Natty or Conventional?
Daniel Lubetzky is the son of a holocaust survivor and Mexican immigrant billionaire in the US. He is the founder of 'Kind Cereal Bars' and now a social entrepreneur who believes polarisation and tribalism are threatening the social fabric.
He also has a plan to counter the culture wars. His 'Starts with us' movement aims to foster greater compassion and critical thinking to counter polarisation in Society in America and beyond.
Listening to this incredibly powerful speaker talking about his beliefs got me thinking about the polarisation of the wine industry since the advent of Natural Wine.
Like the rest of the great 'them and us' debates at the moment, Brexit, Immigration, etc, Natural Wine has become a divisive thing in the wine industry. Natty wine is most popular with the younger wine drinkers, generally urban, educated, working in hospitality, left of centre etc. Conventional wine (let's use this term for any non organic wines, made with standardized techniques and manipulations used in mainstream wine production) tends to be more the tipple of the slightly older drinker, let's say 55 plus, been enjoying wine for 30 years, grew up on Claret, Chilean Reds and NZ Sauvignon in the nineties. These are of course very broad generalisations but you get the idea.
It is a bit of a problem, that is to say that on one side some consumers reject the whole idea of natural wine. They think it basically faulty, certainly weird, with a cloudy appearance and yeasty cidery aromas. I remember David Gleave MW of Liberty wines completely slamming Natural Wine as a concept, calling it faulty and undrinkable. On the other side Natty lovers reject conventional wine because they think it is all poor quality, boring and standardized, not too mention damaging to the environment. There is also this sense that each side thinks the other 'hasn't got a clue about wine'. So the same polarisation that is growing in politics and society is pushing consumers wider apart in the world of wine. Even the terms have become somewhat toxic, mention 'Natural Wine' to some and they quietly walk out. Conventional wine would have most natty wine lovers reaching for a beer instead.
So what to do? Well, being a 'Naturalista' myself of course, I certainly believe that natural or at the very least organic is the way forward. From an environmental perspective, it seems obvious to me that we must embrace organic farming and aim for the vines we grow to be as sustainable as possible. We must also aim to protect the land for future generations and of course reduce the carbon footprint of the wine industry. In terms of drinking the stuff, things like natural ferments and reducing intervention makes for better wine in my opinion.
But I like to think of myself as a moderate, or at least someone who tries to empathise and see the other side. For sure, there are some pretty conventionally made wines which are pleasant drinking, in fact we even sell a few, made by producers who we have known for years and do a good job albeit, pretty conventionally. I would urge these growers to move towards organic farming but should I be telling them what is good wine and what is not?
Daniel Lubetzky believes there is a silent majority in the middle of the 'us versus them' discourse which is hijacking debate in the US. He thinks the answer is to mobilise this silent majority as they want a different way forward. Perhaps we should be aiming for the same thing in wine. It should not be Natty or Conventional, it should be not my style, or prefer it a little clearer. After all, not all natural wine is cloudy and shitty smelling and not all conventional wine is characterless and boring. Natural and Conventional are methods of production, not styles of wines. And even within those methods, there are tons of differences. Some of the natural growers use sulphur, some don't, some conventional would still never add acid or enzymes although fining, filtering and sulphiting, they see as essential for a stable, clean wine.
Perhaps the main thing is to expose some of these mysterious methods and differences in wine production and discuss them in more detail with customers. Also we should not dismiss wines or producers outright without first listening to what they say and tasting their wine with an open mind.
In the end , if you ask most wine drinkers the same question, they probably have similar answers....
Do you like drinking lots of different styles of wine?
Do you want wine production to be sustainable so it carries on for generations to come and looks after the land?
Do you think wine needs to be affordable for most people? (let's not examine what that word means at this point, then we get into another debate entirely)
Would you like to know a little bit more about how wine is produced?
I reckon most wine drinkers natty or not would answer yes to these questions and so basically we all want the similar things. There is scope for moving together in the right direction, learning from each other and having a much more friendly debate about natural wine. I'll drink to that!
Natty or Conventional? Take the test with our mixed case...
We have put together a case of six bottles which directly compare similar wines from both sides of the production debate. Firstly two Primitivo, both Riserva classification, both old vines. One is certified organic and some biodynamic methods, the other fairly old school but conventional production from our friend and long standing producer, Francesco Mocavero. Next, two whites from the Veneto. Both are unoaked however there are differences in Geography and soil type. The Soave is old vines and up in the hills in the northern Soave region. Filippo Filippi also follows biodynamic principles. The Lugana is from the beautiful Ca Lugana estate on the shores of Lake Garda which is still run by Ambra and Franco Tiraboschi, although they are in the seventies. Although they are not a natural winery, their focus is certainly quality and low as possible interventions in the vines. Lastly, two country wines from the south of France. The Fitou Roudene is a family run winery in Roussillon, not natural but let's say still with tradition running through what they do. We are comparing that with our great value natty CDR favourite, Les Oliviers from Estezargues near the Pont du Gard. So, taste the wines together, decide which you prefer and let us know or leave a review on the website about the comparison. Cin Cin.