The Threat and Shame of Natural Wine

BEOn the eve of two simultaneously scheduled wine fairs dedicated to the proposition that everything old is new again, it’s hard not to admire the enthusiasm of those taken by “natural” wine. It’s hard not to notice the excitement its admirers exhibit. It’s hard not to notice that many of the proponents and champions of these wines revel in the idea that they are part of a revolution that defies a stale status quo.

The kind of excitement that is now found across the global wine industry for “natural” wines is exceedingly rare. One is, if a devotee of wine, forced to take note of this movement and the devotion, curiosity, and dedication of its fans. I am.

And yet, what I know is that this “natural wine movement”, for all its exciting elements, is marred by fraud, deception and misunderstanding. All this concerns me because there is a real threat that the deceptions will be taken as truth and the excitement taken as proof of their truth, particularly among those who don’t know any better. The impact of this is the potential scarring of the truly authentic wines and winemakers across the globe that don’t adopt the sketchy moniker of “natural” or its unsubstantiated claims.

At its heart, the “natural” wine movement is dedicated to celebrating minimal additions and minimal interventions, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. The idea motivating of this celebration is that authenticity in wine is important and achieved when as little as possible stands between what grows in the vineyard and what lands in the bottle.

This idea is not unique, revolutionary, nor new. It is in fact the substance of what has motivated the artisan BE2edge of winemaking across the globe for decades. This idea has been the substance of the motivation among those winemakers that have changed the global wine industry, inspired many a wine lover to continue to seek out something new rather than something that merely lubricates the palate, and inspired new paradigms and standards adopted by winemakers across the world, including those winemaker exhibiting at “The Real Wine Fair” and “The Raw Wine Fair”, both happening in London beginning Monday.

What is really interesting to note is that none of the artisan pioneers that are now emulated by those at the these two fairs ever thought to call their wine “natural”. And none of the various organizers of tastings and events that highlighted and showcased the terroir-driven winemakers over the past 30 years ever thought to call their events the source of “real” wine.

Instead, these original seekers and showcasers of authenticity and terroir merely called their product “wine” and their events “wine tastings”. As far as I can tell, it never occurred to these folks to label thier wines “Natural” or “Real” or “The Greatest” or “Better than all others” or “Perfect”. Or maybe it did occur to them, but the idea of that kind of presumption felt a little dirty. Or maybe it occurred to them that labeling their wines “natural” would be a fraud, given that no self-respecting winemaking, wine lover, or marketer believes that the processed and manufactured product called wine is anything close to “natural”.

Believing that what they are doing and championing is somehow new or revolutionary or unique, and communicating this message far and wide, is only one problem with the “natural” wine movement and those that favor it. This is a problem of hubris and shortsightedness and it it can be forgiven as this problem overtakes us all at some point. What can’t be forgiven is the movement’s insistent that the use of the term “natural” is benign.

BE3Because none of those making or marketing or enjoying these wines would even think of suggesting that the products are truly “natural”, there must be something else at play. Honey is natural in its raw form. Milk from a cow is natural in its raw form. Apples are natural in their raw form. Grapes are natural in their raw form. However, when honey, milk, apples and grapes are manipulated, fermented, processed and changed into something else, like wine, they are not close to being natural. And yet, we have “natural” wine.

Douglas Wregg, the producer of “The Real Wine Fair”, is a foremost champion of the wine genre. He has written extensively about his passion. Yet despite is regular protestations that “natural” wine is not in fact “natural” by anything resembling the meaning of the world, he remains devoted to the term in all its deceptive glory:

“One would have thought that wine would be natural by definition, however, there’s many a slip (or intervention) between grape and bottle, many choices that can be made, and additions and manipulations that push the final wine further from its origins. But the word natural does not mean “produced by nature without human assistance”, it is the very nature (sic) of assistance, the degree of human interference that distinguishes a natural wine from a conventional one.”

Here we have a redefinition of the word “natural” meant to suit the wines and winemakers he prefers. Wregg is apparently unaware that the average person on the street, with an average intelligence and who might want to indulge in something that is truly natural might take the term “natural” as it’s meant to be used and has been used for centuries. They would be deceived by Wregg and many others in the movement who apply the word “natural” in its deceptive form noted above.

