What Some Will Never Understand About Expressive Wine
Though technically true, wine has never been nor will ever be as simple as grapes + yeast = alcohol and carbon dioxide. All finished wines are manipulated at some level. One can go as far to say that there isn’t such a category as “natural wine.” Perhaps the term best coined for wines that best represents a sense of place is “authentic wine” – offered by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop in the their aptly named work that should be at the top of any wine geek’s wish list. Unfortunately, even the term “authentic wine” falls short in helping wine drinkers properly understand exactly what it means for a wine to be natural. For me, the less interference from rootstock to labeling translates into a more natural example of wine – flaws and delectable nuances alike included.
So, if wine is as simple as the above equation, what is complicating the picture? Many winemakers manipulate the hell out of their wines in an effort to produce a wine that they believe is more universally palatable (and worthy of higher critical claim from highly paid professional tasters). In the fairly free society that we live in, who can blame winemakers for adjusting their wines as they see fit? Not me, I just choose not to drink it. However, what bothers me most is not the intellectual divide between heavy handed manipulators and those who use a similar amount of, but quite different (see below) guidance in the winery. You see, winemakers who wish not to use tannin powder, sugar, acid, spinning cones, reverse osmosis, grape concentrate, Syrah or other flagrant manipulative tools also interfere in the wine making process. They are just as hands on as the manipulators, except their goal is to keep the bullshit out of the wine.
Expressive winemakers wish to allow fruit to express itself without being coaxed into appearing as a fruit cake. Those who don’t adjust acid want it to be in balance, providing a nervy backbone to the wine. Tannin and residual sugar are also left to their own devices in an attempt to achieve a harmony of sorts. And for those looking for the most interesting expression of their vineyard site allow naturally occurring yeast to do all the work – no banana, bubble gum or boysenberry surprise here. And while they allow their wines to grow up to become expressive examples of terroir and sense of place, most do so in a manner that adheres to a strict hygienic code which prohibits unwanted influences from spoiling their efforts. And as for preserving the wine – those looking to preserve what they deem as expressive wines use sulfur. And some use more than others.
Why let the wine find its own way? Because conventional process, for all its profits and glamor, often misses the mark on what is so incredibly special and delicious about expressive wine’s inherent sense of place. Without a sense of place that is guided not by a chemistry set and glossy magazine covers, but by the intent of the soil, climate and vines guided by the gentle hand of a winemaker, wine is nothing more than a prepackaged process. And don’t we have enough of that in our daily lives already?
I’ve written about the topic of natural wine enough times to know I am getting tired of writing about it. But I can’t help but shake my head and pick up my pen when baseless vitriol is heaved at those who believe their work represents what’s wholesome and redeemable about wine. These self-serving dinosaurs who tout their greatness of their wines, even as they are produced more through science than substance, would rather trample the efforts of those whose aim is simple – taking something from the natural earth and guiding it into the glasses held by wine drinkers who are seeking to replace monotony with expression and creativity. As far as I am concerned, if winemakers and critics don’t understand or accept that basic premise as to the appeal of more natural and authentic wine, they’ll never get it. And that’s ok with me.