.
    (Sorry for my approximative english, I’m French.)

  6. Arnold Waldstein - March 20, 2012

    Not to what Isabelle and many other’s who are simply putting forth wine that they think are wonderful and natural.
    But to this post. I usually respect your writing. This one is just another example of ‘shock blogging’. Actually self promoting a contrary point of view to bring attention to yourself without a lot of new thinking.
    Honestly you are a smart guy. Knowledgeable and a great marketer but you fall prone to the very thing you are criticizing.
    Sorry to be so harsh but this constant industry insider back slapping about the problems of natural and artisanal wine as a category is wearisome.
    Or maybe I should say…go for it. Knock yourself out.
    The consumer’s decision is the only one that matters and they will vote with their dollars.
    And if the rise of natural and artisanal wine shops and bars and the percentages of natural and artisanal and organic wines on our menus at restaurants is any indication. they are deciding without the shrill tone of the debate your are beating and beating on.
    You do yourself little credit with this post.

  7. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    Arnold, I have nothing against “artisan” wines or “natural” wines. I’ve enjoyed these wines some falsely call “natural”. And of course, I’ve promoted and primarily drink “artisan” wines.
    That said, the promotion behind this new “category” is atrocious and offensive.
    And finally, If I can’t take criticism, I certainly shouldn’t be dishing it out. So, knock yourself out.

  8. Arnold Waldstein - March 20, 2012

    Hey Tom…
    I hesitated before commenting as I don’t like to be negative but needed to speak out on this one.
    I guess I just don’t see what you are seeing from a marketing perspective. And I’m a marketer by profession.
    In NYC, there are maybe a dozen wine shops and more wine bars in this loose ‘category’. And it’s common to find ‘organic’, ‘bio-d’ , ‘sustainable’ and yes ‘natural’ on the wine lists of hundreds if not thousands of restaurants.
    I don’t see this as religious zeal but as a movement towards bringing something to a public that thinks in categories and filters. Not just in the shops but online.
    Maybe this is a semantic debate. Maybe the problems of a wine industry coming to grips with a changing population of wine drinkers.
    For me, I’m happy.
    And yes, excited to make the jump over the pond in May to attend the ‘fairs’. Lots of great producers gathered for my tasting pleasure;)

  9. Robert McIntosh (@thirstforwine) - March 20, 2012

    (copy of comment from facebook – to allow it to be part of the debate)
    Tom, I take your point about the ‘natural’ movement basing itself around a rejection of “non” natural wines, and the potential for damage from this. However, you have really not done yourself any favours by insulting the skills and integrity of the people involved in the events. Both Doug and Isabelle are good people with keen wine instincts and lots of knowledge and passion. It happens to be that they are directing that passion towards the ‘natural’ producers. I do not go around insulting other specialist promoters or representatives just because I think their subject is questionable. I could call you a charlatan for supporting artificial AVAs in California that have no history or commonality for example (and I’m ONLY taking this as a wild, off-the-top-of-my-head example), but I don’t.
    The history of the two fairs, and the representatives, is a complex one that you probably have not looked into. That affects the naming of the events as well. The two people, and their supporters, have done a lot for artisan / handmade / real / natural / non-commercial / etc wines in this country and elsewhere.
    I just think that this particular post is uncalled for, and, to be honest, rude and aggressive.
    This is just my opinion, and I have to declare that I know both individuals, have worked with both, and will certainly be attending one, if not both, events.
    If the point is about the general communication of the ‘natural’ movement, maybe you could try treating these as examples of a point rather than being quite so negative about them as individuals?

  10. Gabriella Opaz - March 20, 2012

    I’m a little confused over the intense emotion. Haven’t all categories of wine been picked at at one time or another? Cava isn’t the “real” Champagne. Sherry is for old people. Mixed drinks and wine is a horrific state of affairs. It seems to me that something is hitting you deeper than just the “natural” debate, because I just can’t fathom why someone’s take on what’s good them should affect you so profoundly? Am I cheerleading natural wine without adequate criticism, nope, but I’m happy that some people have found their niche and passion. More power to them. But to call Isabelle a charlatan is unfair. Making this a personal attack is even worse. Her take may not mix with yours, or many others, but she is more qualified than most of us will ever be on wine; not to mention, she is extraordinarily well respected by both natural fans and none alike.

