What Is It About Natural Wine That Turns Folks Into Incoherent Ranters?
I recognize the writing style of Oliver Styles.
I recognize Style’s writing style because it’s much like mine. I start writing a diatribe and begin with reason, with deferential tones, then I descend into straight-up ranting. It happens.
Styles is a winemaker who wants to take to task the Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth for his less than enthusiastic endorsement of Natural wine.
The problem that Styles faces in his diatribe is different than mine insofar as when I descend into a diatribe I’m usually fighting the good fight by defending consumer rights or railing against protectionist-minded, rent-seeking wholesalers. Unfortunately for Styles, he’s in a position of having the very difficult task of defending the champions and proponents of so-called “Natural Wine” against, as Molesworth put it, “dogma” and the “Many natural wines (that) are riddled with technical flaws”.
What got Mr. Styles to use Wine-Searcher to launch a diatribe? This rather tame set of comments on “natural” wine posted by Molesworth on his Instagram feed:
“There should always be room for debate though. I respect the ideal of natural wine. But for me, the reality is it doesn’t work.⠀
Natural wine presupposes that its way is better than any other way of winemaking. Anyone want to argue that Jean-Louis Chave is manipulating his wine? Or that Château Palmer isn’t biodynamically farmed and working towards minimal sulphur additions? Yet neither is allowed in the natural wine club. That’s dogma, and dogma is stifling.⠀
Many natural wines are also riddled with technical flaws. Wines with brettanomyces, volatile acidity, oxidation and unwanted secondary fermentations should not be held up as examples of what wine should be, no more so than a wine with mega purple added to it.⠀
I do drink natural wines. Many are made without flaws. I appreciate their lower alcohol and less complicated nature. And I think their labels are among the most creative and whimsical in the business. But the ones I like I simply consider good, soulful wines – not natural wines.”
Styles starts his response to Molesworth in style, even invoking Verdi. But what’s depressing is that Styles starts in with the misquoting of Molesworth pretty quickly. Hell, it usually takes me a good 8 or 9 paragraphs before I start misquoting the target of my diatribe for the purposes of trying to gain the high ground. I think Styles doing it so quickly is a bad rhetorical mistake:
“There should always be room for debate, he (Molesworth) says, but, only 16 words down the line, he states that the reality is that natural wine “doesn’t work”.I don’t really know what wine (of any kind) “not working” actually means….Is it not wine? Can it not be drunk? Is it incapable of being appreciated? Not just one or two bottles – all of them. On what level are natural wines not functioning ACROSS THE BOARD for James? Talk about having a stifling dogma.”
For the record, Molesworth wrote the following: I respect the ideal of natural wine. But for me, the reality is it doesn’t work.”
See, when you put it in the correct context and you quote correctly you notice immediately that James isn’t saying “natural wine doesn’t work.” He’s saying “the ideal doesn’t work”. When you realize this you see how completely out of context is Style’s response above, it’s practically a non-sequitur to-boot. However, it does give Styles the opportunity to put words in Molesworth’s mouth—a classic rhetorical trick. But when you read Molesworth’s full quote you can’t come to the conclusion, as Styles prompts the reader to conclude, that James thinks all “natural” wine can’t be appreciated, can’t be drunk, or that they can’t function.
Pro Tip: Don’t try to misrepresent your target’s words until near the end when the reader may not be paying as close attention. That’s just bad rhetoric and poor writing.
But now watch this rhetorical flourish from Styles. The segue is pretty magnificent:
“he (Molesworth) doesn’t consider good natural wine to actually be natural wine: “the ones I like I simply consider good, soulful wines – not natural wines”. There’s another Molesworth dogma – natural wine cannot be called natural and it cannot be better than good or soulful. Would we even be here if natural winemakers were making the kind of money (and, probably more to the point, had the inclination) to take out pages of advertising in Wine Spectator?”
