Natural wine, a primer

One of the hot topics of the wine world is the concept of ‘Natural Wine.’

Travel to Paris, and you will find lots of bars that specialize in vins natruels. It’s a hipster movement, and it’s beginning to catch on elsewhere. London has at least four natural wine bars at present, and this year there were two consumer wine fairs in the UK showcasing some of the leading natural wine producers, following on from the first in 2011.

What is natural wine? There is no legal or official definition, and this is one of the reasons it is so controversial.

It’s more of a countercultural movement. Increasingly, the scale of production, distribution and retailing of wine has grown. Many of the big brands that have become such a feature of modern wine retail are made in factory-like wineries in huge quantities—and almost to a recipe, in terms of their flavour profile. Their taste is carefully shaped by focus group to match the average palate, and they have little connection with ‘place’—the specific vineyard sites the grapes were grown in.

However, to be fair to commercial wine, it is still pretty much natural. While many processing aids are used in its production, these are not flavourants. For example, you can’t add fruit flavours to wine and still call it wine (it would be a wine-based beverage; these exist, and they can be quite nasty). Winemakers can manipulate the wine, technologically and chemically, but only up to a point. For example, they can remove alcohol by reverse osmosis or spinning cone technologies, or they can filter the wine, or they can stabilize it (by cooling it or adding proteins or bentonite), or they can add grape juice concentrate to sweeten it, but all these manipulations are governed by wine laws. And commercial wine has never been better, largely because of the increased understanding of wine science and the application of technology. A quality wine is one that is fit for purpose, and many people just want something cheap and tasty to drink. This is what the big brands, on the whole, deliver. Reliability.

To a wine lover like me, however, commercial wine is quite depressing. The insidious thing is that even more expensive wine has begun to taste manipulated and standardized, shaped more by the hand of the winemaker than the vineyard expressing itself through the wine.

This is what has led to the emergence of the natural wine movement. It is a loose alignment of like-minded producers, largely from France and Italy, but increasingly a more global group. They are chums. They get together to show their wines at fairs, usually involving a lot of eating and drinking. Specialist ‘natural’ importers will typically have a portfolio dominated by natural wine producers. There is no definition of natural wine precisely because this is an informal alliance of people determined to add as little as possible to their wines, because they believe that wines that are unmanipulated taste more interesting and reflect their vineyard origins better.

So what sets apart natural wines? The focus has largely been on what takes place in the winery, because it’s almost a given that anyone wanting to make wine more naturally will care about their soils. Whether the vineyards are managed organically, biodynamically or sustainably, the emphasis is on creating a healthy agroecosystem in the vineyard where the soil microfauna and flora are respected and chemical input is minimized.

A natural winegrower (they prefer this term to ‘winemaker’) will aim to harvest grapes that are as healthy as possible, and which, while ripe, will have retained enough acidity that correction (with tartaric acid) is not needed in the winery. And if the grapes are healthy enough, then there is no need to add sulfur dioxide (SO2) to them before fermentation.

SO2 is a big deal for natural wine guys. Of all wine additives, this is the most widely used, and hardest to do without. It is almost universally added to wine for two reasons. First, it acts as a microbicide, killing bacteria or rogue yeasts that might spoil the wine. Second, it prevents oxidation of the wine, by mopping up the otherwise damaging reactive oxygen species created by the interaction of wine with oxygen.

For natural winegrowers to avoid using SO2, they need to be skilled and vigilant, otherwise their wine is at risk of spoilage or oxidation. That’s why they need to start with clean grapes. Most natural wines are made with no SO2 during the winemaking process, but a little is added at bottling to protect the wine. Some are made with none added at all. Fermentation by yeasts produces just a little SO2, so no natural wine is totally free of it.

For natural wines, fermentation is carried out by yeasts naturally present in the must. These may have come from the vineyard; they may also have come from the winery environment. Wild ferments can often produce wines that are more complex and interesting, if a little less predictable. This is because several different species of yeasts are involved at different times. For red wines, and some whites, a second fermentation takes place called the malolactic fermentation. This is a bacterial fermentation, and for most wines—even conventional ones—it happens spontaneously.

Typically, natural winegrowers will not use new oak barrels for ageing their wines. These are thought to be too interventionist, because they introduce flavours from the oak. They will also resist fining their wines (adding protein products to remove excess tannins, or bentonite to help remove proteins that might make white wines hazy), and they don’t like to filter their wines.