  11. Erica - March 20, 2012

    Haha, what got in YOUR coffee this morning? Where is all the anger coming from? If you don’t like it, don’t drink it, it’s a small part of the market and as of now there is no risk that your dear manipulated wines will be knocked off the shelf. If it makes the rest of us happy to drink a wine with no added tartaric or sulfur, what’s the problem?
    What really is not cool is attacking Isabelle. She’s a real person, remember? Isabelle brings good energy to this industry and a positive attitude. Haven’t met her but find her quite inspirational. She doesn’t bash other wines just because her preference is for the unmanipulated. She’s professional and inclusive. Wish you could be a pro about this too dear and keep rampant insults out of the public domain.

  12. [email protected] - March 20, 2012

    >>Suffice to say, Ms. Legeron is a charlatan who doesn’t know what she is talking about.
    I don’t think you’ll be winning any Wine Blog awards for this post. It’s a shame you resort to abuse.
    Very few winemakers make wine with “just grapes.” There’s a reason for that – it’s bloody difficult, the results can be extreme, and are not to everyone’s taste. But those few who set themselves that goal, don’t deserve your abuse for their pains.
    What’s the benchmark for the high end of commercial winemaking? Probably not far off the label shown in fig.7.4 of Jamie Goode/Sam Harrop – (ingredients) Grapes, acidity regulator, preservative, copper sulphate (made using) antioxidants, yeast, yeast nutrient (cleared using) bentonite, filtration, pectinolytic enzymes.
    Let’s walk down the scale of intervention. Natural yeast (as a shorthand for spontaneous fermentation) with no nutrients, and no additions except for sulphur – who’s making these wines? High end “terroir” winemakers (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco, blah)? They’ll almost certainly be low yield, organic in the vineyard, possibly biodynamic, because why else would you bother? But let’s stick with the winery.
    Take away the filters, bentonite, isinglass – but allow egg white? A small subset of the above.
    Then take away the sulphur – you’re left with a miniscule subset of the whole.
    These are not winemakers who make “product” (your word) – they make “natural” wine, or “real” wine, or whatever else they want to call it to signal the differences.
    Of course it’s extreme, it’s probably mad, and it’s almost certainly no way to make a living! But these are wines which really do taste like no others. Like them or hate them, they are a category apart.
    So please get over their choice of words and engage with the topic. This is a very different approach to winemaking from the other 99%, and these winemakers seek to differentiate themselves, and the wines they make, and love.
    Why be against that? Why deny them the right to differentiate what they do, and to try to make a living doing it? Why shouldn’t they have a wine fair to celebrate what they do, and call it whatever they like?

  13. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    If Ms. Legeron and Mr. Wregg expect to make comments that debase “most wine” and find themselves surprised when they are called on it, then they don’t understand the medium. And while Ms. Legeron is an MW, if she thinks that “most wines” are “products of the agrochemical food industry” then she simply doesn’t know what she is talking about. Furthermore, these kinds of statements (and they aren’t the only ones) she denigrates 1000s of winemakers around the world who work their ass off to make wine that authentically portrays a terroir and she insults thousands of winemakers for the purpose of raising up particular category of wine, as well as her own commercial venture.
    And it’s not as though I’ve not gone about promoting a cause though denigration myself. But at least I’ll own up to it when I call wholesalers names and point out why I think they undermined consumers. I’ll wait patiently for the denigration marketers surrounding the “natural” wine movement to admit the same.
    No. Marketers have NOT denigrated other categories of wines, let alone “Most” other wines in an attempt to raise up their own preferred category of wines. Suggesting that “Cava isn’t real Champagne” at least possess the virtue of being true. As for identifying Ms. Legeron as a “Charlatan” I note that the definition of the word is: “A person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill” Ms. Legeron claims that “Most wines” are “products of the agrochemical food industry”. She claims that wine’s “exceptionality as a product with a sense of place is becoming rarer”. Ms. Legeron has written: “Rather than use science to produce wines with as little intervention as possible, we use it to gain absolute control over every step of the process – from growing the grapes to making the wine itself. Very little is left to nature. This is this key factor that sets natural growers apart from all the rest.” This is poppycock. No wine makes itself. Yet she an assert this while at the same time throwing all other winemakers into the category of scientific interventionists that seemingly disdain nature. She’s a charlatan, Gabriella.
    I do like the wines and I do drink them. But if Ms. Legeron is going to market her wares by denigrating others in the field, she can’t really expect to not hear back about her unfortunate marketing ways. As for being a “Pro”, Ms. Legeron is acting as marketer in her capacity as the head of RAW. I know a little bit about marketing. When I work on behalf of a client to help them promote and market their wine or services, I don’t do so by denigrating all others in the field. You know why? It’s wrong. Plus, it’s not professional.

