People seems to be still undecided about natural wines, whether they are Organic, Biodynamic, Sustainable, Lutte Raisonnée, etc... Most consumers are not certain if they like them or not, and although more people tend to gradually by some, knowingly and/or unknowingly, still a big majority do not understand, comprehend or simply like Natural wines.
The reactions are often mixed and usually more negative than positive: doesn't taste good; not clean; not filtered; taste too earthy, like soil or dirt; too funky; and so on.
It is understandable, because by the early 90s, when the green movement, led by the wine producers and winemakers of the old world, startled people by coming back to and using ancient, more naturally oriented methods in the vineyards and the cellars, driven by methods and technologies protective of the environment, most customers didn't fall for it because most wines were slightly faulty and unstable. Almost to the point of being undrinkable, but, at that time, it was almost a trend, like a novelty to find esoteric, faulty wines and translate their weirdness for some funky, earthy aromas and flavors that were supposed to be there, when in fact they were NOT supposed to be.
It was fashionable to discover wines produced naturally with a minimum of chemicals, exhibiting faults, which were mostly due to unclean cellars, brettanomyces, volatile acidity, slight unwilling oxidation, badly harvested and sorted grapes, bad cork, and so on. And Natural wines kept that reputation for a long time in the eyes of the consumers. Organic on the label meant "Not Good", for years.
Yet, the organic movement intensified, the methods were refined and better adapted, and the resulting wines tasted better and were more appealing to an increasing number of amateurs. Produced mainly by smaller, unknown producers, the press didn't pay so much attention at first. But, by the early 2000s, it became fashionable to be green and to protect the environment; therefore consumers looked at Natural wines with different eyes.
Nearly 20 years later, something has to be said about natural wines, they are juicier and better than ever, and the following wine will prove you that Natural wines can even be excellent. Something that you may want to know is that a high percentage of western Europe producers (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Portugal), are using Organic and Biodynamic methods. It is just not specified on the label, because to be fully "certified" requires a lot of check-ups and approvals from various organizations and acceptation from the "Appellation d'Origine Controlée" of origin, plus a lot papers and administration.
Moreover, you can be 100% Organic, if you neighbor uses chemicals, you will never receive full certification due to proximity and contamination via the air and the soil. That is one of the main reasons why, most producers in the old world adopted the "Lutte Raisonnée" and "sustainable" methods, which are less strict and more adaptable to their needs in the vineyards and the cellar. In short, there are much more Natural wines on the shelves than one may think or believe.
In any cases, the other thing that I wanted to bring your attention to is that we didn't invent anything! Natural wines made from Organic, Biodynamic and sustainable methods, are simply what our ancestors used to make, in more rudimentary cellars with less equipment and technologies, surely, however but very similar.
I wrote it many times before in previous posts, but as I always say, Us, people of the 21st century, like to give specific, somewhat extravagant or scientific names to things that have always existed and have always been known by our grandfather and great-grandfather and before for centuries. Things that we seemed to have forgotten or simply ignored and just rediscovered, like Organic and Biodynamic methods.
- Organic, the ancestral way, means no use of any pesticides, herbicides, chemicals and non-organic fertilizers. Which was basically the way things were done before the first and more especially the second World War, when most chemicals, gas and other oil derivative products started to submerge and pollute the markets.
- Sustainable means partial and adapted used of products, as natural as possible, to conserve an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
- Lutte Raisonnée means partial and adapted used of products, sometimes chemicals, depending on the needs in the vineyards to treat bacteria and diseases.
- Biodynamic means enhancement of the soil and the overall health of the vines and their immediate surroundings and environment, by applying specific actions on certain days and periods of the year determined by a calendar, combining ancient traditions and "savoir-faire" with scientific methodology that encompasses the importance of the position of the stars, the moon and its effects like the tides, etc. Some of these actions consist in ploughing the soil, planting certain types of plants and flowers that will attract natural predators like insects and birds to recreate a favorable and natural environment within the rows of vines, thus naturally enhancing and reenforcing the complexity of the soil and the diversity of the fauna and flora. It is basically Organic method meets science and old knowledge, gathered in the early 1900s by some doctors and professors who were considered esoteric at the time, but became gurus and pioneers for all these so-called "avant-gardist" producers and winemakers, "nouveau vignerons" of the 21th century. We are basically retrograding, despite the help of newer technologies, to earlier times when Natural methods were simply part of the everyday routine and the result of centuries of "savoir-faire", skills and experiences passed-on from one generation to the next.
