Natural Wine is a Runaway Train, and it Might be Time to Hit the Brakes

Friday, 22 December, 2017
VinePair, Jamie Goode
There is no official Natural Wine Movement. I think that’s why so many people struggle with it. Natural wines are not as codified as, for example, biodynamic farming, where in order to use the term you need to undergo rigorous certification.

There are no rules for what constitutes “natural.” Tracing the movement’s origins is difficult because it evolved from several starting points into something both enormously potent and nebulously defined.

Despite these challenges — and make no mistake, so much as mentioning the movement could have any challenges is cause for controversy in some circles  — the natural wine bandwagon shows no sign of slowing down. I suggest we take a moment to examine what is really going on when we start celebrating wines just for being “natural,” as opposed to being good.

I can’t remember when exactly I first came across the natural wine phenomenon. It was probably back in the 1990s, when the Internet – fresh out of the box – proved to be a place well-suited for connecting like-minded geeks. It was a time of Netscape web browsers and glacially slow dial-up connections. I was an active member of the Wine Lovers’ Discussion Group. For a keen wine novice it was a great place to hang out and learn about wine, and occasionally meet up to drink wine with others in what were known as “offlines.” Natural wine was quite a talking point on the WLDG. And even back then, it was controversial.

Jules Chauvet, a winegrower and scientist from La Chapelle-de-Guinchay in Beaujolais, is widely regarded to be the father of natural wine. A fourth-generation winegrower, Chauvet never set out to start a movement; rather, his desire was to make better, purer wine. Chauvet was most active in the 1940s through 1960s, a time when Beaujolais, along with the rest of France, was adopting chemical inputs at an alarming rate.

It’s easy to judge this harshly through today’s lens, given what we know about the problems caused by widespread herbicide and fertilizer use. But at that time people saw the soil merely as a growth medium for the vine. Chemicals seemed like a wonderfully scientific option that would save winegrowers a lot of work in the vineyard and provide better results.

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