  14. Dave Brookes - March 20, 2012

    And you believe the NWM is dismissive, derogatory and denigrating? I usually enjoy your writing Tom but attacking respected members of the wine community is very lame.

  15. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    I take your disappointment seriously.
    But I also take seriously a form of marketing that denigrates 1000s of hardworking winemakers all for the sake of uplifting one’s own special focus. The kind of marketing that natural wine champions are undertaking is implicated by the very word they use to describe the wines. It’s not enough to just say, hey this isn’t right. Sometimes you have to point to the people who are carrying out the problematic activity. That’s what happened today.

  16. Tom - March 20, 2012

    ‘That’s what happened today’. Hahaha. No, I think ‘what happened today’ was you posted a stroppy post on your blog, to be read by other people who read wine blogs.
    [Audience pauses while dramatic, world-shaking explosion occurs, and tries collectively to work out whether or not this was ironical.]
    Anyhow. If I launched a wine called Chardonnay Plus (don’t worry — I’m not), would I be implying that all other wines made with Chardonnay were negative?
    Man alive.

  17. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    I had to look up “Stroppy”. I learned something today. And it’s not altogether inaccurate.
    Now, if your new “Chardonnay Plus” were launched today, we’d all ask, “What do you mean?” because it has no meaning. However, if you called your wine “Natural Chardonnay” we’d all sort of laugh because we know there is no such thing. Plus, we’d ask you what makes any chardonnay “natural”?

  18. Dave Brookes - March 20, 2012

    Hi Tom,
    There can be no doubt that it is the use of the word “natural” itself that ignites much of the vitriol but I believe this word was coined by the marketers, wine press & consumers and not the producers themselves.
    Whether there is a more effective word…be it “Real” or “Authentic” is debatable….I’d argue that whatever term is used there will still be a heated debate between the opposing camps.
    Good wine is good wine regardless of the marketing fluff surrounding it….that’s all that matters.

  19. Tom Wark - March 20, 2012

    You’ll note that today’s post was aimed at marketers.
    As for a different term other than the horrid “natural” there are certainly a number that might qualify. Certainly “Minimalist” comes to mind. I would have no problem with “Slow Wine”. “Anti-interventional” seems to describe the practice. Even “Traditional Wine” gets closer to the mark.
    But here’s the thing…Folks don’t need to ask what is being implied by the use of the term “natural”. It’s meaning is explicit in so much of the literature surrounding the movement when we see so much of it referring to other wines as “industrial” and “chemical” and “agrichemical”and “spoofalate” and worse. The term “natural” is used to imply that these wines are somehow more authentic as well as to piggyback on the actual meaning of the term that has such positive connotations. Fresh Squeezed orange juice is natural. Milk directly out of a cow is natural. An apple off a tree is natural. Wine? All of it is processed…and highly processed from the vineyard to the cellar to bottling.

  20. Donald Edwards - March 21, 2012

    Final question Tom, where exactly would you go about buying your PMS, Bentonite, tartaric acid, pectolytic enzymes etc, other than through the agro-chemical industry? Wine makers who claim are being denigrated by Isabelle are for the most part striving in a way to produce wine that is in a way natural. It’s a pretty broad camp, look at the wines that will be at both fairs. They run the gamut from hyper-natural to small SO2 additions pre-bottling with a few other things being used. The point is more the goal, and with it an attempt to produce wines that conform to a different aesthetic to the polished and often slightly manipulated ideal that has, and to an extent still dominates the wine trade. I’m often confused as to why mot of the vitriol comes from commentators getting hung up on semantics, whereas winemakers of my acquaintance are less than bothered, but when I look at relative sales volumes it’s obvious. The natural wine movement is still a drop in the ocean, albeit a quite influential one. I’d love for you to come along to either fair and discuss this more, because while there has been scare comments from some people selling natural wine, I also know full well the range of products that find their way into a huge swathe of what we’d like to think of as terroir wines, from all across the globe.

