People taste as much with their hearts and beliefs as they do with their palates.
I’ve been discovering this personally through my blog, around natural wine, for years.
Early on, it was just an attraction to the small producer. The artisan.
I remember hanging out with Bunny and Art Finklestein drinking wine and eating cheese while they were constructing their Howell Mountain vineyard 20+ years ago. Art talking about his gravity feed pump system and me understanding almost nothing.
But it connected these wonderful people, their stewardship of nature, their passion for the environment to the glass I was holding in my hand.
I used artisanal and natural as synonyms, rightly or wrongly.
I spent years thinking about why there was a magic connection between an approach to making wine naturally and a liveliness and effervescence in the glass? Why it was simply more interesting, more terroir forward in the best of bottles? Why this was palpable and delicious and damn inspiring for the heart, the head and the body?
Natural wine to me was akin to what Alberto Giacometti said about his stone sculptures—that the truest most perfect forms are discovered with the least chisel strokes. Simple in the process, powerful in its impact.
I typified industrialized wines as the opposite, more a painting, created on a blank canvass to a preordained market profile created with additives as paints and a neutralized fruit as the base.
Something has changed for me—maybe moved up an evolutionary notch along with our modern culture itself.
There is a global cultural change around food in general, around wellness and health that has made me look at wine not differently as much as more layered.
Less about an absolute pursuit of natural taste than about understanding the parameters of these tastes, within an ethos of belief about agriculture and even larger—around ecology and our cultural responsibility for it.
This is everywhere in the food world.
Endless quality artisanal brands categorically under an umbrella of designators—local, organic, gmo and gluten free, free range, wild caught.
We expect great taste, within an umbrella of our beliefs. Within our ethos of what we feel comfortable eating and consuming. We as a market support it and empower it to happen with our dollars.
I simply never thought about it with wine until recently.
Why does AmByth Estates dry farm in the heat of Paso Robles? Why do winemakers in climates like Virginia work to make wines organically against climatic odds? Why are winemakers, sometime prematurely, just saying no to any added sulfur at all.
I can only answer from my perspective.
This is less about simply returning to the past, to a traditional, pre-industrial agricultural approach. Although that is part of it.
This is about ethos. About stewardship of the land as a responsibility.
About a belief that in nature, informed by science and understanding, we can create great products, be they wine or food. That are delicious to the taste. That connects to our hearts. And that challenges our understandings and intellects.
Not easy but it can be done. And it is being done everywhere. And with a global market to support it.
There are farmers producing just great wine in centuries old ways on land owned for generations. Naturally. Think of Christian Ducroux as a example.
There are new age winemakers who are accomplishing similar things, very differently.
Producers like La Clarine Farms, Broc, Dirty & Rowdy in California who are making astoundingly high quality, truly delicious wine, completely naturally.
Just as these producers believe in nature, I think they also rely on human nature, to provide a market for them.
And it does. The best sell out all the time. The best are happily bought even though the prices can be high.
We are drinking something that connects us to the ethos of the winemaker and the delight—even a celebration—that it can be done and done so well.
So—what’s the change here?
Five or so years ago, I had to search hard for really excellent natural wine. It was a stretch at scale.
Today, there is an endless supply. I can’t possibly taste it all—from Istria and Armenia, Slovenia and the Canary Islands to Greenpoint and the Sacramento foothills.
The reason is that the market and its beliefs, and those of the producers, have coalesced.
And with that have created a new scale of excellence along with an economy to support it.
This is a rare instance when what the market wants is also best for the consumer and the producer both.
And while it is a seriously huge stretch, glass of natural wine in hand, I’m happily believing that it is equally best for the planet as well.