Isabelle Legeron, the promoter of “The Raw Wine Fair” and another prominent champion of “natural” wine doesn’t seem to get around on her website promoting the Fair to address the issue of the term “natural” as Wregg does. Instead, we are offered a “charter of quality” that defines the wines that may be showcased there. When you read through the charter you see that the wines she admits to the fair are all able to be manipulated, processed and derived. Yet, she too uses the term “natural”, knowing full well that the term can’t come close to describing what’s in the bottles at the fair.

The point, of course, is that insisting on calling these wines “natural” is a perfect fraud that can’t be justified with romantic tales of getting back to nature and combating the evils of “spoofalated” wines. Add to this the fact that there are innumerable other, yet far more accurate, terms that could be used to describe the lovely wines at these fairs. Yet the terms won’t be employed.

Let me make a suggestion as to why this is the case: The fraudulent term  is more profitable.

We live in a time when more and more people are keen to examine what they put in their body. People are keen to support people that take pity on the earth by not adulterating it and ruining it. In this environment the label “natural” has become quite powerful, both as an idea and a marketing term. I suspect the movement’s leaders understand that. They must. Yet when confronted with the simple fact that “natural” is a term that can’t in anyway be applied to wine, they still use the powerful label.

This puts the responsible, fair minded, and honest artisan winemakers who won’t adopt the term at a real disadvantage in they eyes of the consumer that believes in the potent meaning of the term “natural” and who assume that those behind the movement that truly do have the best intentions at heart would bastardize the term for profit. The use of the term “natural” is irresponsible, unfair and dishonest. That’s a problem. But the real problem is that the folks that employ this term know it is being used irresponsibly, unfairly and dishonestly yet they continue to imply it. Shame on them.

The Natural Wine Company is a retail outfit owned by  Michael Andrews, Ross Bingham and Rebecca BE4Pridmore. It is a modest retailer that seeks merely to introduce wine drinkers to terroir-driven wines that emphasize organic, biodynamic and wines made with grapes farmed sustainably. It is a marvelous excuse for a wine store. On their website, after explaining their motivations and experiences, they write this:

“During this same time, we fell in love with wine, and soon discovered that most wine sold in the United States contain “color enhancers,” preservatives, chemical stabilizers, Mega Purple™, “oak essence,” sugar, acid and the like.  In fact, there are over 200 products listed by the FDA that are permitted to be used in wine besides grapes.”

It’s unclear whether what is meant by this statement is that most WINE or most WINES contain the implied atrocities they describe here. But if this statement is put in line with so many other implications provided by champions of “natural” wine, then what is meant is that most WINES are to be tarred and feathered with the notion that all but “natural” wine is UN-natural. This of course isn’t true.

No one disputes that many wines are highly manipulated with all sort of things and can be best described as beverages. Yet there are now thousands upon thousands of wines that don’t meet this definition at all, but rather are careful efforts resulting from low intervention and a careful eye toward explaining terroir through wine. But this fact is not included in any of the implications that come out of the minds of “natural” wine’s champions.

• Ms. Legeron does it this way:
“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.”

•Wregg leaves the impression that all but “natural wines” are lesser entities in this way:
“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”.

Fabio Bartelomei, a winemaker in the “natural” wine school and frequent contributor to discussions of the movement does it this way:
“I think that these are two very different worlds or markets out there (ie, the ‘natural/organic/ecological/biodynamic/macrobiotic/whatever’ wine market as opposed to ‘conventional/industrial/chemical/mass-produced/supermarket wine market), and there will always be room for both. I think it’s like for any other product: ie utility cars / sports cars, or any everyday bog-standard product / quality special product.”

At MoreThanOrganic, a website promoting French “natural” wine created by Pierre Jancou, the implication that all but “natural” wine is problematic is done this way:
“Natural winemaking will always produce a better, more individual wine than conventional methods used on the same site…..A natural winemaker is a genuine artisan. Natural winemaking requires skill, patience, nerve, and hard physical labour. In most cases it brings small financial rewards. There is more money, less risk, and far less work in making wine conventionally.”

Guillaume Aubert, champion of “natural” wine and part owner of the “natural” wine importer Aubert & Mascoli denigrated all other wines this way:
“The more [natural wine] you drink, the less you can drink other wines. You start reacting badly to them, coming out in rashes and swelling up from all the sulphites.”