  21. Wink Lorch - March 21, 2012

    Tom, I think it’s a great shame you woke up so stroppy (now you understand the term) and posted this yesterday in its full and complete form.
    If you take out the personal vitriolic slander of two highly respected PEOPLE (not movements or wines or wine producers in general) in your post, I actually find lots of reasoned arguments and useful debate about these issues, which deserve to be read. However, the slander ruined it.
    How about being a Real Man and apologise?

  22. Jonathan Hesford - March 21, 2012

    About a year ago I may have agreed with you Tom. A lot of the publicity surrounding the Natural wine movement did focus on the negative aspects of what natural wines aren’t. However, I think things have moved on and rather than becoming a fanatical group of weirdos, today Natural, or Real or Authentic wine is accepted as covering a lot of wines that fall outside the industrial category.
    I think the work Dougg and Isabelle have done is raising awareness of the flavours and styles that exist outside the narrow path of wines which are defined by their Parker score or trophy cabinet of medals tasted by WSET-trained judges, where perfect means faultless.
    I wrote an article for Meininger last year which criticised two aspects of the Movement. One was this subtle, or not, denigration of every wine that fell outside their “natural” criteria and the other is the inclusion of wines which are very clearly just faulty and could have been made anywhere by anyone who didn’t really care about the end result. The latter still exists. I think these are the true charlatans of the Natural wine movement. Producers and their marketers spinning all sorts of tales while presenting liquids that taste more of Scrumpy than wine or are riddled with Brett or oxidised beyond any kind of enjoyment.
    I don’t really understand the vehemence of your objection to the naming of the fairs, using the words “real” and “artisanal”. The wines being presented are such. It’s certainly a lot more honest than when Decanter or Wine Spectator publish a list of “The Best Wines in the World” when they have only tasted a fraction of them or have asked for money for the wines to be tasted.

  23. Erica - March 21, 2012

    Here are my thoughts on the whole discussion:

  24. Winerackd - March 21, 2012

    Tom, surely name calling is beneath you, no matter how passionate you are.
    Now who cares what the group/movement/gathering is called. The only reason the fairs and indeed the ‘category’ are called Natural/Real/Raw is because “The fair (category) of wine producers who like to use low sulphur and natural yeasts and very few other additions and often have beards” just doesn’t have the same ring. Get passed the name and the consumer can decide if it’s their thing or not. If these fairs were called the “The Rambunctious Wine Fair” or “The Yellow Brick Road Wine Fair” would you have written in the same way? Like any fair or category, there will be wine to suit all palates. Get over it. If the titles were denigrating/harming wine makers who like to use a little bentonite or enzymes in their wine making I’m sure more retailers would encounter consumers saying “I’m not buying that, it’s not natural/raw/real.”

  25. @WineBusProf - March 21, 2012

    There’s a lot of opinion flying around here. Quite frankly, I’m reluctant to get involved in this bashing of the hornet’s nest.
    We held a webinar on “The Value of ‘Green’ issues in the wine sector’ this morning for the MSc Wine Business students. Cecil Camilleri (Sustainability Manager of Yalumba), Roger Kerrison (Aura Sutainability in New Zealand), and Phil Reedman MW (Carbon Neutral certified wien business consultant) all presented compelling messages on the importance of such issues to the development of our beloved sector. But, the over-riding question that came out of the webinar is what I’d like the audience here to keep in mind about the topic above:
    “Has anyone got evidence of what consumers think of this issue?”
    Given that they’re the ones we want to buy our wines, can we really afford to be sniping at one another when we should be working to appeal to our consumers?
    Wine for thought!

