natural wine

Experimental trumps spiritual

Resurgences of older techniques & materials throughout various phases of grape growing/winemaking are in surplus as of late. People are reverting back to clay & indigenous woods (palm, chestnut, etc.), longer skin macerations, reviving autochthonous grape varietals on the verge of extinction, and plenty more. The results are, if done correctly, captivating. In our ever-lusting thirst for purpose, experimentation, and melding modern with centuries-old tactics and methods, are there occurrences that take this quest too far?

I recently hit up Chicago toting Jill Mott Selections - a slew of wines from Asturias, Bierzo, and Segovia that certainly satisfied the windy city. While there, I met up with my crew; a band of folks who deeply care about provenance, history, process, and lore. When they taste wine, they go deep - I miss this interaction more than I can utter. Educational bottles were being cracked in earnest, but also with acute standards & meaning. A jolly fellow decided to lug a magnum from his cellar that bode the region Arbois. That's all I will mention for now. An indigenous grape was carefully fermented & aged in a vessel that is receiving accolades for its unbeknownst foresight when first crafted thousands of years ago. The clay this wine was reared in hailed from & was fired some 3,800 km away. This hasn't been the first instance of curiosity/study breeding an ambrosial delight and we all know that so many of the world's greatest wines are not born in even remotely local vessels.

I want to be very clear; I thought the wine was delightful to drink & tasting it decanted versus not decanted was a decent experiment to put it lightly. The native Arbois red grape in Georgian qvevri had an air of disingenuousness about it, certain pieces missing, or maybe it was speckled with false hopes. My crux was that the educational experiment was joyful but didn't seem truthful. Why did this matter? It bothered me the entire flight home & it shouldn't have. The wine was pretty and fun to drink in the company of great comrades in life. Wines from the U.S. are aged in French oak all the time! People in France are aging wine in Spanish clay and in some cases, this clay was dug of  Chinese soil and fired in Spain!

I guess I just pondered this Arbois' potential in wood grown in close proximity to its spiritual home; Neuchatel or Vosges oak perhaps. Something seemed all too commercially exploited about an intrinsic, isolated place such as Georgia (that I already fear will succumb to capitalistic bait) shipping a 1,000L vessel across Europe. Clay feels so alive, historic, rustic, and humble. This experiment felt like a well-read peasant knowing the nobility is trying to blow a fast one by her.

End all be all, the wine was nothing short of delicious but supplied a lack of spiritual authenticity. 

Blind tasting + current terroir notions

Blind tasting is a rather brilliant skill that requires sagaciousness and phenomenal sensory memory. A dash of good luck doesn't hurt either.

Lately, whenever I blind taste, I'm fascinated with our current terroir associations. A word that encompasses centuries if not millennia of distilling evolutionary & cultural change seems surely marked with modern-day viticultural & enological advances. If I polled 100 sommeliers from around the world and asked them to describe [name a famous worldly region here], I'm certain I would receive succinct, fairly accurate descriptors via their experiences with said region. These adjectives can be stripped down to reflect a genesis worth mentioning: Cultured yeasts, temperature-control, stainless steel, excessive SO2... In reality, the majority of our sensory memories we use to judge and decipher wines are bulked with technological advancements that do anything but shine light on true fields, surroundings, natural/honest cellar practices, and vintage variation. Hmmmm. Is terroir the correct word then?

The above elements of wine making can make for delicious wine no doubt, but a direct reflection of where the fruit/wine is from? Hundreds of years of wisdom collected cum snapshot of a place? Nowadays we're familiar with winemakers having access to great quality organic and biodynamic fruit, fermenting via indigenous yeasts, fermenting/ageing in vessels native to their region (chestnut/acacia/etc.), using less SO2 than in the past, and dealing with warmer climates thus able to pick certain grapes in northerly climates with more consistent, earlier ripening cycles. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Intrinsic winemakers are delivering wines reminiscent of Vouvray but hailing from the Central Coast in California! Is this what California is capable of? Is this the beginnings of new terroir in action in the making? What about the hundreds of producers throughout Europe and beyond crafting the most honest and challenging natural wines of our times that do not reflect terroir based on a mere 50 years of sensory memory but a most pure expression of their land and surroundings and availabilities?

All this to say, I think the word, "terroir" will be even more leaded 100 years from now than it is today and just as yeasts are so intricately distinct from one parcel to the next, there will be thousands more terroirs to distinguish between. Thank you to all the vignerons who farm and live their grapes and vines. Thank you for giving us these thousands of new intricacies to even attempt to discern. We'll need all the luck we can when we decide to brown bag...