Hardy Wallace, an American winemaker, blogger, marketer and someone I admire, disparaged non-natural wines this way:
“Fortunately for the non “natural” camp, the majority of consumers buying wine today don’t know about (and might not care) about the winemaking process.”

At the website promoting the film, “Wine From Here,” about the “natural” winemaking movement in California, the makers describe in extraordinarily naive terms what their film is about by posturing “natural” wine as something entirely new that didn’t exist before and that hasn’t been available to wine lover prior to the advent of “natural wine”:
“Ultimately, “Wine From Here” captures the values of a new generation of wine drinkers who care about authenticity and the environment.”

Ceri Smith, owner of Biondivino Wine Boutique in San Francisco and proponent of “natural” wine, implies here that the “natural” wine movement will save us all from all the other wines in the world that are spoofalated:
“when, nowadays, around the world,  there is the clutter of wine built up upon the marketing gurus and trendy expensive “label” wines – these winemakers are showing the world the beauty and elegance of  “un-spoofalated” winemaking – sans the marketing masters and bulk consistancy, these are the gems in the raw.  in a way, they are the progressive future by returning back to the past.”

These are the tip of the iceberg. The proliferation of stated and implied criticisms of the rest of the wine world are so commonplace among “natural” wine champions that this form of denigration marketing is now an inherent part of the natural wine movement. But the thing is this: given the path that the “natural” wine movement has taken, the only model to separate out these wines in the marketplace is by denigrating other wines. These champions must attack in order to self define.

The only other example of this kind of Denigration Marketing I’ve ever seen in the wine industry is the now very rare example of Francophiles disparaging American or new world wines. This used to be much more commonplace than it is now. You see this kind of denigration marketing in politics regularly. But you haven’t really seen it deployed in the wine world with any regularity, until now.

Part of this kind of negative marketing effort is driven by the very name of the movement. If their wines are “natural”, what are those that are not in their club? Kinda Natural? Almost Natural? UnNatural? Whatever they are, they aren’t “natural”. This obvious implication of the term “Natural Wine” is often dismissed by the champions of the genre. But it can’t reasonably be dismissed if you possess any fidelity to language and the meaning of words. The fact is this: By using the term “natural” you must find some way to justify its use beyond relying on the actual definition of the word, which does not apply to these wines or any wines. The only way left to create a justification for the use of the term is to define what those outside the classification are, what they are not and what they represent. In this case, what they represent isn’t good. They are at least the source of rashes.

But there is more too the denigration marketing tactics of the “natural” wine champions than simply justifying their semantics. A thread moves through the “natural” wine movement that is constant: Natural winemaking is the path to authenticity; it is the formula for making wine what it really should be—the expression of a place. But if this is the case, what are we to make of the expressions provided by “non natural wines”? If they aren’t natural, can they too be authentic expressions of place? Of course not. That would de-legitimize the claims of the “natural” wine champions.

Yet we know without question that wines that are filtered, that are fined, that employ cultivated yeasts, that utilize sulfur, that are not made with grapes or processes certified as organic or biodynamic do indeed possess authentic expressions of place. The examples are too numerous to name.

But you rarely see champions of “natural” wines admit this. Rather, they imply and often outright say that these wines are “Manipulated” or “commercial” or “industrial” and can’t, with the same authenticity express place or terroir. They are wrong. But if they admit it, their argument for the uniqueness and blessedness of “natural” wines is largely removed. What of the movement and its claims then?

Again, the only real choice the marketers of “natural” wine have is to define their wines against all others. Marketers are in the business of propping up their products. If you are going to prop yours up by defining them against others, then the others must be lesser objects. Hence, the kind of Denigration Marketing that is too often employed by champions of “natural” wine.  It is an inherently deceptive and fraudulent way of selling wine. Shame on them.

I am want to reiterate the danger of the natural wine movement, its disregard of convention, its fraudulent BE6descriptions of what it is, and its unsavory marketing methods. We live in a world confronted by a great deal of “new”. This “new” is so often regarded as shiny and insightful and profound. It is often, with the help of media that does not fully understand the implications of that upon which they report, understood as being better.

The viral nature of news too is important to understand here. New ideas fly across geography and cultures in an instant. Communities of believers are created in days and short weeks and are supported by tools of communications that too often and too easily spread fraudulent notions.

