IS NATURAL WINE ONLY PHILOSOPHY?


Natural is the new Green. But Green has evolved from the 70’s hippie and 80’s/90’s grunge, Green is now natural, clean, very clean, so clean that it has become transparent. Yes the new Green is transparent. No footprint. No smell. No left-over. As if it has no physical existence. So does the new Green have a taste, or is this just philosophy?

With this in mind, we wanted to focus on what Humanity invented more than 8000 years ago: wine. Why wine? Because wine contains a paradox: it is directly made from an agricultural product yet having a high cultural value (which, for instance, a salad hasn’t. Yet?). And also because wine is – should be – a physical representation of its context. Where could we then imagine this value coming from?  The processing itself (no process for the salad) ? In the wine world, the value comes actually from both the grapes quality and the processing quality. Wine therefore is helpful to understand how a product can encapsulate two closely tied concepts: taste & culture and how this generates its intrinsic value.

So, what is obvious is that if you need to reach a high grapes quality, you have to take the most of what Mother Nature has to offer and therefore understand and respect its laws, what we call natural cycles and biotopes (the environmental conditions). Then, first respect the soil, its genuine characteristics and feeding properties (geology & climatology), what we call terroir. Then the vines & grapes (variety selection, no pesticides, manual harvest etc.). You’ll then have the highest grape quality. Next comes the sap (the wine before it becomes wine) and the wine making process. Respectful of what you already achieved, you just want to let nature do (no foreign elements like bacteria, yeasts, sugar, acidity, minerality, mouth-feel, color or flavor adjustments, sulphur etc.) and then preserve what it did (wine growing or élevage). Then, we think, you’ll have a perfect wine. A naturally grown and artisanally processed product, ‘perfectly’ mirroring its terroir as well as the hands which crafted it.

Does such a wine exist and, if yes, are all the wines like this? Nature is sometimes generous, sometimes not. And humanity has learnt how to take control over the natural cycles and processes, slavering soils to clinical death, monitoring the whole winemaking process to erase the diversity coming from the natural factors. So much than we even can ‘make it happen’ when Nature decided it won’t (e.g. ‘cloud seeding’ with silver iodide) and lift wine making to an industrial level. Here we are: the limitation choice. Artisanal or industrial? Let’s think value: do we have to think market value or intrinsic value ? And does the market reflect the intrinsic value, or does intrinsic value have a market in the wine world? Which value  does the market consider? Sales & marketing potential? What in any case is obvious is that the limitation and a respectful qualitative making process are generating value. The intrinsic value. So what about wines that follow another type of processing? Most of the time they belong to categories where you can produce large quantities on a regular (yearly) basis. And the international market likes large regular quantities of standardized products. Even if high-end products. Large? Standardized? Isn’t this the opposite of rarity, diversity?  Isn’t this the opposite of our ‘perfect’ wine?

In such a growing– luxury – worldwide mass market environment, can our ‘small’ wines survive and what can be their place?  Limitation comes from natural and accepted factors: time, qualified workforce, terroir (which is by essence limited), natural cycles. Not from a management or a marketing decision. Natural wines just can’t be produced in large quantities because of their intrinsic limitation factors. What we call ‘bonding Nature’. So is this drawing their value limit, or, on the opposite, isn’t this drawing the value limit of the other wines?  When your product sets the qualitative reference as a permanent, non alterable yet highly fragile value, shouldn’t we call it luxury ?

Some wines, as an apparent paradox, raise essential questions. Sustainable development, diversity, true value. Is this only philosophy?

In the next article, we take a walk on the wild side and see what really is a natural wine. Is it “transparent” and how, and does it taste any different ?