Where did this term come from? I’m not the first person to ask these questions. Check out Eric Asimov’s piece in the NY times from October 2006. I think it may be that the term was first used in the film “Mondovino” which, for dramatic effect, built its narrative around facile differences between the “…old world and new, simple peasants and billionaires, and between the local and artisanal styles of wine production and the multinational and mass-produced ones.” Award-winning New Zealand winemaker and writer Drew Tuckwell put it as succinctly as such a vague concept might be clarified: “Non interventionist winemaking is not easy to explain. There are no defined or common rules. It is essentially a very natural form of winemaking… where, in general terms, winemakers resist the use of modern technology and simply allow the wines to express the terroir of the vineyard.” (1) My sainted Dallas-bred grandmother had a term for this kind of marketing-speak: “horse-puckey”. The craft of winemaking is the transformation of grapes with alchemist skill. For centuries the French have applied the terms “elevage” and “affinage” to the winemaking process. The winemaker facilitates the birth of the wine, and then raises it and refines it into something which, if not always transcendent and sublime, is at least palatable. I believe the most apt analogy for winemaking is child-rearing. I for one don’t believe that child rearing can be at all non-interventionist. And neither can winemaking be. I shall step on a slightly taller soapbox to proclaim: I believe that ALL wines – artisanal and mass-produced alike – are valid expressions of the grape, and of the winemaker’s craft. There is no way to define a cutoff between these arbitrary classifications; wines are produced along a technological continuum. On the other hand, all wines are not created equal. There are distinctions between the aromas and tastes of wines made by hand and those produced by machine that are no more arbitrary or subtle than the differences between, say, Redwood Hill Farm crottin and processed American cheese spread, or Boont Amber Ale and Bud. But there is no doubt that the makers of the crottin and the ale are interventionist to a fault in crafting their products. I believe that there is not a capital-poor winemaker worth the title that has not wished for a centrifuge (for clarification), a spinning cone (for alcohol reduction), or for ion-exchange (to remove volatile acidity) at some point in their career – I know I have. In my opinion, any winemaker that will claim in print or in person that they are truly and completely “non-interventionist” with a straight face, or at least without a little lurch (perhaps of self-loathing?) in the pit of the stomach, is a charlatan or worse – delusional. I don’t believe I’m a charlatan, or delusional. My wines are hand-made, with all the attention and care I can lavish on them. Many may disagree with my position and tone here, and call me a bombast. Fine with me. Just don’t call me “non-interventionist”.
John Kelly is the winemaker of Westwood Winery in Sonoma, California. This blog was originally posted 14 June 2008.