The Wine Materialist Lays a Natural Turd

NaturalWineTurdI chuckle every time I hear the phrase uttered or written:

“As Nature Intended”.

On its face, the phrase implies that nature or the natural world displays intent, which further implies that a rock, an apple tree, the wind, iron molecules and, yes, even vineyards possess intelligence. And this is a kind interpretation of the phrase. At base, the phrase implies that “Nature” is a single intelligent actor that is at least willful and at most omnipotent.

It’s a pretty bold claim. And while I hate to be the materialist who lays a turd in church, I have to say it’s a pretty crazy claim. In fact, you don’t have to think about it too long and hard to appreciate just how whacked out is the idea that nature is intelligent, has plans and perhaps even carries them out with willfulness.

So, what should we make of the fact that one can find claims that Natural Wine is “wine as nature intended” and that we can find these claims all over the place including  Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, Here, and Here. And Here. This is only part of the long list of assertions that wines dubbed “natural” are “as nature intended.”

However the most forceful proponent of the “wine as nature intended” trope, outside of Wiccans, Pantheists, and Druids, is Isabelle Legeron, “That Crazy Frenchwoman” who claims in an article in Decanter Magazine that Natural Wines “are as nature intended: a frank representation of a piece of land in a particular year.” In fact, the case for nature possessing intent will take book form when Ms. Legeron publishes her book, “Natural Wine” on April Fools Day of this year.

While I can’t be absolutely positive, I’m pretty sure that those who claim Natural Wines are “as nature intended”, including Ms. Legeron, don’t believe what they say about nature’s apparent will. But, damn….It sounds good. It sounds spiritual. It sounds like the right thing to do. It even sound’s like God’s will. It sounds a little like we ought to take a knee and perhaps bow a head when confronting these wines that Nature intended.

What we are actually talking about here….is REALLY good marketing. Brand marketing to be proud of.

“As Nature Intended.” is the same kind of brand marketing as the term “Natural Wine”. Neither bear any resemblance to reality, even when you attach the phrase “a frank representation of a piece of land in a particular year” to the end of it. By this measure huge and copious numbers of wines are “natural”.

The fact is, just as there is no such thing as a willful nature, there is no such thing as “natural wine”. Well….that’s not entirely true. That puddle of partially fermented grape juice gathered beneath a set of grape clusters fallen from the vine in late October and being fought over by a collection of feisty birds is really the only thing we could honestly call “natural wine.” The thing is though, you don’t want to drink that because it may make you sick.

14 Responses

  1. regina - February 10, 2014

    According to quantum physics, it’s possible that nature could at times be willful. From another angle, humans are a part of nature; human’s make wine;thetefore, wine can be described as being natural.

  2. John Kelly - February 10, 2014

    I like Regina’s thinking. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, ALL wines are “natural.” And just as it is with being “special” – when all wines are natural, NONE are natural.

  3. Bill Haydon - February 11, 2014

    Tom, you truly are what the English would refer to as, “a decidedly second rate mind.” Now, having read your “thoughts” for a couple of years, I would never attempt to discover any true nuance, critical thinking or sincere attempt at understanding a topic lying within. I, however, would expect one-dimensional cardboard thinking, the distortion of anything in the wine industry threatening your precious little valley and a liberal use of straw men all coming together in one glorious orgasmic explosion of hackery (not a real word I know, but if ever it was needed!) in the service of the Lords and Ladies of Napashire.

    Does the “natural wine” (or low alcohol for that matter) movement at its fringes (those convenient straw men) have excess? Of course. Any such movement, particularly a reactionary one that comes about in opposition to an excessive status quo, will have its fringe elements, its over the top statements and its proponents who go a bridge too far. That is not to say that the entire movement is without validity. And of course the more it gains credence and traction in the market place, the more of a threat it becomes to those who would prefer to make wine with such things as mega purple, reverse osmosis, flavor enzymes and the wonderful help of the good folks at enologix.

