Culture and taste are always in flux.
Some changes roll in with generations quietly and surface as our children come of age and make their own decisions. This is evolution in play.
Some, like rock and roll, or abstract expressionism, grate on the present and redefine the future from the moment we notice them. Revolutionary at their core.
The difference between evolution and revolution may be nothing less then the visceral response of the status quo to the change itself. The aggressiveness of the reaction as a tipping point that warp speeds the change into a mass culture phenomenon or a niche of significance.
There’s an analog here to the natural wine movement.
The ‘vitriol’ of the industry natural wine dissenters (as Eric Asimov describes in his post) is disproportionally vehement considering that just 1% of the wine sold today comes under the category of natural. Their response is in a word, ‘unnatural’.
Somehow, there is a thread connecting this tiny natural wine movement and a global cultural awareness around health, love of the artisanal and consumer empowerment. I see this happening steadily, and believe this is what the natural wine deniers are responding to, consciously or not.
There is a seed of big disruption in a profoundly simple idea that has been given new prominence by the attention of its detractors. A wild marketing idea that I could never have dreamed up.
How does the social web play into this?
Much has been written on how the real-time nature of the social web has created a globally local mindset. The artisanal in food, arts, crafts and music has become a common universal thread. The power and reach of the web has enabled a personal relationship between each of us and artisans of every description, everywhere.
This connection of the broader market to artisanal winemakers and a natural approach to winemaking is quickly becoming a reality. Natural wine as a category has a small but profound foothold within the consumer’s perspective of the wine world.
I’m starting to believe that the railing against natural wine by many in the wine establishment is an indicator that this shining niche of an ideal may indeed be a disruptor of real significance.
Natural wines connect the winemaker to a traditional past but also to a global consumer that is more eco-aware, more concerned about how things are made. And a consumer more personally responsive to how factory workers in China are treated when they make iPads and to how the cotton in our jeans is processed. And mostly how our food is grown and how this affects our health and our families.
From a business perspective, the numbers support this. In the US alone last year, there was an approx 17% increase in the consumption of goods labeled as organic, not to mention the explosion of green markets and the farm to table categories.
On network news this past week, they were talking about the 50+% increase in Whole Foods stock prices and the viability of the natural foods investment category. They even discussed the health benefits and market possibilities of raw ice cream!
People do care. It is the mass culture of an informed population demanding health and information and a chance for a smarter life. They are voting with their dollars. This is no short-lived trend.
I can’t help but believe that in the wine world, the noises made by the detractors to natural wine, are in this case, the canary in the mineshaft of change.
All the hubbub about this tiny group of people with passionate personal beliefs on how to make great wine ha ironically connected it to a perfect storm of global market change around artisanal products, health and information transparency.
This world was just a click away… and now it’s connected.
So now what?
Passionate enthusiasts, including myself, have been blogging about this idea of a more traditionalist approach to making wonderful wine for years now. And the number of restaurants, bars and wine shops in the category has slowly increased.
In very few of my blog posts do I call out what *wasn’t* done during the making of wine. I focus on the care in the vineyards that enabled an organic and natural approach from vine to bottle.
I often get asked to explain why I’m so impassioned about this approach to wine making. I start with taste and a connecting story. Sometime we talk organic or biodynamic, sometimes about sulfites.
But now that the din of awareness has risen, people are starting to ask me about additives. About whether the vines are genetically manipulated. About a lot that I simply don’t know and hadn’t thought that much about prior.
It feels as if something is out of the closet. With purpose or not.
Heightened awareness creates opportunities. The best-known enthusiasts like Isabelle Legeron, Fiona Beckett and Alice Feiring are being lifted into prominence quickly. In London this May, there are not one but two competing natural wine events. And in Oregon this summer, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference will do a session on how the market is responding to this category.
This rise of attention is already having effect. Boutique wine shops are becoming the center of a new class of interested consumers. And it’s spawned a new group of natural distributors and direct-to-consumer web sites.
I think we are witnessing the evolutionary process of the wine world entering the modern consumer era on the social web. The need for transparency of information access has never been greater.
In New York where I live, more quality natural wine is becoming available. Last week was Natural Winemakers Week and this week there were tastings of Biodynamic winemakers seemingly everywhere. Pioneering wine shops like Chambers Street Wines are growing and being joined by a host of others. Choice is growing. The consumer is the winner.
I’m starting to believe that natural wines has crossed the chasm…from a quiet idea to an influencing reality that will impact the industry in bigger and positive ways.
Evolution. Revolution. Or just a blip.
This feels like rock and roll.
Maybe unplugged and at low volume but certainly natural wine is out of the closet. With a beat the mass market just may be able to dance to.