  26. Fabio Bartolomei - March 21, 2012

    @Tom Wark,
    Rudeness and personal attacks (on Doug Wregg and Isabelle Legeron in this case) are usually a sign that the author has no real basis for his criticisms, and is merely crying for attention. It looks like it’s you yourself who is engaging in denegration marketing.
    You are also guilty of twisting facts for your own vitriolic denigation marketing purposes; for example it’s an obvious, well-known, and easily verified fact that most wine in the world is sold in supermarkets and comes from chemical argriculture and industrial-chemical processes in the wine factory. It couldn’t be any other way! That doesn’t mean that there are not
    thousands of small and not-so-small fine wine producers out there (whether or not they classify themselves are natural, organic, biodynamic, sustainable or as nothing at all) – of course there are! But their total production is tiny compared to the mass-producers. And within that tiny minority, the natural producers are themselves a tiny percentage of that! Stop twisting facts!
    I’m afraid to say that I’m done with trying to engage with you on your blog. You’re an intelligent and knowledgable writer, and I believe that you must actually have the facts. The only conceivable reason you can have for writing what you write is an attempt to be relevant and to drive traffic to your blog. You have absolutely no reason to feel threatened by a minuscule minority who produce ridiculously small quantities of wine, both in terms of volume and of value. And your obsession with the semantics of the word ‘natural’ is just ridiculous and pitiful. We all understand the nuances of English, and the general public is not so dumb as to take the literal dictionary meaning, as you seem to think they are; your posture of protector of innocent winelovers being hoodwinked by scammers is also ridiculous and pitiful.
    This latest post has done you no credit whatsoever. I’ve been reading your posts since long before you started on your crusade, and I used to respect your integrity and knowledge as a wine-writer. I would never have believed you could have stooped so low.

  27. Tom - March 21, 2012

    I’m dismayed at the viciousness of some of these comments. Tom is taking to task the way these events are marketed and described. He didn’t say anything about the wines one way or another.
    If you write things that aren’t true, or the marketing people you hire to hype your event disparage others with questionable or offensive language and you allow it to happen, tacitly or not, then you deserve to be called out for what you say. Period. No matter what your credentials are or the nice things your friends say about you.
    As an importer, I buy from producers who make wine in many different ways. They have nothing but respect for one another as people and let their wines speak for themselves.

  28. Tom Wark - March 21, 2012

    Wine Racked,
    The term “Natural” is probably the least accurate word one could use to describe any wine made. There are numerous other words that could be used to describe this set of wines.
    The issue isn’t about whether drinkers and consumers will like these wines. They’d make that choice whether the movement called them “Minimalist” or “low intervention” wines. If you read the volumes of literature surrounding this movement, it is absolutely clear that the word is being used as a cudgel aimed at anyone that doesn’t make wine according to the movement’s philosophy and to give the movement an authority that it simply doesn’t possess.

  29. Ken Payton - March 21, 2012

    Let’s see, Tom Wark is ‘guilty’, he is ‘crying for attention’, he is ‘pitiful’, he is not a ‘real man’, etc. Perhaps we might agree that the insults piled upon him here are, at a minimum, the equivalent of Tom’s perceived insults. Let’s remember that such standard and routinized vitriol is properly reserved for Parker, the California wine industry, her ‘artificial AVAs’, and supermarket wines, right?
    For the record, the carbon footprint for the referenced wine fairs, inclusive of shipping, air travel, printed promotional materials, etc, must be enormous. But no worries. Carbon is natural.

  30. Tom Wark - March 21, 2012

    I gave up trying to be a “real” or even “Natural” man a long time ago. No need to start climbing that hill now. I think I’ll just stick with being me.
    One doesn’t apologize for making an honest, earnest point. Nor does one apologize for for naming names in a debate where specifics are in too short supply, where innuendo passes for description, and where defining others broadly is mistaken for self identification.

  31. Joseph - March 21, 2012

    I have been making wine since I was a teenager in 1979, I have experimented with many different styles of wine making. One sure way for making good natural wine is using the simple carbonic maceration method, allowing the grapes to turn into wine naturally with no intervention by the wine maker. The winemaker only needs to separate the pulp and sediments from the naturally clarifying wine. The quality of the wine will be as good as the quality of the grapes fermented.
    This YouTube video shows an 8th grade class making natural wine in their classroom.

