The last few weeks I have been trying to design a new website – now with November 20th looming, it definitely seems like an unrealistic goal with all of the Uni work which needs to be done before then- so here is the book proposal I have been talking about for the last few months. I hope you like it and please keep your finger’s crossed!
A Book Proposal: The Social Perception Behind Natural Wine
Introduction: Exploring Natural Wine
Wine enthusiasts have seen in the last 30 years a huge revolution not only in the production element of wine, but also to the expansion of new wine regions. There has been a growing interest in wine sparked by the culinary revolution.
Wine plays a huge role in social behaviour, from those who only drink on special occasions to everyday devotees. Few people realise wine also has its own behaviour created by the producer and conveyed through the opening of a bottle, to how the wine reacts in the glass and the inevitable first impression upon taste. Natural wine not only fits into this category with the differences in grape and terroir, but through the producer and the way in which it is made, to how sincerely they believe in the importance of a natural wine making process.
Terroir is used to describe the special characteristics of a particular region in reference to farming. Terroir can only be roughly translated from French as “a sense of place”, which is used for a lack of a better word in English. It has been adopted to describe the unique aspects of soil and climate especially in reference to wine. ‘Terroir’ can specifically refer to a group of vineyards from a particular region, sharing the same soil type, weather, grapes and the methodology in which gives the wine its personality. Terroir is also the focus point of the French Appellation d’origine controle (AOC) wine system. In essence, it distinguishes the land in which the grapes are grown and reveals a quality specific to that site.
Natural wine was reborn as a way of producing wine in alliance with nature. Any winemaker, natural or not, will stress the importance of treating the soil and vines well in order to produce healthy grapes and over time, great wine. Organic and biodynamic farming stresses the husbandry of local ecology even further, supporting the increasing demand for high quality fruit and vegetables. We have now seen this phenomenon spread to the production of wine.
The difference between biodynamic and conventionally made wines is biodynamic growing develops the vineyard’s greatest potential with the aim of not disturbing its natural state. Therefore capturing the essence in bottling and creating an authentic wine. Whereas conventional winemaking endeavors to achieve a particular taste the producer is looking for, compared to the ‘natural’ way of letting the grape harvest decide on the style of wine.
Biodynamic farming is a system of organic farming which was developed by Rudolf Steiner. This embodies the basic principles of organic farming – no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. However it uses techniques such as planting and harvesting according to lunar and solar cycles.
As with any alternate method of farming, change is always met with a degree of apprehension. The introduction of organic and biodynamic farming certainly saw this happen, and especially with nontraditional ‘natural’ farming. The growth of biodynamic farming among winemakers certainly created conflict within the conventional winemaking world. In 2009, Stuart Smith a veteran winegrower of forty years, created a stir in a letter to Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat: “biodynamics is a hoax and deserves the same level of respect we give witchcraft.” Smith continued his offensive on his website named Biodynamics is a Hoax. Smith is a clear example of the trepidation behind the social perception of biodynamic and natural winemaking. Smith continually quotes Steiner to support his argument, and even states “I conclude that Rudolf Steiner was a complete nutcase”.
As a firm believer in biodynamic and natural winemaking, the judgement given by Smith is astonishing. Especially comparing conventional and natural wines – those with sulphur, artificial yeasts and each vintage only marginally changing, to those ever developing natural wines. Natural wines provide not only more interesting flavours from the grape, but the wine’s personality changes from harvest to harvest. Alternate natural wine years allow an even broader form of selection and variety, especially when differentiating from the same grape let alone winemaker. This completely supports natural wine specialist, Doug Wregg’s belief that every wine list should be “a journey from the mouth to the heart”.
Production of ‘natural wine’ is defined as organically or biodynamically grown grapes, being harvested by hand, with no added sugars or artificial yeasts, little or no sulphur, no external flavours and minimal to no fining or filtration. This form of production is not only sustainable but shows the distinction between vineyards in the wine. This reveals the winemaker’s personality, the soil’s history and especially the weather’s influence. However unlike organic or biodynamic vineyards, there is no certification for biodynamic or natural wine, which leaves the process open to criticism. Many conventional winemakers believe this lack of definition and freedom for interpretation, cannot justify ‘natural wine’ as a category for winemaking. Michael Steinberger, an American wine journalist, challenged the term ‘natural’ in a piece written for Slate; “People using the term ‘natural wines’, need to come up with a much more convincing justification for its use, or they need to find a better, less loaded term to describe the wines.”
Steinberger may have a point as many winemakers are excluded from the true ‘natural’ classification through the use of small amounts of sulphur during bottling, which is allowed under biodynamic classification. Finding a way to distinguish natural in a more definitive way from biodynamic would allow a more comprehensive definition and therefore perhaps a more accepted form of winemaking within the conventional world.
Many consumers have bought into the natural wine movement while other enthusiasts remain skeptical of the ‘funky’, farmyard aromas typical of some natural wines. Although some could argue there is an equal divide, the transformation of a true skeptic has certainly been seen. Converting to natural wine should be a slow process enjoyed, rather than being thrown in the deep end and being expected to swim.
The natural wine movement began in Parisian wine bars as winemakers began to become frustrated with trying to achieve the same wine each year and the perfect expectation attached to well known and quality wine. Marcel Lapierre, a Morgon winemaker, also decided to switch to a more natural way of growing and producing wine. Lapierre started to realise he was producing an inferior wine, to one that could be produced naturally and was even known to comment on not being able to drink his own wine, before moving into the natural production world.
The use of sulphur within winemaking is a well-established method of stabilising the wine, preventing disease, and refining a wine. However, natural and even organic winemakers detest the large doses of sulphur used in conventional wines and encourage fellow winemakers to reduce and even abstain from using sulphur altogether. Many natural producers believe sulphur kills off everything, including the raw taste of the grapes. Making wine without sulphur in the winemaking community could even be likened to a cult religious group. Something perhaps Stuart Smith would agree with?
Admittedly some natural wines can be unstable and vary from bottle to bottle, where others allow the grapes to show off their taste. Conventional wines use such a high amount of sulphur, that the everyday supermarket wine drinker might even associate the acidic, tart flavour of a wine with the type of grape, when more often than not they are tasting the sulphur.
The ‘natural wine movement’, as it is known within the wine world, came about as drinkers started to look for a naked, un-tampered wine. This process allowed the grapes, the way the wine is pressed, to how it is stored – be it barreled or not – to shine through, let alone considering the influence of terrior.
Wine and its consumption influence our culture. The demand to know more about how wine is produced, is growing. Wine as a culture is explored by some as an art connoisseur might wander through the Louvre, searching for the Mona Lisa, or a William Turner. For some people, looking at a wine list gives as much pleasure as listening to a cellist explore Bach’s cello suites.
Working in a natural wine bar, seeing the shock met with acceptance within such a short period of time, proves natural wine is under appreciated. Many skeptics enter the bar, ask for the house wine and oppose any recommendations. But on occasion after recommending a biodynamic, if not natural wine to a conventional drinker, many have converted and wanted to learn more about the ‘natural wine’ world. Plus there is always the advantage of no hangover from natural wines – as there are no nasties added to the wine, i.e. sulphur which in essence is poisonous and creates the hangover effect.
The book would continue to explore the different points of view behind both natural and conventional winemaking. It would examine the natural winemaking process, follow the history of the natural wine movement and analyze the reasoning behind the apprehension of nontraditional winemaking.