The idea that “natural” wine is the savior of a wine industry stuffed predominately with unauthentic, unnatural, unhealthy, and industrial wines is a few prominent articles and broadcasts away from being believed. A blog at the Huffington Post is followed by a sympathetic article by a prominent wine expert, who is then featured along with a champion of “natural” wine on a network news program, that is then reported on by the morning new shows with ideas that spread across the Twittersphere and Facebookorama in an instant. All of a sudden artisan winemakers who have been seeking and making terroir driven wines for years and who use low intervention techniques in the vineyard and cellar, but are not calling themselves “natural wineamakers,” are tarred with the idea that their products are making us all sick.

This is the danger and threat of the current state of the “natural wine movement”.

BE5Arguing that the term “natural” is now ubiquitous is not a reason for continuing to use the fraudulent term to describe these wines. It’s lazy. Continuing to denigrate other “non natural” wines because you can’t imagine the impact of admitting that yours is not so different than other wines is a gross excuse for marketing. And failing to appreciate the 1000s of winemakers that laid the groundwork for your own work and who had no need or thought of calling themselves and their wines “natural” is the kind of dismissive arrogance that good people don’t engage in.

The proponents of and makers of what is being called “natural” wine ought to be extraordinarily proud of the wines they love and make. Many are extraordinary and they add fuel to the long and ongoing movement to create unique, artisan wines that has been a large part of the global wine industry for decades. If they can cause excitement (and they do) among winemakers, they ought to be lauded for that…and I do laud them for that.

But if these folks don’t get their house in order, they will continue to face the kind of criticism and disparagement that they read in this post and from others.

28 Responses

  1. JennyFrancois - May 18, 2012

    Natural Wine as a term started in France several decades ago. The meaning of the word Nature in French is a little different than it is in English, and we choose that definition and inspiration for what Natural Wine means. Nature in french is what you say when you want your coffee black (café nature) or your sandwich plain (sandwich nature) in French. It means you want just the primary ingredient and nothing else. In fact when you see nature on a bottle of wine it means there was literally nothing added, no sulphur at all, not even in the bottle.
    Vin Nature is just grape juice and the yeast that came along with the grapes from the vineyard. It doesn’t say anything about how little intervention was used to make the wine, or how great it is compared to other wines, or how non-industrial the wine is. All those other things are ways people have discovered to get to the natural style.
    When you make wine like this it tastes different. Many of us have grown so accustomed to that different taste that we find other wines don’t taste good to us anymore. Thus comes in the comparisons to non-natural wine. It doesn’t mean the other wines are inherently bad, it just means they are not what we prefer. Maybe some of you out there will agree with us, and certainly some of you won’t and that’s fine. For all of us, our first taste of this style was a revelation, and we haven’t looked back since.
    Maybe the term natural isn’t the most ideal, but many wine terms are vague and ambiguous. This one has been around for at least 30 years, and it’s not going anywhere now.

  2. Tom Wark - May 18, 2012

    Thanks for your comment. The problem as I see it is that the term “natural wine” is written in the English, not French, language.
    I have no issue with the wines that fall under this heading. And in fact, they rather suit my palate.
    But as I said, when offered in the English language, the term is used in a fraudulent way that deceives those who understand the meaning of the word. And the idea that another term would be too late to the party is just laziness in the service of deception.

  3. John Kelly - May 18, 2012

    I will continue to disparage the use of the English word “natural” as all the connotations are useless in the context of wine.
    I’m chuckling at the use of “real” as it has all the marketing panache of “Real California Cheese” – marketing FAIL.
    I could warm to the use of “raw” to describe wines made with no additives and little intervention. “Raw” is fairly accurately descriptive and presents these wines in a neutral to positive light, while not casting aspersions at the rest of the minimal-intervention, no-dogma wines out there.

  4. Mike Tommasi - May 18, 2012

    I think things are a lot simpler. The problem with the natural wine movement is that they are unable to define what they are, and that MOST of the followers of this trend are either not natural at all, taking all kinds of oenological shortcuts, or they are sincere but bad winemakers. There are a few truly skilled winemakers that try to limit their interventions to the strict minimum, and their results can be stupendous, but they are a minority. So 90% (including some of the gurus…) are either lying or incompetent or both, but 10% are worth seeking out.
    I am also a little tired of hearing about Georgian wines. Yes I do love Gravner’s or Radikon’s amphora-matured wines, but most of the other clay pot wines, including most Georgian wines, are not comparable.

