Over the course of the 9 years of Noble Fine Liquor it suffices to say that there’s been some significant changes in consumer attitude towards natural wine, and orange wine specifically. Where once the task of selling a bottle of orange wine felt Sisyphean, now, quite the opposite: a snowball rolling down that hill, gaining in size and momentum everyday, and in many ways, veering into out-of-control territory. Once boundary-pushing, orange wines, natural wines, orange natural wines, have entered mass consciousness (at least in East London) and are now easily the most asked-for style of wine in the shop.
This type of progress comes at a cost. The thing we once fought to get into people’s hands, now on the brink of being usurped by mass-consumerism, one which contravenes the reality of the inherently small-scale (and in that way, price-contingent) production of natural wine. In short, more and more people want increasingly less expensive orange wine. And with every #naturalwine brand popping up that’s less actual vineyards, more a-e-s-t-h-e-t-i-c, the need for this difficult conversation becomes ever more consequential.
Yes - we want to consider any consumer shift from industrial, commercial wine to natural wine a win. But to sit idly by as a wanton fad sweeps our industry feels unethical; we’ve seen the curtain pulled back on projects like Valentina Passelaqua’s Instagram-famous Ca wine, revealing (alleged) human rights violations. We know that the natural wine industry cannot supply the demand should it continue the trajectory it’s on now. And yet, we feel powerless to stop it: as natural wine merchants we run the risk of becoming the cog in the machine that slowly corrupts the very thing we love.
It calls to mind a concept that’s rather specific to my American sensibilities, but may ring true for those who enjoyed the seminal work of Harper Lee. When a dog is rabid, there is only one thing to do: take it out back and shoot it.
To eliminate the concept of “natural wine” as an entity that’s separate from “wine” may well be our only way to change the dialogue. The pressure of distinguishing the two, of the mere act of using “natural” as a qualifier for wine, which by all logical accounts should be a product of nature, functions to normalise a production line which is inherently abnormal. The burden of that qualifier has long been worn as a badge of honour for organic producers across all spectrums of agriculture. It’s time for that to change.
Perhaps the wine community needs to find its own watershed moment, whether that be via a documentary of the Seaspiracy variety or the beginning of that discourse through a broader outlet, eg. the reaction to Julia Moskin’s New York Times story on sexual assault in the wine industry, to kickstart a chain of more impactful changes to the way the average consumer behaves. Perhaps we simply need more voices to join us in a collective call for change.
If we continue to put our weight behind lobbying for the normalisation of organic, sustainable, and biodiverse farming through our own individual buying power as well as a sustained effort of talking to our MPs, putting pressure on unsustainable organisations, and prioritising local suppliers, we might find that the line of distinction might blur to the point of no longer being recognisable. And while I’m not pretending that we might enact change on an international or even national scale to start, we might be able to, at a minimum, have an effect on the choices made within our own communities.
To stop the worrying conflation of orange wine and natural wine, to stop the rapidly swelling interest in orange wine, natural wine, orange natural wine, pet nat, orange pet nat, and so on, there needs to be access to education: free, digestible, accessible information about wine. That feels like one of the simplest explanations in this much broader, much more complicated topic. It’s a driving motivation behind the content you’ll find across this site.
It’s all to say that action is needed. To shift the dialogue, we must start the dialogue. To change what is “normal” we must all change our habits. And to help guide the hand of the consumer, we must make time to educate them about sustainable agriculture at large.It’s not orange wine’s fault - it’s just that wine, orange or not, was never the point at all; it’s just a lovely bonus along the way.