Demolishing Natural Wine
One of America’s most experienced, accomplished and insightful wine writers recently demolished both the idea of “natural” wine and the intellectual artifice of the “natural” wine movement. This is notable because outside of intellectually disciplined observers of the wine world and some hacks like myself, there hasn’t been all that much push back against the foundations of “Natural Wine”.
In the course of schooling the natural wine movement at Wine Review Online, Paul Lukacs made the following point that deserves highlighting:
“Equating high quality with only one form of production is a mistake. Some wines made by large commercial corporations taste wonderful, while some made by small-scale, hands-off vintners are flawed. The assumption that only artisanal producers are able to make appealing wines is nonsense. It also is, as Bianca Bosker suggests, a kind of snobbery, one based on a falsely romanticized understanding of history.”
Yes. It is nonsense. Yes. It is snobbery. But it’s also marketing, pure and simple.
Has anyone noticed that advocates of the “natural” movement have no interest in and actively oppose any formal definition or regulation of the term “Natural Wine”?
Recently, Doug Wregg, a strong and vocal supporter of Natural Wine, made clear that he opposes any definition of the term when he said the following in an interview with Sprudge Wine:
“I also believe that if you legislate (in terms of definitions) then you inhibit the freedom of the vigneron and the vigneron is the human element in the “terroir” of the wine, the one who guides from grape to bottle.”
The only thing that would be inhibited if there were a legal definition for “natural wine” would be the use of the term. Vigneron would still be free do whatever they choose with their grapes and their fermentation vessels. Mr. Wregg, as well as every other opponent of legislating a definition of “Natural Wine”, understand that the key to the success of natural wines is not the wines themselves, not their support of the magical nonsense known as “biodynamic farming”, not the occasionally unflawed bottlings of “natural” wine, nor the frequently well design labels attached to natural wine. Rather, they understand that the success of this category of wine is built primarily on the rhetorical use of the term “Natural”. Without unfettered, unregulated access to that term and everything it implies about the wines they don’t believe should wear that label, their movement would be no movement at all.
In the course of removing the intellectual foundations of the idea of Natural Wine, Lukacs makes a very salient point about the movement:
“The objection [by natural wine advocates to mass-produced commercial products], however, is not to how these wines taste. No, the problem is who makes them. The natural wine movement is at heart anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, and anti-globalist. It also is anti-democratic, for it views the world of wine as inherently hierarchical, with artisanal producers who make only small amounts of hard to find wines occupying the ladder’s top rung.”
Again, Lukacs is exactly correct about the ideological origins of the natural wine movement. The thing is, there is nothing new about people directing their purchasing habits in the service of their politics. What would have been nice, however, is if this view of the world led to an embrace of the thousands of small, family owned, terroir-dedicated artisan winemakers who have been working for decades around the globe to produce wines of authenticity. But it didn’t.
Instead, the natural wine movement began a campaign of nonsensical rhetoric aimed at convincing naive wine drinkers that everything but “natural wine” is mass-produced, “anything that isn’t “natural” is potentially harmful, and any wine that doesn’t fit the fluid definitions of natural is unnatural.
As a marketer, I have to give the mug slinging Naturalistas credit. They have done a wonderful job of relying on pure rhetoric, flash, and misdirection to build a category and sell wine. That’s not an easy thing to do.
For those interested in a balanced, nuanced, researched, rational discussion of the natural wine movement would do well to read Paul Lukacs’ Wine Review Online article, “Natural Wine, Really?“