Fermentation – Natural Wine and Irony

I’m always excited when I see a new commitment to wine coverage from establishment media. I even get excited when that coverage adopts a moniker that mimics the title of this blog, as in the case of Edible Brooklyn announcing a new wine column they are calling “Fermentation”.

What makes Edible Brooklyn’s new wine column, “Fermentation”, a reliably ironic development is that while the title of the new column is the same as the title of this 15-year-old blog, it is a column that will center on the issue of “natural wine”, a subject that this blog has regularly dissed over several years.

I’m not egocentric enough to make any assumptions as to this irony being the result of anything other than coincidence. Still, it makes me chuckle.

The new column will be written by Katherine Clary, editor of The Wine Zine and author of the coming Wine Unfiltered: Buying, Drinking and Sharing Natural Wine (coming May 2020). Ms. Clary is an accomplished young woman with an interesting background who is clearly dedicated to the idea of natural wine and will likely lead readers of Edible Brooklyn on an enlightening journey into the Natural world.

In her first Fermentations column, Ms. Clary generously gives her readers a taste of where they are going to be led by explaining her interest in Natural Wine:

“Part of what makes natural wine and its community so exciting to me is a real willingness to experiment: to question its very nature, to go back to square one when everyone is doing otherwise, and to embrace newcomers and new ideas. Whereas more traditional or conventional aspects of wine have always been somewhat off limits to, well… a lot of us, there is a lot surrounding natural wine that suggests a breaking down of barriers. A willingness to flout the rules that, in the past 40 or so years, have dictated what wine should look like, how it should be made, and who gets to talk about and taste it.”

Despite my many criticisms of the champions of natural wine, I’ve always forgiven them for their naivete. And I forgive Ms. Clary hers. The notion that Natural Wine and its makers and its drinkers and its advocates are somehow doing something new, experimenting in a way that past generations have not, are breaking down barriers and who are exposing some sort of dictatorial regime that has long governed the world of wine is obviously a matter of youthful naivete that has no foundation.

However, I do recognize that this view reflects what is at the heart of the Natural Wine movement: an impatience and dissatisfaction with a globalist culture and movement that has been the overwhelming zeitgeist for the Millennial and younger generations. The attachment to the idea of natural wine and the motivation to create “zines”, communities and columns dedicated to natural wine is one form of pushback against a global culture and marketplace that appears to demand conformist interaction with the world; a youth-driven reaction to what appears to be an out-of-control world that does more to threaten us than provide for us.

For Ms. Clary and her fellow travelers, loudly championing natural wine is their form of declaring, “Ok, Boomer”.

Of course, those folks with more perspective observe the claims of Ms. Clary concerning the state of the wine world and the barriers they claim exist and the way in which natural wine’s advocates are experimenting in a way that past and current establishment wine folks are not as rubbish and unsupported and, again, naive. You simply can’t look at the past 50 years of wine and not conclude that it has been the most innovative era for both winemakers and wine drinkers that has ever been witnessed.

But more important to me in this ongoing discussion of natural wine that will now be extended into the pages of Edible Brooklyn, is the offensive, dismissive, and untenable view of anything other than natural wine by those championing the cause:

“It’s a good time to be thinking about better wine in New York, and, if you ask me, perhaps the best time to be drinking it. I hope you’ll like Fermentations; email me at hello@thewinezine.co if you have questions, complaints, or tips.”

“Better Wine”? I look forward to Ms. Clary’s explanation and defense of high levels of volatile acidity, excessive brett, mousiness, and reductivism too often found in natural wines. I look forward to reading how these various assaults on pleasure are justified as revolutionary redefinitions of quality.

What I really look forward to, however, is reading an advocate of natural wine who is capable of exploring this genre and educating me without the now automatic, banal and uneducated dismissal of all other wines beside those deemed “natural”. It may feel like a case of revolutionary and satisfying pushback to dismiss those wines and winemakers who produce that vague thing natural wine advocates call “conventional”, but in the end, it’s nothing more than a tired form of virtue signaling better left to the high school crowd.

Still, I like the name of this new column in Edible Brooklyn. And I’m a complete fan of the Edible universe. And as I’ve read about Katherine Clary, I find myself a budding fan of her and her background and commitment and talent. Perhaps I’ll become of a fan of Clary’s new column, as one that explores natural wine in an adult, useful and critical way.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul Franson - January 3, 2020

    With all respect to both you and the author of the new column, I keep anticipating columns on kim chee, sauerkraut, pickles, bread, charcuterie, miso and more from a series entitled “Fermentation” 🙂

  2. Tom Wark - January 3, 2020

    Paul,

    You’re point is well taken. But what would I have to say about pickles and miso?

  3. Paul Franson - January 3, 2020

    Just joking, of course, but it is interesting that there’s been a also been huge interest in all fermented products by both pros and home cooks. One indication is a flood of books; another is commercial products like kombucha. But that’s another blog…

  4. Clark Smith - January 3, 2020

    There is certainly virtue in exploring wines outside the retail shelf globalist style straight jacket.
    What so far seems missing from Ms Clary’s point of view is the realization that the domestic portion of these wines are made almost entirely by 64 U.S. wineries over 500,000 cases, while the vast majority of American wineries (about 10,000) average 2,000 cases and represent a diversity and experimentation never before seen on the planet. Experimental wines from new varieties, new regions, new styles abound more profusely than any time and place in history, generally with a focus on clean, elegant, and no-nonsense.

    As a former New Yorker myself, I’m well aware of the urban myopia which blinds its residents to anything that’s not bi-coastal. To name a simple example, the 90-minute trip to Galen Glen in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is unimaginable to Brooklyners who would never be caught dead in Queens, let alone Pennsylvania.

    You’re not going to find the American Wine Revolution at Dean & Deluca, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

  5. Roger King - January 3, 2020

    Clark, you are dead on with this one. The longtail of :US production is getting at things in so many ways it is fascinating. Not to mention the exploration of the rest of grape cultivars completely ignored. Grafting Mencia and Malagousia this spring as great examples, but damn it farming them conventional for winemakers exploring the ether between natural and conventional.


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