  5. Nick Gorevic - May 19, 2012

    Mike, to make a comment like that, I would expect you to have tasted at least 80% of natural wines out there. I work for a natural wine importer, I spent a year in france visting natural vineyards, and I’ve been drinking nothing but natural wines for several years now, and I would estimate I’ve tried maybe 60-70% of all natural wines. Based on what i’ve tasted, I would estimate the percentage of what I tried that I thought was excellent and highly enjoyable to be about 70-80%.
    Your comment is a vast generalization, and I find myself wondering how someone who obviously does not like the genre could have the tasting experience to really back that statistic up.

  6. Luc Baudet - May 20, 2012

    I’ve always thought that focusing discussions on “how it’s made” rather than “how it tastes like” was leading to sectarism.
    We had the bio, the biodynamic, now the natural…
    The least amount of intervention in the vines and in the cellar !!! Finally when a consumer reads through this or listens to all those “natural” gurus (As Mike pinpointed), he could be led to believe that 90% of wines and winemakers including 80% of the wines on the wine lists of the best restaurants in the world are “manipulated”, full of “chemicals”, in one word potentially poisonous :-). And on top of this produced by winemakers that are either evil or deprived of basic common sense, because they should do less in their vines and less in their cellars to make “pure” wines.
    We drank yesterday with a group of friends from the industry a white Burgundy from an elite producer that we know is observing Biodynamic practises for a long time, but there was nothing to state it on the bottle, just a fabulous 20 yr old wine that was incredibly powerful, young fresh, just outstanding… nobody on the table talked about copper, sulfites, vine pruning, etc… but we talked about the wine taste,its terroir, its vintage, the pleasure it was delivering. This is what should drive wine discussions and education.
    Two things that I’ve learnt in my life of beginner winemaker :
    – producing excellent grapes requires huge manual interventions in the vineyards, long hours,observation, skill, and huge knowledge based on local involvement and time : so nothing minimal about vinegrowing. If you want to produce better grapes you have to work more and harder and learn as much as you can.
    – the second is a statement of an oenology professor in Montpellier. His favourite line about winemaking was : “the natural destination of grape juice is vinegar”… so much for the romantic view about “doing nothing in the cellar”.
    Although I appreciate and respect the concern of more and more customers about what they eat and drink, I think the whole industry would help them more educating their palate to the diversity of wines, the matching with food, the pleasure of opening to the diversity of wines from all different regions, rather than trying to explain that some wines are natural, and others not…
    I am not adverse to the “how to make” discussion, but if someone wants to engage it, then the prerequisite is 2 years professional experience, and or 2 years vinegrowing university… not what we call the “bistro counter talking”
    Santé et large soif.

  7. Mike Tommasi - May 20, 2012

    I organized natural wine events 12 years ago, and have tasted most of the wines at the various fairs. Yes I have tasted 80% of them

  8. Mike Tommasi - May 20, 2012

    And Nick, I LOVE the genre, when it is done by real winemakers and not shameless opportunists jumping on the bandwagon…

  9. JohnLopresti - May 20, 2012

    An interesting discussion, above.
    One economic tension between mass produced winemaking styles as compared with less interventional techniques, whatever the latter may be, is embodied in some of the early texts concerning spoilage of binned wine. Wine without stabilizers and the like, which has been treated carefully in the mechanical sense, because its colloidal composition is disrupted if there is physically rough handling, survives in better condition than a wine that was jostled, bumped, pumped, and shipped thru the mails or even in barrels anchored to racks on a transatlantic clipper sailing ship. The additives ease problems with transportation. Other additives keep the wine bright colored and in white varietals preserve translucency.
    The disputes among the various schools of winemaking, and reflected their respective advertising literature, are akin to abstruse arguments among philosophers, to some degree; it’s a matter of viewpoint, price point, target market segment, and similar considerations.
    I am waiting for some enterprising professor in the American Political Association to write a paper on the political party affiliation preferences of natural wine supporters.

