Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Why most wine isn't natural: a guest blog from my other half
Confession time. It wasn't me who first got into natural wine it was my husband Trevor. He started taking an interest in it a good couple of years ago and to be honest I wasn't that impressed by some of the early bottles we tried - a reaction I see again and again in people coming across natural wine for the first time.
I actually tried to get him to blog about it, as he's frankly read a great deal more than I have about the subject but he's somewhat sceptical about the virtues of blogging. But yesterday, completely out of the blue, he said he'd pulled together some thoughts on why natural wines is so distinct from conventional winemaking. And here they are. My first guest blog. Who knows he may write more . . .
"On the face of it it's pretty easy to say what natural wine is. Natural wine results from processing grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. These grapes are then processed with the absolute minimum intervention possible. There are no added yeasts, only yeasts that are natural to the grapes. No further chemicals are added, no mechanical processes are used and little or no sulphur is added at the bottling stage.
That's all true and measurable. But having said that you haven't really said anything special. Because most people would think that was pretty much what happened in all wine making - by and large. None of that description of the natural wine making process seems particularly extraordinary. “What's the big deal?”
But the fact is that the bulk of winemaking worldwide is totally and utterly different to the natural process, and it is only by getting to understand just what is involved in non-natural wine making, that you can see how the natural winemaking movement's prospectus and objectives are so truly revolutionary.
The natural wine makers have as an over-riding objective to make the best wine possible in the terroir where they are working within the limitations imposed by the climatic conditions in any given year and with the minimal possible intervention. Whereas the objective of the wine business worldwide is to produce a uniform standardized product at the lowest cost year in year out by whatever means possible.
To produce the required result worldwidewine drenches the vineyards in chemical products. This is cheaper and simpler than the labour-intensive process required to create a balanced eco-system within which a healthy and natural equilibrium between insects, plants, nutrients, micro-organisms and, of course, the vines can be established and maintained. If you just slather the vines in chemicals you don't have to worry about any of that – there are no insects or plants or micro-organisms. There are just fragile denatured vines hanging on to a chemical wasteland by the skin of their teeth, And you can lay off a lot of agricultural workers.
When ripe, these grapes are then picked – mechanically usually - and carted away to the processing shed. And all of the grapes - in whatever condition they are in, however affected with rot or bruised or dessicated, are all put to ferment. Not a scrap has to be wasted as that would reduce yield and therefore profitability. And chemical additives exist to “rescue” fruit in whatever condition it finds itself in . Any fault in the basic fruit (and any other faults in the subsequent stages of the process) can be put right by chemical or bio-chemical or mechanical intervention. Like a fond parent “Daddy Chemistry” can always make everything alright .
Or that's how it seems. For just as the poet Philip Larkin said “They fuck you up your Mum and Dad.” And the resultant product is indeed truly “fucked up”. A Pan-European study of 2008 tested 40 different red wines and the results showed that the level of contamination by pesticides was 5800 times higher than that permitted for drinking water, And that was just the level of pesticides never mind insecticides and fungicides – all potential neuro-toxins and carcinogens,
By contrast the natural winemaker refusing chemical intervention will scrupulously cut out and jettison all but fruit in prime condition, as to leave it in would compromise the quality of the resultant wine. So no need of chemicals at this stage either. In every part of the process their objective is simply quality – the best quality that can be obtained with the fruit at their disposal from their chosen terroir in the prevailing climactic conditiones. It is a matter of respect in the last analysis – respect for nature and the vinyards and respect for the consumer."
And I'll get him to answer any comments you have on his post ;-)