Natural wine has been a true cultural movement over the last decade.
Epic in my imagination, replete with romance and an expanding cast of interesting and unique players.
It has also been a beacon of sorts, heralding a new approach to winemaking that paralleled a growing consumer ethos about the food they consume and their relationship to the planet itself.
It’s been happening everywhere at once at a dizzying speed.
From early renegades on hillsides from Beaujolais to Arbois. From Etna to the Sierra Foothills. From garages in Berkeley and Portland to the vineyards straddling Kras and Carso.
Some were quiet farmers just doing what felt right. Some like Salvo Foti and Frank Cornelissen were leaders in the truest sense of the word. Some like Sandi Skerk, simply geniuses at their craft.
This is the stuff of mythos.
In the early days, I blogged like crazy about it.
It was a fever of excitement.
Discovering a tiny producer making natural and wonderful Grillo in Marsala was an epiphany ripe for an outpouring of delight.
Some three years ago, for me at least, things changed. The old school category haters were marginalized and the market had embraced the change.
Natural winemakers were popping up literally everywhere, making better quality and more interesting natural wine.
I grew sanguine, sat back and enjoyed the wine and new friends with more ease than excitement. I held court at tastings but was not as fired up to share.
In the past year though something has been pulling me back in.
There is something fresh going on, something naturally inventive that has taken the early and easy dogma of what is natural, to a new level.
So what’s really the difference?
Put aside that there is way more interesting, more varied and higher quality natural wine from small producers at better prices than every before.
Put aside the rise of the wine micro market where somehow, there is ample market buying power to support the most worthy–be they affordable and accessible from Bow & Arrow or the pricey yet staunchly mind boggling Grenache Blanc from Ambyth.
To me, there are two things happening in parallel, each feeding the other.
First is almost a rewriting of the almanac of winemaking itself.
After a generation of winemakers, many first timers, turning their backs on manipulation and focusing on the vineyard and experimentation, the game has changed.
This has unleashed a furor of creativity of what can be done in a natural environment–without adding sulfur, with a dizzying array of blends, methods, fermentation methods, not to mention the sleuthing out of the most obscure grape varieties and plots of ancient forgotten vines.
This is a renaissance of experimentation made possible by knowledge, by a sharing information. And a new canvas of taste made entirely with natural pigments.
The second is a leap so bear with me.
The new world never really had a true wine culture.
We had crazed geeks (me)—and everyone else. We grew into gaggles of enthusiasts, gathering at shops and restaurants. We had communities, most notably #winelovers, which exploded in size and influence bringing together producers and consumers for the first time.
But something more profound is happening.
Maybe because today, they make wine everywhere. Not just Sonoma or the Santa Ynez Valley—but in Virginia and New Jersey.
People—not geeks like myself—but everyone are tasting where they live and travel. Local wine itself is at every Green Market across the country.
I remember a bunch of years ago, my friend Fabio from Vino Ambiz in Spain came out with a crazy wine label listing all the things he didn’t do to the wine.
He and hundreds of winemakers just went transparent about how and why they make their juice. The result of this producer driven disclosure has created a new, highly informed generation of wine lovers.
I stopped in at a wildly popular tasting at Chambers Street Wines where Jon Bonne was doing 45-minute speed seminars on the Jura. Jon’s a great storyteller but he digs deep. He talks about soil and elevation, fermentation and Biodynamics, added sulpher and skin contact.
People simply got it.
People-the market middle itself-have become as educated about wine as they are about their food.
Not completely but it is getting there fast.
To me this is it.
Has natural wine crossed over? Yes and no.
It was a catalyst for this change certainly.
What has resulted is not a religious fervor as we had in the early days but a wine culture that is part of a cultural change generally towards food and wine and life.
One that is based on exposure and knowledge and a new standard of what we like and will support.
I find less people waving a natural wine flag as we did in the beginning.
I find an entire generation on producers and consumers, meeting with a new understanding.
For a long time now the discriminating market has demanded transparency in what we consume. Walk around your Green Market or your local Whole Foods.
The change is that wine is now part of that. It’s acculturation in the best sense of the idea.
As I spread out a dozen bottles this weekend for our holiday dinner, they will be from all over, of every type, many made by first generation winemakers.
All natural. All delicious.
We have the pioneering work of people like Christian Ducroux, Giusto Occhipinti and Frank Cornelissen to thank for this.