It’s interesting that one of the father figures of the natural wine movement is the late Jules Chauvet, a respected wine scientist as well as a winemaker from the Beaujolais region. Chauvet, ahead of his time, championed the flavour of wine made with wild yeasts, and looked to move away from using SO2. ‘I think one can do without SO2 in a certain measure, if one has hygeine,’ he stated. ‘SO2 is a poison. It poisons both the yeast (the yeast resists, but it gives better products when it is not poisoned by SO2) and bacteria.’ Chauvet pointed out that winemakers were really caught between two stools: if they used too high levels of SO2, then malolactic doesn’t occur easily, but lower doses are no good against oxidasic breakdown (enzymatic oxidation from enzymes present in any rotten grapes), in which case it would be better not to treat at all, but allow the carbon dioxide present in the fermenting wine to provide a measure of protection. Where a harvest is sound, Chauvet advocated not using any SO2 during the fermentation process. ‘I think one must go towards an ever higher purity,’ said Chauvet. ‘You must come to the wine as a “reflection of its soil”, with a minimum of chemicals both in the soil as well as in the wine—the older I grow, the more one wants to find truly natural wines, well made wines.’

Enough of all this technical talk. Why is the natural wine movement so interesting, and so controversial?

I’m a fan, because I like so many of the wines. They taste delicious. Of course, there are bad ones, and some exhibit flavour characteristics which can be challenging, or even faulty. But there are so many that I just want to drink. I find an elegance in many of the reds—a haunting beauty—that is rare in conventionally made wines.

I also like the fact that so many natural wines come from lesser known wine regions. These are often areas with brilliant soils and interesting grape varieties, but which for largely historical reasons have never become famous. Often, the results are compelling, and because the wine regions are lesser known, you don’t pay a premium for the reputation, although natural wines do tend to be reasonably expensive because they are made by hand in small quantities.

Why are they so controversial? In part, it is because of the adversarial approach taken by many of the natural wine guys, who brief against conventionally made wines. This is a mistake, because there are many, many great conventionally made wines, and an awful lot of the good ones are made with very little manipulation at all. Many of them could happily be labelled ‘natural’.

Then there’s the lack of a strict or legal definition: if you want to call your wines ‘natural’, then no one can stop you. There is relatively little abuse of the term, though, because there is no financial gain to be made by advertising your wines this way. If you tried to join the unofficial natural wine club, and show your wines at fairs, but you were working conventionally in the cellar, you would soon be found out.

There’s little point in creating a strict definition for natural wine with a certifying body. It runs against the spirit of this counterculture movement. Certification also costs money, and how effective is it anyway? Putting it another way, what is wrong with the way things are? Natural is a niche, and consumers buying these wines know what they are letting themselves in for. You and I both know the sorts of wines we’ll encounter in a natural wine bar. It’s a vibrant, dynamic movement, and the wines are giving people a lot of pleasure. In addition, the natural wine scene is helping conventional growers think more about the direction they are taking. Working more naturally can help wines express their sense of place. Of course, working too naturally, with too little care, can cause any sense of place to be lost. Bad natural wines tend to taste similar, wherever they are from.

Critics moan about how many natural wines frequently show wine faults. My response? First, a wine fault is in the eye of the drinker. So, you as an expert wine critic might find wine ‘A’ unbearably bretty (containing products from the activity of a rogue yeast, Brettanomyces), and wine ‘B’ oxidised. Why are you so outraged that people are enjoying these wines? Aren’t most wine faults context dependent, anyway? And only last week you were enjoying a 1982 first growth Bordeaux costing many hundreds of pounds a bottle, that had discernible Brettanomyces! Second, even if I come across the odd spoiled bottle—and because of the lower levels of SO2 natural wines are probably more likely to spoil than conventional wines—I wouldn’t trade the highs I get plus the occasional disappointments, for greater consistency without the peaks. Putting it the other way, I’ll tolerate the odd failure for the moments of joy that natural wines bring me and many others.

9 comments to Natural wine, a primer

  • Alex lake

    A good article, that – very balanced (which I suppose runs the risk of being considered boring/dull/not news!).

    So why (from a technical POV) do so many natural wines have a taste of cider? Is it malic acid?