    It’s no different than Napa’s love-hate relationship with the concept of terroir. They love to talk about it when it serves their purposes (or more likely when they have to), but they are really quite hostile to any fundamental understanding of wine that diminishes the role of the “rock star” “artist” “genius” winemaker and the magic that they feel really happens when he gets his diamond studded fingers on the grapes. After all, if wine is primarily a function of its place and not the magic happening in the cellar, a lot of very expensive consulting winemaker gigs are going to fall apart like a 98 point Parker Cabernet.

  4. Tom Wark - February 11, 2014

    Having interacted with you and having read your comments now for a couple of years, I have to say I’m disappointed. You are clearly a thoughtful, passionate wine lover with something to say.

    So, you can see then why I would be disappointed with this most recent commentary on my commentary. You’ve failed understand that I’m not picking on the fringes of the “natural wine” movement. And you’ve failed to see that I’m not picking on those things called “natural wine”. I expected you to notice that I’m picking on anyone who continues to assert that this movement is in pursuit of something “natural” at all and on those that use of the term “natural” because it means nothing, except that those using it have determined it’s ok to use a fraudulent description of the wines for the sake of marketing.

    That said, I thought your use of the phrase “Lords and Ladies of Napashire” was clever.

  5. John - February 11, 2014

    bill – you are a real one trick pony – a real killjoy with your constant harping and blaming Napa Valley for everything you find wrong with the wine industry.. time to turn a page and get over you internal rage.
    Tom – very insightful piece, loved the title!

  6. 1WineDude - February 11, 2014

    Bill, seems harsh. I mean, somebody’s got to take a strong stance in questioning the marketing message of natural wines, which I don’t find as questionable add Tom does, but about which I do appreciate reading a strong dissenting opinion.

  7. Donn Rutkoff - February 11, 2014

    “That crazy Frenchwoman”. Shouldn’t that be plural?

    And in regards to abuse of words to satisfy marketing scheme, doesn’t anybody else wonder about our good friends at Beringer who sell Founders Estate that is neither estate nor from the founders acres? Now even including an Argentine Malbec. Now that is a big estate, eh?

    Ah, nevermind, I’m going back to me cave.

  8. Tom Wark - February 11, 2014


    Your point about “founders estate” and other marketing terms isn’t trivial. We can add “reserve” and even “old vine” to the list. However, none of these terms possess the quality of implying something negative about those wines that don’t use the term. Plus, those that use the terms “Founders Estate”, “Old Vine” or “Reserve” don’t have a contingent of folks defending the term or advocating the term by denigrating wines that don’t use the terms.

  9. Josh - February 16, 2014

    Tom, so then is your dislike of natural wine what it implies about the product, those who use the term for their product, or the exclusionary nature the term?

  10. Tom Wark - February 17, 2014


    I have no problem with the stuff that is being termed “natural wine”. I’ve been drinking it for almost 25 years. It’s just that very few vintners have had the gumption to call it “natural”.

  11. Good Reads Wednesday « Artisan Family of Wines - February 19, 2014

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  12. Fabio Bartolomei - February 20, 2014

    Tom, I left a reply to this post over on my own blog. here:

  13. Tom Wark - February 20, 2014


    I know.

  14. Miles - February 20, 2014

    I’ve been watching this “natural wine” debate for a while and It seems more and more like people are just splitting hairs.

    The fact is, the vast majority of consumers really couldn’t care. They’re not looking for “Buzz words” enough to think “Jee, if this is called natural, all the other guys must be unnatural” or something to that extent. They see a wine with a funny label or one that suits the occasion best (classy to impress the in laws), they buy the thing without even looking at the description and that’s that.

    The people who care enough to look for “natural wine” will already know what it means: The skin of the grape is the source of yeast, and generally, it produces wine that is more complex, and it may also lack sulfites. Life is simple.

    The amount of energy being put into this debate baffles me.

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