Unless It’s Natural Wine, You Are Drinking Poison—Right?

poison1As I warned some years ago, “Natural Wine” is having its moments. Everywhere you look journalists, vintners, somms and tavern keepers are extolling the virtues of this undefined product. I’ve made something of a habit of pointing out that these champions of this marketing phrase prefer rhetoric over honesty or precision when they discuss their favorite new phrase/product. And though pointing out the deceit of these Natural Wine Champions has probably no impact whatsoever on the fraud that they perpetuate, I feel it necessary—or perhaps just desirable—to continue to do so.

Today I want to draw my readers’ attention to a story in the East Bay Express  out of the Bay Area written by April Kilcrease that discusses the wine bar, Punchdown, in Oakland, California. Couple Lisa Cost and D.C Looney (how can you not like that name!!) own the bar. In explaining the couples dedication to Natural Wine, Kilcrease make the same kind of bogus claim that so many other champions of Natural Wine choose to make, yet which they know is wrong:

“While many consumers assume that grapes are all that goes into a bottle of wine, a typical recipe can read more like a chemistry experiment.”

The typical wine produced today has ingredients that read like a”chemistry experiment”? Of the thousands of wines make in CA the typical wine from this state is made with chemicals. Not only does Kilcrese not know this, she likely knows its wrong. Yet she writes its.

But there’s more.

Costa notes, “A lot of wines are manipulated to taste the same way to satisfy what some people call the ‘Coca-Cola palate”

If Costa is willing to say and presumably believe this, will she have any problem with me saying something along the lines of:

“most so-called ‘Natural Wines’ are the product of faulty even disastrous winemaking techniques that end out as a biological soup best suited washing out horse stalls.”

When confronted with their ludicrous statements about most wines and “typical” wines, folks like Costa and Kilcrease will most commonly say that they are referring to the mass-produced “supermarket” wines. But they never say this unless they are challenged. Rather, they attempt to leave the impression that all but natural wines are laden with chemicals and additives to the point of danger. This is irresponsible. The real problem is they don’t know its irresponsible. That’s a failure of morals and ethics, not a failure of literary precision.

And speaking of literary imprecision, I want to leave readers with these two quotes from the article:

Costa: “The grape itself naturally has all the elements necessary to make wine. As long as you keep other bacteria from infecting it, you have wine that’s basically made itself. No other fruit in the world does that — only grapes.”

Costa: “terroir: the unique flavor of a place that comes from its particular combination of soil, climate”

Oh, Brother. Next thing we’ll hear is that “you can taste the soil in Natural Wines”.

Posted In: Natural Wine


9 Responses

  1. David Vergari - March 23, 2016

    Thanks again for illuminating the caterwaulings of these pathetic, ignorant fools.

  2. Alison Crowe - March 23, 2016

    Hmm. Only grapes naturally have the magic ju-ju needed to produce wine AKA aqueous solution of ethyl alcohol and fruit substances? Pick a bowl of strawberries out of my garden, squish ’em up and keep them in a warm place to ferment and see what they have to say about that. Fail to add any sulfur dioxide (a naturally occurring element from soil, by the way) to my strawberries, or your grapes, and you might not like how it tastes. The ancient Romans even knew how to naturally apply “chemistry” to make wine better. But I forget. That’s not “natural”….

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  4. Simon Woolf - March 24, 2016

    Hi Tom,

    Even as a defender of much that is worthwhile in the natural wine “niche”, articles like Costa’s infuriate me as much as they do you.

    Of course what you fail to point out (because it doesn’t suit your agenda, I suspect), is that there is a growing majority of excellent winemakers who understand the issues perfectly well, and who aim for clean, high quality wines produced with the minimum of intervention. It’s these winemakers that deserve the press, not the questionable bandwagon jumpers or lazy vignerons who can’t be bothered to clean out their tanks each year.

    Furthermore there are plenty of journalists, writers and bloggers who see value in the natural “ethos”, but don’t take the pseudo-religious position that you comment on above.

    You may find a column that I wrote last week amusing. It could have been entitled “these are not the naturalistas you’re looking for”. But it wasn’t.



  5. Fred McKewan - March 24, 2016

    OK, my friend. First, this blog was difficult to read and really doesn’t have much flow. If this is intended to be a public resource, I would suggest you quickly copyedit before posting.

    Secondly, you’re not making much of a point. You don’t back up your refutations with any any details. Can you provide examples? Their points, though very general, actually do bear some truth.

    Finally, I will agree with you that the whole notion that “Natural Wine” is of superior quality is bogus (at least, I think that’s what you’re trying to say) and is only an idiotic branding ploy to get the uninitiated to spend $$ on “natural wine.” And yes, the fermentation process, as a whole, is a natural process, but sometimes chemicals are very necessary to produce good wine!

  6. Bob - March 25, 2016

    While I have many problems with the use of the term “natural wine,” (and with so many of the “natural” wines I’ve drunk), I think your use of the term “fraud” is unfair. Misleading maybe, not fraudulent.

  7. Rich - March 25, 2016

    As you are aware Tom, and as Ms. Crowe point out, even that little grape has to have something done to it – like a yeast, like some sulfur dioxide. Through happenstance, I happen to make a bit of wine – one of my wines is produced from 100% organic grapes, but it’s not “organic” because I’ve added yeasts and sulfur dioxide. But, it’s pretty much 99.9% grapes… I don’t label it as natural or organic simply because I’ve found that most people who buy my wine don’t care! They buy it because it tastes good!

    But here again, we have a society that is all about doing the PC thing; like the arsenic lawsuit; like the latest I see in my inbox this morning, a group called “Moms Across America” talking about “Glyphosate Contamination” in California wine (love to hear your thoughts on that one!)… So, suspect your “friends” talking about “natural wines” will be appealing to that crowd that thinks emotionally (anyone on Facebook or Twitter – ooops! did I just write that?) and not logically and rationally. Perhaps we should give them kudos for a great marketing campaign? Publicity is publicity! right!

  8. Voice of Wisdom - April 2, 2016

    Let me guess… You believe that Donald Trump is fit to be a president, watch Fox news and think that global warming is a hoax.

  9. Thirsty Keith - April 16, 2016


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