  • John Atkinson

    Twenty-five years ago, some people were getting very excited about cool fermentation in Italy. It gave wines of greater typicité, we were told, when actually all it really provided was a mouthful of esters that rapidly hydrolysed back into their constituent acids and alcohols. The pleasures were short-lived, as the wines were unstable. Cool fermentation boosted the production of these fruity esters, but they were out of equilibrium in the finished wines. Ageing stabilised the wines’ chemistry, but the fruit declined.
    The stability question is important to wine. In a recent interview, Paul Draper says he experimented with low sulphur, but found that the results were inconsistent from one year to the next; fermentation and maturation just became too unpredictable, whereas SO2 buffered the wines and allowed the underlying character of the vineyard to express itself. We should take notice of Draper: he is very articulate, and consistently makes some of the World’s greatest wines. To those natural wine believers who have an overwhelming need to turn winemakers into priests, my advice is build a Draper shrine, and dump the ascetism.
    The argument about oenology is specious. Chauvet is one voice. University faculties are full of postdocs, PhDs and professors who are deeply sceptical about minimal or zero sulphur addition, and we should be wary of a lone academic in a science that is as convergent and uncontroversial as oenology. After all, whatever became of Dr Timothy Leary and his idea that we should treat psychosis with LSD?
    Finally, your hit rate on natural wines is far higher than mine. At the various London tastings last year, I found 25% acceptable and 5% good. Most disappointing of all, I had visited and tasted one grower’s wines the year before in Southern France, and had loved his Grenache from barrel. The same wine was served from bottle in London, only it wasn’t recognisably the same wine, it was sour and colourless – ruined, in fact. This takes me back to my opening point. How you judged those cool fermented wines from Friuli rather depended upon the moment at which you tasted them, because they changed so dramatically over a short period of time – just like the Grenache. If you were lucky, you tasted them when they were at their peak, when the esters were out of balance with the rest of the wine’s chemistry; so the real likelihood was you tasted them when they had declined and stabilised. Given my low success rate, I suspect I am experiencing the same problem with natural wines.

  • Jamie

    I think the cider aspect usually is only found in white wines, and usually when those wines are in the process of, or have completed!, oxidation. From a personal point of view, its not a characteristic that I like, but its occurence does seem to be a little unpredictable.

    Good article – its difficult to see much balance in the natural wine discussion, yet I think this shows it well.

    Retailing natural wines is quite challenging – there is no doubt that returns are significantly higher than with sulphured wines. Although the immediate cost of replacing the bottle is a pain, the greater loss is the potential risk of losing the customer. Its a tough issue – I love some natural wines (and hate some too!), but we would probably stock more if we weren’t so nervous about the customer issue. Perhaps we should keep them on a separate shelf and sell only to the aware!

  • Doug

    “To those natural wine believers who have an overwhelming need to turn winemakers into priests, my advice is build a Draper shrine, and dump the ascetism.” That says everything about the quality of debate from those who dislike natural wine; when in doubt, use sarcasm instead of reason. This is the classic straw man approach favoured by the overwrought opponents of the wines – create the notion of cult of believers who see no evil, smell no evil and taste no evil. And, of course, there isn’t a single natural winemaker who has a clue what he or she is doing despite going to oenology school or working with some of the great winemakers in the world. They can only be priests because they have foresworn sacred science. One can only imagine the natural winemaker clad in druidical robes standing over a steaming vat of noxious fluid incanting strange spells. Mixing the worst of fundamentalist religion with inane superstition, pantheism and anti-science natural wine is naturally without foundation – or sense of self-irony.

    In the real world (the one not inhabited by wine professionals) it is wise not to deal in absolutes and this is where Jamie’s article is bang on: natural wine is a vibrant, dynamic (movement… mmm maybe) and is making people think about their attitude to wine in general. The faults issue is somewhat of a red herring. As any natural wine aficionado will tell you there are great examples and bad examples, just as there is good winemaking and bad winemaking. There is no single style of natural winemaking, but a spectrum, from clean and elegant to downright funky and everything in-between – just like normal wine. And we can also flip any argument targeted at natural wine on its head; let’s look at the poor quality of so many conventionally-made wines, badly made wines, where the tropes of the winemaker make something that is poor even worse, or. unforgivably, where the terroir is obfuscated by layer after layer of ham-fisted intervention.

    Ultimately, this is a matter of taste despite the prescriptions of a few commentators. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of people drink naturally made wines throughout the world every year quite happily. I don’t think these people are idiots, philistines or zealots. Are they worried about stability or consistency, or the hedonic pleasure of drinking the wine? The self-styled academics of the wine industry need to lighten up and smell the aldehydes.