At this time, just after the baby boom, productivity and cost efficient methods were more favorable than more labor intensive and somewhat costlier Natural methods, due to increasing demand from a world population that doubled in one generation of 30 years, 2 billions in 1920s to 4.5 billions in the mid 60s.
Tractors and other machines replaced man's work. In between the rows, the soil was usually flat and not necessarily aerated or ploughed, no plants, no weeds, no flowers. The vines looked blue because of copper sulfate and other treatments, and the rare grass boasted a sick yellow color resulting of herbicides and pesticides use. In Europe, during the 50s til early 80s, most vines suffocated and over-produced. The wines were not that great, they often needed a little boost with riper grapes and juices from some of the southern other regions (and countries), especially during bad years. (but I will stop there because such a subject necessitates an entire post on its own).
However and fortunately, things have changed and for the better since the early 90s. The world has listen to reason due to the gravity and the importance of the problems generated by such bad behavior and lack of understanding regarding the consequences toward our planet and all agricultural products.
A tiny amount of people, too few still, but this is the beginning, are more adequately using Natural methods of culture and vinification, and are looking back in the past with better technology to provide a better future and aware the new generations. We have to preserve our earth by coming back to adequate and more natural ancient methods readopted with today's technologies and scientific progress.
And when you think about it, we do not have to go back so far. Until not long ago, my grandfather on my mother-side, the farmer-winemaker, was spending most his time outside, 365 days a year, from dawn til dusk. He didn't need a book on Organic or Biodynamic farming, he was doing it naturally because for him, it has always been done that way. That was what he knew.
In his vineyards, orchards and vegetable garden surrounding his house, he knew when to plant and when to harvest, how to read and follow the signs of nature, the rain, the sun, the birds, the insects, the animals, the water level in the well and in the soil, etc... It was instinctive and in perfect relation and understanding with Nature. He was growing pretty much everything in his garden from vegetable, to fruit, to plants, herbs and trees; and he had all sort of animals: rabbit, hen, birds, cats, dog, fish. He was recycling way before the word "recycling" existed, it was natural and part of his everyday life, even when he was working.
He knew, simply by taking the time to pay attention to his surrounding and the environment, being aware, listen, see, think, learn, comprehend, understand, deduct, analyze and preserve... all these things that we have forgotten and that we shouldn't have. Fortunately, some of us, even if only a few, didn't forget and still apply these Natural methods in their everyday life. It is good to see that once again, grass, plants and flowers grow back in between the rows, and that insects and other animals once more swarm the soil of the vineyards.
The green movement is still young, but we are getting there, cars using only electricity and compressed natural gas, with fewer emissions, already exist and are taking a toll on the oil. Natural energy sources like wind, water and sun are now more in use than ever before (and Germany is showing great example by shutting down all its Nuclear plants, did you ever think about all these nuclear waste that have been buried?). And there are so many other things to talk about in the air, underground and in the rivers, oceans and the seas.
We need a change. We need to go back to more Natural process and methods in everything we do, plant, create, build and invent, with the consequences for environment, in mind, in the short and the long term. Let's evolve the right way, let's take example on those who are already doing it and let's follow this example. La Grange Tiphaine is definitely a great example to follow.
La Grange Tiphaine was created at the end of the 19th century by Alfonse Delecheneau, followed by three generations: Adrien, Jackie and now Damien.
Coralie, Damien’s wife, has now joined the family as a fully active partner in the life and work of the vineyard. Coralie and Damien Delecheneau work their 10 hectares with a horse, which is more natural for the soil and allows for natural fertilizer.
Damien’s talent as a winemaker is evidenced by the multitude of beautifully balanced, elegant, precise red, white, rosé and sparkling wines that he crafts from five different varietals: Chenin blanc, Côt (Malbec), Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and even the ancient and rare Loire variety called Grolleau. The wines are in the AOCs of Touraine Amboise and Montlouis sur Loire.
All certified Organic, the wines are all different: tender or round, fine or fruit filled, dry or sweet, but they all share the common thread of careful work in the vines that make for beautifully balanced, terroir driven, precise wines.
2009 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine "Clef de Sol" Red Amboise Touraine Loire Valley France
This wine is one of the few quintessential examples and representations of what I love in wine and a very good answer to the question, why I have been doing this job of wine buyer for the past nearly 20 years.