  32. Winerackd - March 21, 2012

    Tom, I agree with your reply entirely and I still think ‘it doesn’t matter’.

  33. Donn - March 21, 2012

    While we all would like every vintage to be good and no one wants bad weather or other problems, just wait til a “All Natural 100% Mother Nature” winery needs help with a bad ferment 2 yrs in a row, or bad weather etc. for 2 yrs running. Goodby organic, hello enzyme, RO, acidulation, chaptal, or whatever modern science it takes to get the bottle full with a sellable wine.
    I think, more importantly, that most consumers ignore so much of what is advertised to the consumer, because so much advert. content is just lipstick. Does anybody pay attention when they see or hear “exclusive”? “Limited release”? “Limited time only”? Or Robert Parker’s famous “may be the best ever from this estate”? These lines are programmed into the word processor to be inserted once every 4 paragraphs at an appropriate place.

  34. XRS - March 21, 2012

    “They are products of the agrochemical food industry.”
    Is someone who sells any food or beverage item to another person not part of this industry? What constitutes “industrial?” The use of a stainless steel tank rather than a hand-crafted wooden vessel assembled (with hand tools) by a grizzled old man? Does the use of a crusher that is powered by electricity as opposed to foot stomping qualify as “industrial mechanization?” I would assume that it does.
    If I sprinkle a bit of salt (sodium chloride) on my eggs, have I not “chemically adulterated” them? Is there any such thing as wine that is made “exclusively from grapes?” After all, one would need yeast cells to initiate fermentation. Otherwise, one can only make grape juice “exclusively from grapes.” Even then, one would have to employ an unnatural technique to squeeze the juice from the fruit. Presses don’t grow on trees, ya know.
    Indeed, if I “chemically alter and artificially manipulate” the wine by aging it in an oak barrel thereby subjecting it to the addition of lactones, am I “tricking” my customers? And what of the glass bottle that has been manufactured by a faceless, soulless corporation that is only interested in making a profit? Should I have blown the glass by hand in order to be “more” natural? I presume that most of these wines are sealed with “natural” cork that has been harvested (lovingly, by hand, of course) from an enchanted forest by workers who would never dream of using mechanical punchers. Aluminum screwcaps, although environmentally sound, are not natural.
    Winemaking is civilizations’ oldest and most perfect example of the marriage of science and art. Ignore one or the other at your peril. As a winemaker, am I insulted by the claims of natural wine proponents as presented by this post and its’ associated commentary? You bet I am. Tom called it perfectly, folks. If anyone should be demanding an apology, it is the entire worldwide winemaking community from proponents of “natural” or even “biodynamic” wines that insist that their products are somehow superior and the rest of us are making (and selling) crap.

  35. Ron McFarland - March 21, 2012

    I wonder how disclosing the ingredients in the bottle would evolve this type of discussion?
    Cheers to Randall Graham for having the courage to share the ingredients in his wines.

  36. John Hilliard - March 21, 2012

    Tom, you have responded to the negative marketing of the natural wine group. For pointing out how negative the natural wine group conducts itself, you are attacked. Whats that about? I find the natural wine movement a bit disingenuous. Often they claim not to use pesticides. Yet they do. The problem is they do not know what a pesticide is. There is a surprising lack of education in the natural movement, or lets say marketing exuberance. Biodynamic farmers and organic farmers and sustainable farmers all use pesticides. Often. I have seen biodynamic farmers use chemicals and enzymes in their wine and then go off marketing themselves as natural. Do you like the word mendacity?

  37. Dave Brookes - March 21, 2012

    I like the closing thought in David Schildknecht’s piece on natural wine in the latest World of Fine Wine magazine…”May goodwill underpin discussions and good taste prevail in the glass”.
    That seems lost on a lot of people it seems.