  10. Mike Tommasi - May 20, 2012

    Natural wines are statistically no different than other wines: 90% are awful. But with natural wines, the gurus will tell you that they are all good and it is your tastes that need tuning, that your notion of defect is spurious.
    I would like to attend a fair that brings together wines that are VERIFIABLY natural and OBJECTIVELY free of defects, selected by a panel of wine bloggers. Only 20-25 would qualify? Good that way I can taste them all.

  11. Thomas Pellechia - May 21, 2012

    Tom, you forgot to mention that “natural” wines are gluten free…

  12. Noblewines - May 21, 2012

    Wow some of your postings are quite long. I got a bit into it then gave up sorry.
    But I do agree that Marketing of Natural wines and other such can lead consumers down the rabbit-hole of thinking they are drinking natural wines when in fact they are drinking corporate wines that have marketed themselves quite well.
    One of my restaurant clients is very ‘slo food’ oriented and asked that I make the wine program as ‘bio, org, local, natural’ as possible. I’ve done such but also support and promote wines produced by family owned Domaines and Estates. Regardless of what terms they use, if they live on the land and rear their families there I go out on a limb and think they might be fairly concerned about how they treat the land and wines the make.

  13. Randy Caparoso - May 21, 2012

    Tom, your blogpost is so shrill and fraught with paranoia, you sound like a McCarthyite during the Red Scare of the 1950s. What is there to fear in groundswell groups organized by concerned consumers and businesses advocating more natural ways of growing and making wine? Isn’t that a positive movement in itself? So where’s the beef?
    Sure, “natural” is undefined. So what? I like that it can mean a number of different things. Clearly, “natural,” at this point, is a generalized description, like saying “liberal” or “conservative.” People can be liberal and conservative in many ways, and also in ways where they positions actually intersect in agreement, but no one grouses over the usage of the terms just because they are imprecise.
    Furthermore, I think your fear of the “threat” of “Denigration Marketing” is laughable. If there are wines or wineries that are the theoretical opposite of “natural,” I think they have nothing to worry about. Consumers will make their choices, and consumers love concepts like value, accessibility, consistency of quality, etc. It just so happens that the vast majority of the wines that are flying off store shelves are like that. So-called (albeit unofficially called) “natural” wines are just a spit in the bucket. I hardly think the big production wineries or importers have anything to worry about this emerging niche market, crying to be heard like a nation of Whos.
    Methinks, Mr. Wark, you protest too much, and it’s getting a little tiresome.

  14. Tom Wark - May 21, 2012

    Though I do love the fact that you occasionally read FERMENTATION, I suspect you’ll live, despite the tiring current pre-occupation I have with the the way “natural” wine is marketed.
    It’s not so much that the term “natural” is undefined as it pertains to wine. It’s that there really is nothing about wine or how it is made that has anything at all to do with the meaning of word “natural”. And everyone knows this…yet, the positive connotations of the term are not lost on those that use it to described something that isn’t nature. That’s unethical…at the least.
    And it’s not that there is a “threat” of denigration marketing. There IS denigration marketing. In the extreme. Whether the the ugly truth of this ever does hurt those who produce and sell wine in the more ethical fashion that does not include the word “natural” is not the point. The point is that the champions of “natural” wine that find themselves compelled to denigrate others marks them as cynical and untrustworthy. And they deserve to be called such.
    Methinks I protest just enough.

  15. Oded - May 22, 2012

    I am surprised you only got 14 comments on this well written blog entry. Most of all, as someone who has been screaming for years that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes, I am surprised I get Randy’s remarks too. The way I now reconcile this in my mind is the same as I did when I tasted over-extracted, over-hyped cabs go for $800 dollars a bottle; if there is a need (for a particular product)out there in the consumer world, eventually someone will produce it. In the car sales business, they say: “There’s an ass for every seat”. This is not that different.. “Green” is the new religion, it makes the person driving his shiny, gas-guzzling $70K SUV feel better about themselves. While I think the hooplah is ridiculous and that the term “Natural” is outright deceptive (vines do not grow in neat rows in nature, nor do they graft themselves to American Rootstock), I do think there is a valid reaction here to mass produced wines made with added flavors that are not disclosed. When I go to the fish counter at the market, it is clearly marked “Atlantic Salmon, color added” why should wine be exempt?

