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What's Left to Say About Natural Wine?

11.09.2021

When I first started writing content for this website, I did what any self-respecting procrastinator would do: I started with the absolute easiest topics first, the producers I know and love, and left whatever would cause me even the slightest friction for “another day.” Well, as it happens, that other day did eventually come and I faced the demons I’d been putting off since the onset of this project: the producers I’ve never met, those from whom I’d only tasted one, if any, wine, and those which, at least at the onset of my research, had yet to inspire me. 

At first glance, researching a producer or wine you know nothing about is pretty straightforward. Most often, a preliminary Google search brings you to the webpage of another wine merchant with great SEO. They’ll have the basic information, plus a couple words on the winemaking or the winemaker. Often, the vintage isn’t listed or isn’t current. On the second search result, the same information, just a bit different. The third: same again, with maybe a few more flowery descriptions sprinkled in here and there, maybe an extra grape variety chucked in there, just to keep things nice and confusing. And wham - research: done. But after moving through this process more than a few times, I couldn’t help but wonder: where did these sites find their information? 

If we’re lucky, that information trickled down from one individual’s visit with a winemaker, notes from an exceptionally detailed importer, or from a trusted blog like Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak, Aaron Ayscough’s Not Drinking Poison in Paris, Bertrand Celce’s Wine Terroirs, or Alice Feiring’s The Feiring Line (all incredible resources that we cannot recommend highly enough). Less lucky: yanked from the next wine merchant’s page with equally sparse, potentially even inaccurate, information. 

After spending a lot of time poring over the top search results for winemakers on Google, it becomes pretty clear that we as researchers are the last in line in a long game of telephone. We’re getting the information, but often a rather diluted, sometimes corrupted, version thereof. Even more concerning, we often don’t know who the original caller even was. The information we get can feel further and further away from the thing that once spurred someone to write about it: love for the wine, a visit with the winemaker, or a wealth of insight into the subject matter. And with the number of online retailers of natural wine growing at such a rapid rate, to visit many of these top-page search results (or worse, sponsored search results) is to be left with crumbs. A few buzz words to summarise the breadth of someone’s life’s work. 

And so, as these things often turn out, I found myself faced with the questions I had been dodging since day one. Was there any point to writing about a winemaker without having visited them? And how do we talk about natural wine and its producers when there’s nothing new, or more, to say?

I found myself dawdling on the matter of what defines a producer profile. Sure - leave it to an importer to give a great scope of their vines, their cellar, and little glimpses of their character. But for an outsider, my role shifted from that of a researcher to that of a writer. I realised that to write about these producers honestly, I had to exercise the first rule of creative writing: write what you know. 

What I know: an odd bottle, shared in haste over plates of food in a crowded restaurant that’s approaching the end of their dinner service. What I know: the hasty smile of winemaker as they reach over a group of five taller-than-I, puffy-chested somm-types to pour me a glass at La Dive. What I know: how to peer deeply into a wine to catch even just the faintest glimpse of the winemaker’s deft hand behind it.

Of course, I rely heavily on diligent note-taking during tastings with our importers, whose knowledge of their winemakers far exceeds my own. I try to contextualise the field and cellar work of the winemaker against the traditions or neighbours of the region. It’s not to say I’m innocent of parroting information I’ve sourced from a reliable blog. It’s one of the steadfast, if not inescapable, realities of natural wine research. 

And as important as the nitty-gritty details are, I feel that we as a community be encouraging each other to write about and share our experiences with winemakers in more meaningful ways than just the mind-numbing details about elevation, harvest dates, or vinification.  I want to see more anecdotal stories about what bottles we’ve opened, where, and why. I want to hear more drunken stories from wine fairs and winemaker dinners. Because, the fact is, that at this intersection of natural-wine craze and internet research proliferation, we have a responsibility to stop the information from getting diluted to the point that people cease to understand the why of our industry. Let’s find new ways of talking about wines and winemakers outside of flavour descriptors, let’s forget about their hectares and talk about their hands, the size of their grin, the sweetness of their grape pulled straight from the vine. Let’s hear about the transcendental experiences of the people that get to drink their wines.

So here we see the new focus of my writing, to bring a little life and vibrancy back to what can often seem rather dull. And while I might not always succeed in it, it’s been my pleasure to come out the other side of the darkest corners of writer’s block to share these ideas, even if only to the deafening void of the internet. When the world opens up again, I hope to replenish my source of content, experiences, and inspiration, to spend every free minute I have with winemakers, to learn their intricacies, to feel the soil between my fingers, to taste their fuzzy, still-fermenting juices and to scribble down my often chaotic, wine-stained notes. 

Until then: I share with you a collection of thoughts, themes, and information that I’ve written with varying degrees of success. Until then: the internet’s calling, and the line is for you.

Of course, I hope these few words encourage you to have a look through our producer profiles, the subjects of which should be, now and always, the veritable sun around which all the rest orbits.

— Nathalie