  38. Fabio Bartolomei - March 23, 2012

    If you read my comment again you’ll see that it’s not quite as you say. Firstly, I affirmed that he’s guilty of the same ‘crimes’ as he accuses others of (ie twisting facts and engaging in denigration marketing). Does that classify as a personal insult?. I’d say that it’s an affirmation that can be agreed with, or denied or at least debated. Secondly, I didn’t say he was crying for attention; I said that making personal attacks is usually a sign that an author is crying for attention. That’s hardly an insult either, don’t you think?. It’s another affirmation or opinion that can be debated. And lastly, I didn’t say he was pitiful; I said his obsession with the semantics of the word
    ‘natural’ was pitiful. Again, not a personal insult. Whereas directly calling someone a ‘charlatan’ is a personal insult, don’t you think?
    Anyway, I think it’s sad and pitiful that this debate has veered to talking about who’s insulted who, when there are so many interesting and useful topics that can be discussed around natural wine. Like whether natural wines really can express a terroir better than a conventional one or not, whether the environmental impact really is less or not, exploring the definition and characteristics of wine faults, etc. But no, we all have to harp on about the semantics of the word ‘natural’, and the utterances of individual marketeers, etc.

  39. Michael De Loach - March 23, 2012

    Great topic! What a lively conversation! Agree with your warning that there is danger for the industry with this type of wine-style worship, since it implies that most wines are made up like so many vats of Koolaid. Had a long back and forth some time ago with Alice Feiring, NATURAL’s biggest fan among wine writers, about the need to define what the parameters are — since any clever wine-pusher can slap NATURAL on their label with impugnity.
    Where do you draw the line? Is refrigeration natural? How about using stainless steel? Is egg-white fining with eggs from your own organic chickens (something we do here) natural, or a “trope”? And in the vineyards, what about pruning or grafting? It’s endless – and frankly meaningless until defined. I guess that’s how they can get away with saying it’s not a movement!
    I think that as usual with these things, the intention is good: promote winemaking practices with the least amount of artificial manipulation. That being said many great wines would be tough to make depending on the definition of NATURAL – Champagne, for instance!

  40. Carl Legg - March 23, 2012

    Thoroughbred yeasts, ML bacteria, SO2, nutrients, enzymes, acid adjustments, fining… I see nothing “unreal” about this school of winemaking. These are not used so much for “fake flavoring” as they are for “balancing” the winemaking process. Most winemakers use most of these elements.
    But if you’ve made and enjoyed wine for as long as I have, you are well aware of the myriad “flavor adjusters” used by a growing number of wineries today.
    What’s clear from recent high-end tastings (Wine Spectator Grand, etc.) is that most Bordeaux and old-world Piemonte continue to make wines in the classic style with minimal fakery.
    But Cal Cab and Aussie Shiraz are perhaps the two biggest “unreal” offenders. So many of the pricey Cal Cabs now have that similar sickly sweet signature that was NOT there 20-25 years ago.
    I know what they are doing, but we’ll keep that in the family…

  41. Eckhard Supp - March 24, 2012

    Hi all,
    it’s somewhat strange to read this whole discussion, living in a country where any mention of “natural” on the labels or in the marketing of wines has been prohibited for decades already. Just think of the fact that the German VDP originally called itseld “Natural wine autioneers association” and hat to rename itself. And there was a very easily understandable reaseon for this. Calling one wine “natural” or “real” automatically implicits that there are non-natural, unreal products on the market, which, also by lay should be prohibited in any wine producing country. Thus, calling one wine “natural” is a form of illicit competition. This is, to my understanding, what Tom pointed out in his polemical style. But, believe me, I have listend to speaches of Isabelle and Alice and all the others: The were much more polemical, implicitely and explicitely insulting than anything Tom has written in his post.
    One more point: There are lots of comments in this thread whose authors seem to believe that beeing a Master of Wine is by definition some kind of guarantee that the holder of such title must be extremely knowledgable, cannot be wrong, must not be questioned. This, frankly, is bullshit. I have seen many Masters of Wine, doctors (of which I am one) oder professors, and even more so called authorities who have uttered a mass of bullshit that the many bottles in my cellar whouldn’t have been enough to hold all of it.

  42. Eckhard Supp - March 24, 2012

    … sorry for the many mistakes in my comment. Must have had too much mineral water this morning 🙂

  43. Elena - March 24, 2012

    Have you ever given a though to the fact that “real” is an adjective that might refer to the word “fair” rather than to “wine”? Or were too excited to jump on a moral horse?