  16. Tom Wark - May 22, 2012

    Thanks for commenting.
    I’ve never questioned the motivation for the rise in minimalist winemaking. And I suspect your explanation for it is part of the reason.
    I’ve questioned other issues: 1) The claim that the “movement” is new, 2) the deceptive use of the term “Natural”, and 3) the denigration of “other” wines that seems inherent in the way champions of the natural/minimalist wine movement.

  17. Nick Gorevic - May 22, 2012

    If it’s been 12 years since you did this, a lot has changed since then. Winemakers that were working back then have gotten a lot better and hundreds if not thousands of new producers have started working in this way. It deserves a serious reconsideration if you haven’t kept up with things since then.

  18. Tone Kelly - May 22, 2012

    I can hardly wait until one of the “Major” industrial wine producers comes out with a “Natural Wine” line. How will the forces of the “Natural Wine” movement respond. With no clear definition and no legal definition, anyone can brand their wine Natural. Witness the “unoaked”, “naked” movement gaining traction.

  19. Scott Frank - May 23, 2012

    Starting to border on obsession, Tom.

  20. Scott Frank - May 23, 2012

    With regard to this issue, anyway, you’re starting to remind me of Nicholas Joly.

  21. Tom Wark - May 23, 2012

    Some topics deserve an obsessive response.

  22. David Vergari - May 23, 2012

    Nick. You wrote: “…hundreds if not thousands of new producers have started working in this way.” (to make natural wine). Thousands? How about coming up with one hundred wineries that bill themselves this way. Name names.

  23. Bruce G. - May 28, 2012

    You really should proofread your work more diligently, Tom.

  24. Michael DeLoach - May 31, 2012

    I think I’ve responded to a similar post a while back. Alice Feiring and I got into a friendly tussle the first time I’d seen “natural” to describe wine in her writing nearly seven years ago.
    My first problem was definition: if one is to meaningfully use a word in context, the word must logically have a standard definition given the particular usage. In the type of usage typically occuring with “natural” in the context of wine, its meaning is vague at best.
    For example, may refrigeration be used in the production of “natural” wines? If not refrigeration then what about dry ice? If not dry ice then how many punch downs per day are considered “natural”? Or are we to allow the wine to ferment out in a day or two resulting in flavorless, colorless plonk?
    Obviously we all understand the intention: wines made with minimal manipulation are considered “natural”. But all wines contain sulphites naturally, so why is that somehow part of the definition?
    As you say, and as I said to her, these folks need to get their story together, because (if this is even possible) the word “natural” used in the context of wine will necessarily become less and less meaningful, until (as “organic” has unfortunately become) it ends up a laughably flaccid, embarrasingly transparent marketing ploy.
    My second problem is incorporated in that last idea: “big wine” can (and likely will) use the term on its packaging and in its marketing with absolute impugnity. Any old mass-produced, machine-picked, cheap-ass supermarket swill may be called “natural”.
    Until there is an agreed definition (which comes about in the usual way: with a committee of “experts”), the “natural” wine folks won’t have a leg to stand on, and there will remain zero power in the word.

  25. AmWineryGuide - May 31, 2012

    Great article, and I agree that the term “natural” is problematic. I’d be very interested to hear the terms that you think should be used instead.

  26. Jim - May 31, 2012

    Great article, and I agree that the term “natural” is problematic. I’d be very interested to hear the terms that you think should be used instead.

  27. Michael DeLoach - June 1, 2012

    Regardless of what terms are used – or substituted for “natural” – they will have to be defined, otherwise they are meaningless.
    The term “natural” itself is not the problem – I think we all undertand what it is supposed to mean – the problem is it’s lack of specific grape growing and winemaking standards that the term is supposed to represent.

  28. Bruce G. - June 2, 2012

    The term “organic” is quite specifically defined and yet you find it has “become less and less meaningful….. [ending up as] a laughably flaccid, embarrasingly transparent marketing ploy.”
    You’re not alone in criticizing ‘organic’ in this way, but most of those with similar opinions point to the legal codification of the word as that which has allowed it to become co-opted by agri-business.
    Definitions ain’t the be all and the end all.
    We often use terms that have no universal definition, but that doesn’t prevent the conversation from moving forward. In fact, the personal nature of the definitions of terms like “good” or “natural” tend to feed the conversation and propel it forward.
    If it weren’t for the fact that the mere use of the word “natural” induces apoplexy in a cross-section of otherwise intelligent people, the nomenclature would be fine as is.

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