Wine Talk

Snooth User: Giacomo Pevere

Natural wine...

Original post by Giacomo Pevere, Jan 25, 2012.

The discussion about "natural wine" Vs "industrial wine" is really hot in Italy. After hundred of posts, articles and discussion i can resume my opinion: 1) i like good wines, 2) i don't like bad wines, i can just add i particulary love territorial good wines.

Too much simple?

There's some hot discussion around and not for all the issue is so simple. That's a couple...


Now i'm waiting for the flame... :)


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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 3, 2012.

Okay, I was going to stay out of this thread completely, but I just about spit wine out my nose at one line in GregT's first screed:

"You take the grapes to the winery because they don't run over by themselves." 

That settles the Ambrose Pierce Award in perpetuity.  But it's part of a long list of things that winemakers do.  Call it intervention, call it manufacturing, call it a winemaking choice.  Makes no difference.  It's not natural. Wine is an artifact.

So here's what I have always said:  Wine was the first ever manufactured good.  Once people drank some "natural" wine--okay, it could have been grain, but I'm pretty sure it was wine--they made damn sure they would be able to get it without waiting for an accident of nature.  No capricious nature dashing their hopes that the right yeast, the right grapes and the right conditions would be there when they got back from hunting and gathering.  They became agriculturists to MAKE alcoholic beverages.

Like GregT, I don't want to sit there as a cloud of fertilizer/pesticide/estrogen mimicking compound rolls overhead.  If it's not necessary (define that!), I would rather not have it in the mix at all.  If you call it wine, it should be grape juice, not propylene glycol.  But, for the most part, even the grapes we have are the product of selection that nature played just a part in, not the larger part by any stretch.

I thought EMark's first post was really a great way of looking at any phenomenon like this--make unsupported claims, repeat them long and loud, and then be onto something else by the time you are debunked.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 3, 2012.

I also have to correct something that williamsimpson said in response to dmcker's question:  What's the difference between Bio words, Biologique and biodynamic?

There's a difference.  Biologique is a certification in France for organic, says nothing about other aspects of the winemaking.  Canada also uses the word to indicate organic agricultural products. There are published standards, and the certification is conferred by an agency of the government.  BIODYNAMIC agriculture is based on the concepts of Rudolf Steiner.  The certification group is Demeter, a private group.  The Wiki for biodynamic ag is pretty thorough and accurate, and points out that Demeter holds the trademark, but if you say you follow biodynamic principles, I am pretty sure you won't get sued even if you don't get certified. I wasn't an ag major at Cornell, but I lived with a lot of folks who were in the fringy area of ag there, and have friends who were pretty into Steiner's philosophy.  (I still cut onions vertically because of their influence.)

Some of the Steiner stuff sounds loopy and biodynamic is considered pseudoscience by many, but the idea of planting according to lunar/solar events is what our ancestors did before they could write it all down, and it's kind of obvious that soil health is improved by having goats eat your weeds and then poop under the rows of vines.  Way better than using Roundup.  Although I agree that the "natural" people have some Taliban-like tendencies combined with a lack of precision, and the biodynamic people can be nutty or somewhat "well, it's close enough," and a little unreliable, anything that gets us in the direction of taking better care of the soil and water systems is a good thing. Just remember, you still have to wash your organic fruits and veggies:  E. coli and salmonella are completely natural, but they aren't good to eat.

When I was younger, my parents used to laugh at the use of "organic," because to them organic just meant a carbon based molecular form--they both took organic chemistry, so that's their reference.

williamsimpson, I'm wondering, have you done blind tastings of biodynamic, natural and no-pretenses wines?  Absent that test--like the "natural" guy who declared the wine that GregT brought from Argentina--I think the only truth about wine is what Jack said up front--We like good wine, we don't like bad wine so much.

GregT, Bierce (whoops, typoed the first message) was putting on a bit of a persona--I bet he wasn't actually that harsh in person.  But, yeah, next time I'm in NYC, let's go tasting again and try to channel him and his drinking buddy. 

A propos of Bierce, a quote from a great friend of mine:  "Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate."

Reply by dmcker, Feb 3, 2012.

Greg, ever actually seen loons in action in your peninsular Michigan days? Kinda cute beasties, almost as crazy as cats, and now you have me feeling better about Joly again. Never had doubted his winemaking skills, tho.

And thanks, Fox, for the help with the hairsplitting. You going to stay out of the red-wine-and-sexual-function discussion, too?


Reply by GregT, Feb 3, 2012.

Nice post Fox. Or series of posts. The bio stuff is just weird because while some of the practices are sound - organic manure in the fields, etc., they're based on beliefs that even back in the 1800s couldn't have been given real credence.  The "air" animals as opposed to the "liquid" or the "light" animals?  Stirring 100 times clockwise by a man's hand because the energy from women isn't the appropriate energy? And counterclockwise would negate the important vibrations?  WTF?

As you say, of course wine is a manufactured product.  Frankly, I'm quite happy about that because I don't want to get my "wine" by rooting around on the ground looking for rotting and fermenting grapes that may have fallen.  And I certainly agree, and think most people agree, that the wine should be grapes and that the grapes should form the overwhelming majority of the list of "ingredients".  If the grapes aren't tannic enough, I prefer that someone not add powdered tannins, or color, etc. Even if those things themselves are actually quite "natural", having come from dessicated grape skins.  And I prefer that someone not add acid or sugar too, although the terroirists in Burgundy insist that's OK. But an undetectable amount of sulfur isn't necessarily the worst sin, and keeping the temp artificially cold to prevent malolactic fermentation in a particular wine isn't necessarily a sin either.  I hate the polemics, hate the rigidity, hate most of the people propounding "natural" vs unnatural wine, but don't necessarily disagree with much of the sentiment.

