Thursday, August 20, 2009

Make Wine Mine Natural Real

This weekend during the Drink Local Wine and the Texsom events there was a lot of wine tasted; some for learning and some for pleasure. During the three days a number of people with experience and expertise flooded the panels and parties. Not once do I remember anyone getting into an argument over natural wine.

Here on the most unnatural of all soap boxes, the blogosphere, one would think the world was ending and we were all going to hell because some of us, most of us, are actually enjoying the wines we are drinking. This weekend there were no lines drawn in the sand, no scabbards vacated, no friendships ended over the matter of what a natural wine is. I find it all a bit mystifying and hyper-critical, these exaggerated Greek choruses singing their dirges over what is and isn’t natural.

Do you live in an urban area? How natural is that? Do you take vitamins or supplements, or use deodorant or makeup? Do you buy food from the market or grow it all yourself? Do you walk everywhere you go? Do you fly on planes, ride around in cars? When you get sick do you take medicine? Do you still think you are living a natural life? Have you been made to feel you might be living a lie?

There were a number of Master Sommeliers and a Master of Wine or two as well, along with PhD’s and folks with decades of experience. I asked many of them about this "natural" question, as I am interested in their perceptions of such things. After all, they are probably more influential than many, or most bloggers. Funny, because there are so many interpretations. I find our world extremely manufactured on so many levels, but then I have the memory of that little conversation I had when I was barely 21 with a larger than life person, Buckminster Fuller. I was no more than six feet from him when I heard him say this: “Anything that Nature lets you do is natural.”

Bucky Fuller was a god to me. I thought of him as the 20th century Leonardo da Vinci. My son wants to build domes and live in them. We are as close to being his secular disciples as anyone can be in America. What he said to me is like a koan that I have thought about for decades now.

Another friend of mine, a doctor, we met while working together in a vegetarian restaurant in Pasadena, California in the mid 1970’s. He once remarked to me about sausage (I was a vegetarian), “Consecrate the sausage as you eat it, don’t let the devil of doubt poison your body. Give thanks for it allowing you to receive sustenance from it and be grateful.”

Once, when I was spending time at a Zen monastery in Northern California, the Roshi went to the local Safeway and bought food to be prepared. Often she would bring back vegetables and rice and fresh foods. But this time she brought back a load of ground meat. I remember when she had it brought into the kitchen some of the cooks were astonished and didn’t know what to do. One of them asked her what she wanted them to do with all of this ground meat. She answered. “Cook it. And don’t get too attached to being a vegetarian. Lose the desire.”

These three episodes have formed some of the ways in which I think about things. Wine, like any other part of life, has its place. But it is not the most important thing for me in life.

So if your Barbera isn’t biodynamic or your Yarra Valley Riesling isn’t made with native yeast, does it really matter all that much in the scale of things universal? If it does to you and it is worth losing friendships or jeopardizing civility, might you want to ask yourself if you aren’t taking all of this just a little too seriously?

This is just my manufactured perception, but to risk losing something real, like love or collegiality or a place in the circle of life, over some concocted opinion about what is natural or not is just an immane assumption.

And we all know what happens to those larger-than-life types.


Marco Misterbianco said...

"Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment."

Bravo, signore.

Jennifer Hedgeway said...

Thanks for this. Too often I am overwhelmed by the Naturo-Nazis acting like agent provocateurs to press their point of view as some Supreme Vision. Quite frankly it is a turn off, for their bullying tones seem like a mask for a new form of wine snobbery.

Louis/Dressner Selections said...

I agree with Jennifer.

How long will it be before the Natural Wine Death Panels start dictating what we can or cannot drink!

Joe Dressner

Anonymous said...


A lot of drink natural wine because we like it. I love a lot of unsulfured/organic/native yeast wines because i enjoy drinking them, not because of the label "natural." In my work we have a lot of people taste us on wines that can certainly be considered natural, that are quite frankly "shit." i believe that good winemakers (this is the most important part, people make wines, not processes) working naturally make the best wines on earth, and it has nothing to do with how i live the rest of my life. Sure i live in an unnatural city but that doesn't have a single thing to do with the wines i like and drink and why should it? If you're not drinking what you like regardless of labels you don't really love any wine. You like spoofulated aussie shiraz? Drink that. I'll try to convince you otherwise (with wine, of course, blogging should never convince anyone) but if you still like the shiraz, drink that.


- Cory

Unknown said...

Dear Alfonso,

In a not too long ago meeting, when I asked him why he wouldn't use SO2 in his (winemaking) work, Tony Coturri looked me straight in the eyes and said 'because I think it's poison.'

I respect that of him.

This said, I don't think I could make a living in this business without what I regard the enlightened addition of some (albeit preferably only just enough) SO2 into the juice that would eventually be wine (as I best now know it).

Still, in the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder if I'm not just delusional from the poison.

I appreciate your perspective, Alfonso. Thank you! May (the) G(g)od(s) bless you and all those posting here. And may Monsanto Company get their due as well...

Mattie John Bamman said...

My parents lived in a dome. 70% of the veggies we ate we grew and I was raised vegetarian. My childhood as a homesteader didn't seem natural to me and I ate my first hamburger when I was 16. It gave me a very bad fever.

Russ Kane said...

I have met two luminaries in my day - Edward Teller, 'Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,' and Dr. Paul Chu discoverer of high temperature superconductivity.

Both exemplified in their every comment (that I hear in their presence) that anything that science gives us can be considered natural.

Certainly this point can be debated but, in my opinion, both looked upon nature to provide them invention. They considered themselve there to tell the story.

Some may think that the Blogosphere and Twitter to be unnatural. But, it is just a further incantation of what has been around and been done for eons, just in a different form.


Unknown said...

Since "natural" derives from "nature." And the closest definition of nature that applies here is "a creative and controlling force in the universe," then one cannot slag anything as being unnatural in such a sense. And thus, proclaim "natural wine" as being somehow more esoteric, healthy, good for you, of-the-earth or yada-yada-yada.

Unless, of course, one has an agenda to push. Which we all know is an entirely natural, human trait.

Well done, AC!

babylonfalling said...

I know some well known "natural" winemakers here in northeastern Italy/ Slovenia who had harvests of less than half the harvest of 2006 in 2007, but yet thwey are/will be selling the same number of bottles as 2006... makes you wonder.

Natural wine is a great philosophy and something everyone should strive for, but for people for whom winemaking is the sole sorce of bread making there is no doubt that philosphy can be put aside from time to time.

There is no reason for people to say no to natural wine (I enjoy it and drink it), but just realize that what you hear isn't always the truth.

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