  • Well done, good synopsis of yours and Sam Harrop’s book “Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking”

    I like what I have tasted and wholly agree with you on the “elegance” found in many low intervention wines. The brettiness, not so much. I am also a fan evolving wines, not 20-30 years but 10-12 years and worry many will just get nasty as they age as it is this edge that makes them interesting and vibrant in thier youth. I really believe the long often start and stop natural ferments with Indigenous yeasts adds greatly to the wines, as opposed to the 14 day hot driven ferments of industrial wines using commercial yeasts. On SO2, maybe a good shot at bottling may give the longevity I am looking for.

    As you pointed out and the natural wine extremists never do, wine today at all levels is better than it ever has been, better of course is a value driving word but it is better/more consistent.

  • John Atkinson

    Doug,
    I was interested to read your broad defence of Jamie’s position, even if it did fail to answer the specific points I raised in my post. Urging me, and for that matter Jamie, to come and float with you at wine’s discursive surface is, I’m afraid, harder than you make-out; it’s not that we can’t swim, I’m sure we both enjoy a lark in the shallows every bit as much as you, it’s just knowing that there is a world of explanations, causes and effects churning in the depths below which makes some of us want to dive down deeper. When I use words like terroir and aldehydes, or consider the consequences of a lifetime spent drinking non-“natural” wines, I want to know exactly what I have committed myself to.
    As critics, buyers and sellers of wine we come to the production process quite late on. Notwithstanding this, few of our customers share in the kind of privileged access we have to production – to the people, vineyards and landscapes – and it is incumbent upon us to represent them in an accurate and interesting way as we can. In choosing Paul Draper as an exemplar of everything that is worthy of adulation in the wine industry, I wasn’t making a cheap shot. When someone as coherent, respected and successful as Draper makes statements about typicité and terroir I find it hard to maintain objectivity, because the quality of the wines leaves little room for scepticism.
    It’s worth reflecting on the success of Ridge Monte Bello ‘71 at the Judgement of Paris 30thAnniversary re-tasting. Producers like Draper are in many ways operating in the ugly, primordial stages of a wine’s life. Young, cloudy, CO2 saturated wine shows little congruence with the finished products that are sold to consumers or tasted by critics, yet it is during this period that most of the repercussive decisions about a wine’s future evolution are made. Rather like the Jesuit mantra which takes the boy at seven and returns the man, winemakers intervene at these early and confused stages of development to provide positive and predictable outcomes. In the case of Monte Bello, or the blending of vin clair in Champagne, the implications of these decisions are realised within an elongated temporal framework that is in a substantial way determined by the winemaking; the released bottle of Monte Bello or Blanc de Noirs is not like some capricious desert flower that blooms fitfully, rather its flowering is actively nurtured and sustained. When Paul Draper says that S02 addition is necessary for his wines to reveal their typicité, I suspect he is alluding to this very point. The ‘71 Monte Bello was as recognisable and representative of the limestone hills of Santa Cruz Mountains in 2006 as it was in 1976. Durability, it might be argued, is part of the vineyard’s intrinsic character.
    The same nature/nurture argument can be made in a different way. Each year, candidates put themselves through the MW exam. Thirty-six wines are tasted blind, and every year candidates identify and differentiate claret from Napa Cabernet, Pauillac from Margaux, and one vintage year from another. When I took and passed the exam in 1998 I correctly identified 5 vintages of Cos d’Estournel, even though the most valuable bottle I had tasted in the six months prior to the exam had been a Château St Pierre, St Julien, 1989. There was no heavy hand of winemaking here, nor the obfuscation of origins; how could there be ? Blind tasting is the ultimate test of typicité, and the Institute’s position on natural wines is that their inherent instability makes consistent identification impossible. In the year-long preamble of tastings that leads up to the exam, natural wines show too much variability; the students wouldn’t stand a chance: they are not considered a fair test of ability. The Institute’s conclusion at least – and for what it is worth – is that nature alone only gets you so far, and it certainly won’t allow one to conclude that natural wines provide the best viewpoint from which to assay either typicité or terroir.
    Terroir has always been one of the touchstones of the natural wine movement, and as I said at the start, it’s one of the topics that encourages me to dive through the discursive surface of wine descriptions. The late Peter A. Sichel once claimed that only a small fraction of Bordeaux’s vignoble properly had terroir, and he urged parsimony in the term’s attribution and use. For a long time he had the support of wine producing allies in the New World, who mockingly depicted terroir as either a pernicious European marketing stunt, or an apologists charter for unripe fruit and poor hygiene. But then, somewhere along the track these protagonists either gave-up on this line of attack or lost the argument, because today terroir is everywhere.
