Jamie Goode is a trained scientist who today in his blog wrestles with the tension between faith and science implied by “natural” wine. I am also a trained scientist, plus I am deep into my 24th vintage as a winemaker. You might be surprised how infrequently the term “natural” comes up in discussions among professionals. We talk about what works, and what doesn’t. We respect each others’ choices, because the proof of what works is always there right in front of us — in the bottle.
“Natural” only really seems to cause cognitive dissonance among some wine buyers, media types and consumers. I think it is a marketing thing with some people, and a cultish obsession with others. I don’t experience this dissonance. My winegrowing philosophy is “don’t do anything you don’t have to.” Consequently my approach has become more minimalist with each vintage.
I can get away with using less technology because of my scientific training, which has empowered me to take a rational approach to pursuing only what is necessary. Also, our vineyard is small enough (24 acres) that we can farm nearly vine-by-vine, and our production is low enough (2,500 cases max) that I have my own eyes and hands on every drop of wine we make.
Winemaking technology is required to scale up production from these low levels. Technology substitutes for eyes and hands on everything, allows us to make more with the same labor — which is how economists define increased productivity. The tradeoff for increasing productivity through the application of technologies is a loss of the “natural” artisanal character of wines.
Earlier this year, in a post about the role of yeast in artisanal wine production, I noted that Jamie observed a continuum between “natural” and “industrial” winemaking. I believe this view is correct, and that definitions of “natural” wine are purely semantic, and therefore artificial. So how’s that for boxing the compass, folks? “Natural” wine is an artificial construct.