D - never did see them but used to hear them sometimes.  Spent 2 hours w Joly about 2 years ago and he talked about biodynamics and about his wines and he never tasted a drop, although he poured a half dozen.  Just sipped coffee.  Some wines were terrible, some really good, and apparently he's quite happy with the result being a crapshoot each time. Now that I think of it, he may be a lot smarter than I thought. Since he knows it's a crapshoot, he just avoids the risk!  But he genuinely is an engaging and likeable guy.  Not unusual for really passionate winemakers.

Reply by zufrieden, Feb 3, 2012.

This thread almost draws me back.  Not sure I want to talk exclusively about wine just now, though...

Methinks there is a bit of Wiki-idiocy polluting all that natural discussion of unnatural and unlikely relationships - like Bierce and Mencken being drinking buddies.  Sounds a bit fanciful as Bierce was nearly old enough to be Mencken's grandfather.  The two are reputed to have met in 1911 - about the time Bierce retreated to Mexico - but I never took much interest in this story.  Fans of both men, I must add that, as a boy I read almost everything Bierce ever wrote.  He was the quintessential North American autodidact - similar to H. L. but very importantly, and here's the difference, a survivor of the horrors of the first truly industrial-scale war - the War Between the States.  The two generation gap between them is significant as is the lack of ethnocentricity and Nietzschean romanticism in Bierce often found in Mencken's rantings.  

And boobocrat or no, I cannot suggest a beverage other than beer that Herr Mencken would prefer over anything else; Ambrose is a bit harder to read as he was a product of times known for rough grain alcohol. His son (murdered around 1889) was an alcoholic.

As for natural wines, try "toxic chemical free" as an alternative nomenclature.  You'll avoid those philosophical paradoxes laid bare by some prominent contributors to this site.  And BTW, pay attention to those skeptical few: they provide the greatest entertainment and the more numerous and worthy pedagogic moments.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 4, 2012.

One tries to imagine, Zuf, how Bierce's penchant for biting social criticism and satire, even if it had mellowed a bit by that late point in his life, would go over with the revolutionaries and other cohorts surrounding Pancho Villa, after Bierce arrived in Mexico and joined up with that lot. It's somehow easy to picture how saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, whose intensities and pride wore buttons easily pushed in unknown ways, might just get him disappeared. That combined with a likely remembrance of adrenalin rushes and other things that started with his tour (at the age of 71!)  back through the battlefields of the Civil War he'd fought on, then swinging down through Texas into Mexico to join Villa in Ciudad Juarez, in my surmises likely created some sort of desire to push safe boundaries past the breaking point, ultimately resulting in the most famous disappearance of the early 20th century.

I attempted to tackle the Devil's Dictionary when I was about 10 years old. My dad was a fan and the book was lying around the house. Suffice to say there was plenty in there that my insufficient worldy experience hadn't prepared me for, though I did recognize that a) the newspaper readers of his era (think it was originally published as a serial of sorts in a SanFran paper in the late 1880s) must have had more time to sit around and chew the cud while pondering such densities, and b) maybe the fact that my dad liked Bierce so much explained a thing or two about the dour, sarcastic, cynical nature I was coming to recognize in fatherdear.  ;-)

As some examples of Bierce's definitions, even at that age I could clearly understand where Bierce was coming from with these two:

DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.

But not yet with the next several:

BIRTH, n. The first and direst of all disasters. UN-AMERICAN, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish. WALL STREET, n. A symbol for sin for every devil to rebuke. That Wall Street is a den of thieves is a belief that serves every unsuccessful thief in place of a hope in Heaven. Even the great and good Andrew Carnegie has made his profession of faith in the matter. BACCHUS, n. A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk.

And I of course recognized perhaps this definition might be a little out of date:

WINE, n. Fermented grape-juice known to the Women's Christian Union as "liquor," sometimes as "rum." Wine, madam, is God's next best gift to man.

But wasn't sure how out-of-date, or not, this one might be:

WOMAN, n. An animal usually living in the vicinity of Man, and having a rudimentary susceptibility to domestication. It is credited by many of the elder zoologists with a certain vestigial docility acquired in a former state of seclusion, but naturalists of the postsusananthony period, having no knowledge of the seclusion,deny the virtue and declare that such as creation's dawn beheld,it roareth now. The species is the most widely distributed of all beasts of prey, infesting all habitable parts of the globe, from Greenland's spicy mountains to India's moral strand. The popularname (wolfman) is incorrect, for the creature is of the cat kind. The woman is lithe and graceful in its movement, especially the American variety (felis pugnans), is omnivorous and can be taught not to talk.


I think Bierce would have fun with the subject of this thread (and other winemarketing-related issues, wine manners, tasting and rating practices, etc.), and might weave an interesting blog or two out of it (and several out of the other subjects) if he were alive and publishing today, banal sounding as that may be. Haven't read enough Mencken to know what would really be fun for him.

Greg, I've really only had a couple offbottles from Joly, and single-digit so-sos, out of a total just short of triple figures over close to three decades. Imagine it would be interesting to push and prod him on some subjects, unless he displays excessive Gallic pride. I've definitely been around winemakers who are drinking coffee while the rest of us are drinking wine, so that part's not too surprising....

Reply by dmcker, Feb 4, 2012.

Sorry for the messiness of the formatting for the post just above, but my C&Ps somehow didn't mesh well with the Snooth publisher....

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