    I have written extensively on the terroir of Burgundy, but Sichel’s home region of Bordeaux throws up some often alluded to but scarcely understood examples of terroir. The soil at Pétrus is predominantly clay, but incorporated into the clay is smectite, a volcanic mineral that dramatically changes the soil’s physical and chemical properties. Conditions within damp smectite clays are so anaerobic that new roots struggle to grow, while old roots die. Consequently, the vines’ extraction of water is impeded, even though the clay can feel wet to the touch. The expansion is so dramatic that after 10mm of rainfall, the soil self-seals at its surface, so in a wet year like 1967, the vines can still be subjected to beneficial levels of water stress. Conversely, in dry years smectite clays shrink and crack, encouraging water and root penetration which, in turn, maintains a restricted but valuable flow of nutrients and water to the vine – invaluable in an anisohydric variety like merlot. This is an empirical account of how the soil at Pétrus regulates vine performance, but it’s not the full account of terroir, because it takes human intervention to shape the raw materials from the vineyard into a finished wine that contains all the identifiable tropes of Pétrus, which include homogeneity and stability, and the concomitant ability of the wines to age and plateau.
    Accordingly, in Sichel’s historiographical account, we are better-off thinking of terroir from a qualitative perspective, as a tool that provides us with a means of differentiating between the quality of wines drawn from a small, circumscribed area (here, Pomerol), rather than a system of demarcation built upon regional taste. In other words, the pedological element of terroir is best applied qualitatively at the micro/vineyard level. The fruit that comes off the vine that grows up my house might yield a wine with a distinctive character, but this doesn’t mean it has terroir. Thus far, there is no differential, qualitative subdivision that needs adjudicating upon in Lyddington.
    The meaning of terms changes over time, but terroir now seems so ubiquitous as to be rendered meaningless, which is a shame because people like Cornelius van Leeuwen at Bordeaux University are patiently building a detailed scientific account of the term as articulated by Peter Sichel. Like so much of science, huge efforts are required to move small distances, not that this discourages people like Van Leeuwen. Cheval Blanc took the decision to exclude certain vineyards traditionally incorporated into their Grand Vin as a result of Van Leeuwen’s survey of the property, which is a useful example of the way in which empirical analysis can help inform viticultural decision making for the better. The same point can be made about Paul Draper; I don’t know any winemaker who makes a more detailed study of tannin polymerisation, and while the results of these analyses don’t ultimately decide maceration lengths, racking intervals, or, indeed, SO2 additions, they do bring additional qualification to the scheduling of these procedures.
    The global appropriation of terroir has lessons for the natural wine movement. It’s a logician’s slogan that there is “no entity without identity”, thus if you define yourself too loosely, anything goes. As far as I can work out, given that there appears to be no specific definition for what is allowed or prohibited in “natural” wine, the production natural wine is compatible with a range of beliefs and practices whose adherents would normally be quite antagonistic towards each other, like genetic modification (GM promises disease-resistant, no-spray vines), organic production (“chemical-free” farming), or the sanctioned use of synthetic fungicides via Integrated Pest Management or so-called “sustainable” regimes (lutte raisonnée).
    Re-joining you at the discursive surface again, it may surprise you to learn that I have bought, and will continue to buy wine from AA Pian, Cousin and Mazel; they are good wines, in fact, they are very good wines, and part of the 5% I identified in my original post. As I recall, I didn’t say all the wines were bad, I just pointed out that the natural wine movement has a long tail of unstable, acetic and, at its tip, quite horrid wine. I think it would be impossible for us to arbitrate between our respective opinions on some of these wines, although I am more than happy to concede that clumsy, heavy-handed oenology is just as capable of returning disappointing bottles.
    My real difficulty however is with your invocation of terms like typicité, and terroir, used interchangably and as a defence of your position. You accused me of being a self-styled wine academic, but from my perspective you have misappropriated terms and then nominated yourself as the guardian of them. By countenancing instability as a price worth paying, you demean winemakers. You deprive them their role in the remarkable aesthetic transformation that turns perishable fruit into, balanced, enduring, age-worthy wine. Ageing is a property of terroir but for you the temporal element of production risks complete evisceration. By minimizing man’s role in the terroir mix you posit a false dichotomy between winemaking and terroir. Yet terroir has always been a synergy between man and nature; without human sensibility, creativity and intervention it’s hard to see how we even get started along this dirt road in the first place.
    Most conspicuously, the use of sulfur dioxide brings a degree of consistency to the product (as evinced by Draper), and allows blind tasters to successfully adjudicate on age, origins and grape varieties, yet this is not typicité as you construe it in your argument. You are like a painter who believes he’s done his job once the paints are mixed. From my side of the glass at least, nature is not a sufficient condition for art; terroir is qualitatively-driven concept; while the best test of typicité is via blind-tasting.
    Wine is one of the more satisfying ways through which we view turbulent nature, so let’s agree to keep the chaos outside the bottle, not within it.