Styles somehow takes Molesworth’s declaration that those wines touted as “natural” that he likes tend, in his opinion, to be both good and soulful and turns that into first some weird indignancy about not calling “natural” wines “natural”, then goes on to become further indignant that Molesworth apparently hasn’t come across any “great” natural wines…only good and soulful wines. But wait…there’s that last sentence in which out of nowhere Styles implies that if only “natural” winemakers spent some money with The Wine Spectator James might have a different opinion.
Wow…I mean, sloppy for sure, but…WOW. Indignancy and impugning integrity in the space of just a few words. I’ve tried that before. It’s not easy.
Anyway, after riffing a bit more on how stupid The Wine Spectator is, Styles decides to indulge in a little psychoanalysis of Molesworth. Now I admit, in my own diatribes, I usually don’t take this route because unlike Mr. Styles I didn’t get a degree in English and French literature, so I’m no expert in Psychology This must be why Styles feels so competent to lead the reader in a discussion of the “intolerant undertone in Molesworth’s post…just under the surface, simmering away to a degree that makes me want to accuse him of base trolling.”
We are informed that from Molesworth’s Instagram we should be able to tell he is harboring “repressed disgust” of “natural” wines and instead of truly appreciating some “natural” wines for their good and soulful character, instead he’s really “damning with faint praise”.
Who knew you could learn so much psychology from Dumas and Dickens?
From here, Styles just goes into a descent. Check this out:
“According to Molesworth, natural wine “presupposes that its way is better than any other way of winemaking”. It presupposes no such thing.”
“Sure, a lot of natural wine aficionados make it sound like natural wine is the best way to make wine (some even say it)…”
This happens when you’ve gone from attempting to pen a coherent diatribe to just spinning off into a pure rage. I know this tendency. I’ve been guilty of it a few times. But I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so confused.
It’s at this point that Styles really descends into the Nine Circles (that’s an Italian literature reference):
“It’s easy to post playful pictures of oneself in an artisanal wine shop and bait natural wine fans, but your kids don’t stand waiting for a school bus while the wind blows the unknown spray from the vineyard into their faces. I live in a wine region and have cycled to work through spraydrift. Believe me, it’s a relief when it smells of sulfur. I know viticulturists who refuse to get in a tractor to spray products on a vineyard because their driving cab isn’t sealed”
This comes in the course of some sort of attempt to defend “natural” wine as being better than “conventional” wine (I think “conventional” means everything else other than “natural” wine, which itself isn’t defined—Awesome!). Either way, the diatribe has fallen into a full-on rant at this point and it becomes a little difficult for non-English/French literature majors to follow.
I’m no psychologist, but at this point, you have to wonder what in James Molesworth’s rather tame explanation of his relationship to those things called “natural” wine set off Oliver Styles to such a degree that he would leave is talent behind. I wonder if this obvious response to being triggered doesn’t begin somewhere else.
I’ve been there. Stuff builds up, you get triggered, then all of a sudden you are off to the races and your attempt at well-written diatribe turns into a stumbling, offensive, sometimes-hard-to-follow, descending rant.
Sometimes you need someone in the room with you to tell you, “step away from the keyboard”.
My preferred comment about so-called ‘natural wines’ is, ‘Many are so natural as to be un-natural.’ There are certainly plenty of very good organic, bio-dynamic and ‘natural’ wines that one should not count them out tout-court. But there are too many of the above wines with the range of faults that we would certainly taste before we buy. Caveat emptor.
Natural Wine Fanatics are the Anti-Vaxxer’s of the wine world, Their premise is bogus, and everyone knows it, but they press on, because of their fears of living in the modern world.
Tom, let’s see if we can get Clark Smith to weigh in………
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Just had dinner at Night + Market in LA and my blog post was entitled Great Food and totally disappointing wine program. Touting a natural wine list, there were 3 white wines. I was interested in the Falanghina blend and our server said it was barnyardy….I looked at her and said, oh, so flawed?. I am sick of people trying to pass “natural” wine as the answer.
Tom, I thought your headline meant you were going to share some introspection.
I do believe I was introspective…to a degree…in this post.
It’s uncanny how the debate parallels the red/blue divide in our country. Your term for it is spot on: triggered.