Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Quick Quote on Natural Wine...

I was recently asked for a quote for a local newspaper on my definition of a 'natural wine.'  I quickly started typing thinking I could make it short and sweet, and get to my next email quickly... I was wrong.  I started typing and couldn't stop myself... My usual passion on the subject boiled over, and so I thought I'd share it here with you as well.

The article is on natural, sustainable & biodynamic wines. The topic being such a controversial one not only here in Europe, but also in the small geeky wine circles of NYC, SF, LA and beyond... I thought I'd throw some coal on the fire...

"The definition of a 'Natural Wine' has been for a while, and continues to be a very hot topic.  In general, especially in America, we tend to want things put into neat little boxes; an organic wine has x, y and z, and is different from a biodynamic wine because of a, b and c.  Clean, concise 'rules' that define the category.  The reality of the situation is that wine is art, obviously here I am not talking about the industrial sized producers that make 'beverages' and get to call them wine, but the small artisanal producers. Wine is subjective... and hence we cannot attach these strict parameters that everyone continues to try and define.  What organic and biodynamic wine means to me and alike minds is often very different to what it means to many of the various certifying bodies in Italy and Europe.  The new EU standards for organic certified wines are a very far cry from what every single one of the organic producers I work with and know, have as their own parameters for sulfur used, and treatments allowed in the vineyard.  These laws were made by, and for, the large industrial estates who want to jump on the organic marketing band wagon.  What I love about natural wine is that we can't, nor (I hope) will we ever be able to put it in a nice neat box allowing someone with a clipboard and a fanny pack to come to our estates and decide if we are indeed making 'natural' wine or not.  It is and was a movement born from producers wanting to experiment with making wine in just that manner, as naturally as possible.  For most people, as well as producers, this means absolutely minuscule to zero sulfites ADDED to the wine (important differentiation as this does not apply to the already naturally occurring sulfites in the wine).  This being said, the natural wine movement is a philosophy and a way of thinking and a way of farming... so we can say, for these producers, a way of life.  Unfortunately the natural wine argument normally just talks about the sulfites, but for me the even more important fact is that I know that these producers that are making 'natural wines,' are not only farming organically and often biodynamically... they don't even need to be certified, or care to be, because the idea of poisoning their land with herbicides and pesticides, or over use of copper is a given, it doesn't need to be proven by a sticker or a emblem that just costs more money and causes more headaches.  I am not against certification of course, but for me just seeing the certification is not enough, I'll need to see the vineyards, taste the wine, and above all, get to know the artist making the wine.  Instead, if someone pours me a 'natural' wine, I can for the most part, rest assured that this producer is natural from the vines to the cellar.  Final clarification on natural wines... not all natural wines are good wines.  As always, the wine needs to make you want a second glass... it needs to be drinkable, and enjoyable, as well as be made with respect to the land and hence ourselves."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thoughts on Paying $175 for a Headache...

As I've written before, my mission is to convince people that it is just as important to drink 'organic' wines, and know where your wines come from as it is your food.  Shopping at Whole Foods, and drinking wine that is full of chemicals just doesn't make sense.   It's like going to whole foods and asking for the 'caged' meat section.

I am not ashamed to admit that, because of facility, we almost always drink Indie Wines at home.  If not 'Indies,' then wines of friends or wines gifted to us by winemaker friends... as in any industry, birds of a feather flock together.  Wine making and vine growing philosophies form friendships and circles that have rather heavily armed borders.

There is nothing better than drinking a wine of one of our friends to celebrate, or share with our dinner table... creating a new 'discovery' for our guests.  We'll then talk about that producer friend, Fabrizio will undoubtedly stand up and start telling some funny story that happened a million years ago, and it becomes almost as if that producer friend is with us at the table.  For our guests, it becomes almost as if they come to know that producer friend as well... drinking the wine they made, and listening to us giggle over stories of past encounters.