  • Hello,

    Very interesting article, thanks! I live in Hong Kong where organic and biodynamic wines are just beginning to catch on. My import company has a line of organic wines and it’s been really interesting to see the local reaction; generally disinterested or skeptical. Anyway, I am studying wine (WSET) and was hoping you could recommend some producers of your favorite natural wines. I suppose due to the fragility of such wines most are not available on the export market, but if you know of any I would be very interested in checking them out!

    Cheers,

    Lauren

  • Jamie said:

    “Why are they so controversial? In part, it is because of the adversarial approach taken by many of the natural wine guys, who brief against conventionally made wines. This is a mistake, because there are many, many great conventionally made wines, and an awful lot of the good ones are made with very little manipulation at all. Many of them could happily be labelled ‘natural’.”

    It’s not only a “mistake”, Jaimie. It’s fraud. We never get definitions of what “conventional” wine is. And why would we? To give definition to conventional wines in such a way that lifts up “natural” wines (which is hteh only reason to define “conventional”) would require a misrepresentation of so-called “conventional” wines. Your post hints at the “brief” against conventional wines, but had you explained this “brief” you would have had to mention the myriad examples of “Natural Wine” folks actually calling all other wines unhealthy, completely manipulated, lies, bad for the earth, etc, etc. I’ve worked in the wine industry for more than two decades and this is the first example I’ve seen of participants in the industry actually making claims that all other wines are bad compared to their wines. It’s shameful.

    Just as bad, this “attitude” that so many natural wine champions exhibit against non “natural” wine includes failing to acknowledge an important truth: There is nothing new in “natural” wine. Artisan winemakers across the globe have for decades been pursuing terroir by using low intervention winemaking and viticultural techniques of the very same sort held up by Natural winemakers as new or revolutionary. This failure to recognize the work of so many great and conscientious winemakers who came before the natural wine folks strikes me as nearly identical to the ugly and fraudulent practice of plagiarism.

    All this needs to be pointed out before the Natural Wine Movement’s frauds become accepted by a deceived public.

  • Mark

    To start, let me say simply that I am not an MW, wine merchant, or trade professional. I am an academic, and I do attend quite a few tastings, including the Natural Wine Fair. I sample perhaps c.2500 wines a year, and keep my notes. I am, in other words, your reasonably well-informed amateur who buys to drink and cellar, and not to game the wine market for profit. I happen to like what I would broadly call authentic wines; and I think John A, in particular, has gone way over the top, ad that Tom W has also missed the point.

    To me, it does not matter a Casablancan hill of beans whether a wine is described as natural, bio, LR, organic, or otherwise being of that ilk; what matters is the wine. What I do know is that I prefer wines within that broad profile, and that I always have. I prefer small producers who hand-pick their grapes, who are minimal in their use of chemicals, and whose wines have individuality. As a consumer, that is what I want. I like interesting grape varieties like Jacquere, Fumin, or Schiopettino. I want my wines to be both living and ‘stable’. I have no problem finding a wide and interesting range of wines that fall within that spectrum and increasingly my business is going towards those merchants who have the best lists of that kind.

    The issue, it seems to me, is not what you call these people, but what they make: is there that much of a difference in philosophy between, say, Anne Gros and Cecile Tremblay? I would say no, and that to say otherwise is splitting hairs. Do I prefer them to, say, Jadot? Absolutely. What I have noticed are things like that there is some fabulous old vine Gamay out there (Bouland, Chanudet, Clos des Vignes du Mayne), that wines from Maranges remind me a little of Ladoix, that Etna is really interesting, that the staff in vineyards in Martinborough know a awful lot more about the details of their wines (clones, picking dates, etc) than do the employess in Marlborough, and that the average supermarket wine is as dull as ditch-water. In the mass-production world, the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity … it just happens to be intensity of the wrong character. What the ‘authentic’ winemaker does is act as a massive corrective to industrial winemaking which otherwise would have become ever more ‘international’ and even more complacent.

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