  44. Tom Wark - March 24, 2012

    Yes, I did consider that. What I concluded what this: What could possibly make this fair “real” and others NOT real? Was there something about all other wine fairs that made them less than real. Having considered the absurdity of that idea and having given the organizers of the “Real Wine Fair” the benefit of being considered intelligent, I dismissed it. I also considered whether the organizers were referring to the other “natural” wine fair occurring at the same time and whether they wanted to suggest that their fair was the REAL NATURAL WINE fair. I thought this might be the case, despite it being an incredibly crass and nasty way to market the fair and despite it being terribly denigrating to the other natural wine fair occurring a the same time. But if they were willing to be that crass, then wouldn’t they have called it “The Real Natural Wine Fair”? But who knows, maybe this is the case and the organizers of the REAL wine fair decided to be crass and nasty, but to pull their punches.
    In the end, I realized that the answer was the most obvious. The word “real” modifies “wine”, implying that the wine at this fair was real, while wines that don’t qualify for this fair are not real. This explanation fits perfectly in line with the way champions of natural wine have consistently marketed their preferred wine in a way that denigrates other wines that they want to use to negatively define so as to positively define what they prefer.
    Does that answer your questions?

  45. S. Lanum - March 26, 2012

    I’ve never understood people who think that the more stridently they argue a point the more convincing it will become. (It reminds me of American tourists in foreign countries who think that if only they SPEAK MORE LOUDLY everyone can understand English.) The term “real wine” has been around for awhile. May I respectfully suggest you try to find a copy of Patrick Matthews’s “Real Wine” (2000). It may not change your views of the term but if you give it a fair reading you should see legitimate underpinnings for its usage.

  46. Tom Wark - March 26, 2012

    One is equally astonished by the notion that the more forcefully one denigrates all other wines the higher up their wines will be lifted.
    The very idea that “real wine” is in any way a legitimate way to market a category of wines or that it isn’t an implicit denigration of all but “natural wine” is silly.

  47. Bruce G. - March 26, 2012

    “One is equally astonished by the notion that the more forcefully one denigrates all other wines the higher up their wines will be lifted.”
    Well, at least you now understand, Tom, that many of us consider you to be as strident, as emotionally charged, as illogical and as defamatory as you claim others to be.
    Progress, of a sort.

  48. Tom Wark - March 26, 2012

    Given many of the comments on this post, did you really think that the opinion of many of you was lost on me? I assure you, it was not.
    That said, I remain convinced that many champions of “natural” wine have simply not figured out how to market and promote these wines without denigrating others. There is no interest in using a different term to identify these wines that is actually half way accurate, but rather an insistence on using a term that has no relevance whatsoever to the wines or the processing that goes into making them. Finally, the “REAL” wine fair? Please. Everyone knows this title is meant to demean wines not qualified to enter the fair. There’s no other explanation. To suggest otherwise is akin to wholesalers claiming that their opposition to direct shipment of wine is only to protect the children.

  49. Bruce G. - March 26, 2012

    Well, if the message has been received then I guess we too are guilty of beating a horse that is alive and well.
    Re: the Real Wine Fair… the explanation I heard for the fair’s title was similar to that offered by Elena above.
    As the story goes, Legeron and Wregg had worked together in the past on another natural wine fair. A difference of opinion as to direction led them to go their separate ways and float competing wine fairs. Wregg’s fair’s name was supposedly a swipe (at least partially) at Legeron by claiming that his event was the “real” (as in “legitimate”) successor to the previous one.
    I have no idea if this is true, nor does it really matter. Arguing terms, while sometimes a pleasant pastime, serves chiefly to distract from more important discussions.

  50. Kathy - April 20, 2012

    The most important comment in Tom’s polemic: “..We are one Huffington Post article and another 60 minutes segment away from an uninformed public being convinced by an uneducated media that most of the wines you drink are bad for you or produced in a laboratory, an idea so far from the truth, yet promulgated by the Natural Wine promoters. It’s not just uncouth, it’s dangerous to the entire wine industry…”
    If you want to limit or redefine what goes into a natural wine sold in the US (see http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=4dfd7ae2ab8f8c40fce60663794afbf4&rgn=div5&view=text&node=27:, then get politically involved and work to make the change.

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