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Blog: Anne Krebiehl on natural wine book launch

Published:  01 December, 2011

Last night, some of the UK's finest winos braved the November cold to come to Artisan & Vine in Clapham where Kathryn O'Mara welcomed them to the official launch of "Authentic Wine - Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking", a new and inquiring book by Dr Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW.

Last night, some of the UK's finest winos braved the November cold to come to Artisan & Vine in Clapham where Kathryn O'Mara welcomed them to the official launch of "Authentic Wine - Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking", a new and inquiring book by Dr Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW.

The authors mingled with, amongst others, a whole gaggle of MWs including Justin Howard-Sneyd, Sarah-Jane Evans, Dirceu Vanna Jr, and David Gleave; Tesco's Dan Jago; scribblers like Guy Woodward, Jim Budd, Patrick Schmitt, Victoria Moore, Joe Wadsack, Anthony Rose, Anthony Neather, Oz legend Nick Stock and yours truly as well as other friends from the trade:  Nick Oakley, David Harvey, Doug Wregg and Karl Coombes, winemaker at Denbies whose lovely white wine served as aperitif to this lively crowd.

Rather than leaving all of these wine lovers to witter and splutter amongst themselves, the authors and O'Mara had come up with a structure to the evening that sought to answer the same question as the book, namely "What is authentic wine?"  To facilitate this, each table was served four white wines blind with a delicious buffalo mozzarella and caponata starter, followed by four red wines, also served blind, alongside an aromatic longhorn beef stew.

As people started sniffing and swirling, Goode was the first to speak: "Natural wine polarises people," he explained, "so we came up with a concept of authentic wine."  For the authors, so Goode, authenticity in wine meant five things:  adding as little as possible, having a sense of place, being fault free, being harvested at the right time (i.e. avoiding overripeness), and most importantly of all, being sustainable.  Admitting that they had "opened a can of worms" they thought that this definition was more inclusive than the term "natural wine," which Goode said "has been one of the most exciting movements."  He exclaimed that their book was really "a terroir manifesto."

To illustrate how elastic the terms of authenticity and naturalness are, both David Gleave MW of Liberty Wines and Doug Wregg of Caves de Pyrène were asked to speak. Of the eight wines served blind, Gleave and Wregg had each chosen and provided four, to further underline their points.  Gleave first referred to American writer Matt Kramer's distinction between two kinds of wine:  wines that have a sense of place or "somewhereness" and wines that have "nowhereness."  He noted that the wine trade should do well to remember that "we're in the job of pleasing the customer" who expects a certain consistency and that an artisan rather than an artist winemaker provided consistency.  "Consistency starts in the vineyard and, as a buyer, this is the key place to look."  Gleave then enumerated his four enemies of "somewhereness": high yields, overripeness, killing fruit with too much oak and faults like reduction, oxidation VA and brett.  For Gleave, a good winemaker is "a guardian" of the fruit who does not have to intervene too much.  His savoury Pieropan Soave and Fontodi's enticing Flaccianello supported his point, as did Vanya Cullen's SB/Semillon blend and the brooding, velvety Greenstone Shiraz from Heathcote.  O'Mara had the honour of revealing the wines and both Gleave and Wregg took turns explaining their choices.

"I don't like the term 'natural wine'," said Wregg when it was his turn to speak, "it's a semantic thing."  "Natural wines," said Wregg, "express their sense of terroir without intervention.  Industrial farming," he continued, "has abused beautiful land.  Sustainability is kicking in."  Picking up on Gleave's point Wregg stated "winemakers are artists and artisans and they make the wine they want to drink."  But he also explained that "some of our producers just make 600 bottles and in a way they are much freer than people making wines for supermarkets, they can be creative."  Talking about faults he said "more and more natural winemakers have been to oenological school, they know what they are doing and have rejected certain teachings."  Wregg made passionate points: "There is so much rubbish out there, so much homogeneity.  We want each region of the world to express itself. I strongly believe in terroir... It's all about diversity, in a world of globalisation the notion of diversity is important, we need natural wine." Likening natural wine to sourdough bread and unpasteurised cheese and their often funky flavours he concluded: "I don't want consistency, I want authenticity."  His razor-sharp Chardonnay from 150-year-old vines in the Jura as well as an earthy, spicy Dard et Ribo St Joseph eloquently supported his argument.

Post-dinner the floor raised some questions:  Woodward wondered if once again the trade was talking to itself when it came to natural wine, while Rose asked "does it taste better?"  In response, Goode felt that "natural wine has caused a shift in the conventional world."  Just by being extreme, it raised questions.  Gleave remarked that "diversity also means diversity of opinion."

To conclude, Harrrop spoke: "We wanted to have this event today with people from the trade to create a stir, to focus on the notion of authentic wine."  Thanking both Gleave and Wregg for their open-minded participation, Harrop emphasised "two suppliers in the trade believe in diversity, both believe in authenticity.  Where there is reasoned debate there is progress."

With their very readable and well-researched book, Goode and Harrop shed light on many viticultural and oenological practices, ask pertinent questions and aim to answer them fairly, giving voice to a number of opinions, and many sides to every story, never forgetting their scientific rigour and enquiring spirit - or their love of wine and land.  They provoke thought and that indeed is progress.  Read it and form your own opinions.