When we are at wine fairs, they are almost always 'natural' and small organic wine fairs, where I can count on the fact that the wines I am tasting are all made in the old style, aka 'organically,' (which as we know, is how all wines were once made - and had no 'title' or category), whether certified or not.

When we dine out, again, we'll order the wines of our friends, or wines that whom ever we're dining with recommends and want to share with us.  Or, we'll ask the advice of the wine director to recommend something within some given parameters.

I would never think to pigeon hole myself and my continuing exploration of the wine world by saying; "I only drink organic."  It feels wrong even writing that... it's like saying, "I only eat at Michelin star restaurants." Or; "I only eat Italian."  Well, maybe not exactly, but I think you all understand where I'm going.

However, after a recent experience... the reality of the importance of what our producers, and the producers of the same philosophy as ours are doing came crashing down.  Again.

Fabrizio and I went out to celebrate our recent engagement at a local enoteca, owned by a friend. He carries Fabrizio's wines, as well as the wines of many of our friends.  Fabrizio's Italian distributor, who also focuses on organic and biodynamic wines sells many of the wines from his portfolio to this wine bar as well.  We asked the owner to choose a Champagne, and I added; "a GOOD one," with a smile, which means - 'we're splurging.'

I will not disclose the producer, but we enjoyed every sip of the wine that evening.  In fact, I quickly looked it up to see if it was already being brought into the US.  Delicious, balanced, incredible acidity - fresh and bright.  It went down smoothly and easily.  We shared a few glasses with friends, so I'd say between Fabrizio and I we drank a little more than half the bottle (nothing for us :).

We went on to have dinner at another restaurant.  We each drank a glass of a local Grignolino, which we knew was farmed organically.  No after dinner drink, no coffee... went home and called it a night.

To explain the headache I had the next day is impossible with words.  Imagine a wood clamp on your head, all day, making reading, eating, walking, anything - painful.  Fabrizio was also eating Advil like they were potato chips - and he will never take anything.  Horrible.  Of course, we both knew right away it was the Champagne.  In fact, even thinking back on the label makes me wince in pain.  Sulfites, and everything-else-chemical that we're not used to drinking.

While I'd rather not suffer quite that terribly to have my little epiphanies, I'm glad to have had the reminder.  A few glasses of this wine and we were both devastated for a day... what about the earth these vines are growing on?  There can't be anything left alive in that soil with the amount of chemicals this estate is using (again, this is not fact, but my and Fabrizio's pretty educated opinions).  The vines are most likely essentially on life support... it being impossible for them to develop any immune system of their own with all the intervention and 'dumping' that must go on.

What about the families and children that live on or near this estate?  My mind goes on and on about the ramifications of all the irresponsible farming and wine making that is still going on (and not to even get started on the food industry).  With the obvious suffering of our mother earth, and the how angry the environment is, and not to mention what is happening to our health as a human race (cancer, infertility rates), and the other members of the animal kingdom we share the planet with, the bee's, the fish, and on and on and on, how the HELL are there still people out there that feel good and ok about dumping all of these chemical products on their land and their plants that they then eat and drink off of??

So, I retract my earlier statement that I would never pigeon hole myself into saying that; "I only drink organic."  I would like to get as close to that as possible... not everyone can be certified, and with the new EU Organic standards, certification doesn't make all that much difference anyway.  However, I can know where my wine comes from, who makes it - who imports it, and be an educated drinker.  I implore all of you to do the same, if you don't know the producer, know your importer, there are plenty of fantastic importers in the US now - lucky for us.  Period.  One of our most potent rights is to boycott and choose what we spend our money on.  Let's not spend it supporting the people polluting our earth, and hence ourselves.

The grand finale; the wine we drank, and that stole a day of our lives, costs $175 in NY.

Thanks but I'll take the  Pithon Paille Cremant de Loire for $40 ANYDAY, I don't care if CHAMPAGNE is not written on the label.