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Is Natural Better?

In my most recent piece for the Seattle Weekly, I explored a bit of the natural wine trend that's happening around the globe. As with any buzzy wine term, there's a lot of uncertainty, and through that uncertainty comes the opportunity for, well, opportunism.

I was spurred on to this line of thinking by two different happenings. The first was a recent Guild of Sommeliers podcast about Beaujolais, one of the epicenters for the natural wine movement. During the discussion, Geoff Kruth made the point that one of the real perils of natural wine making is that even for extremely experienced wine drinkers, there's no telling what you'll get in each given bottle. There's perhaps a philosophical argument to be made that this is a "more honest" expression of terroir than using S02 or commercial yeast strains, but I have little sympathy for any argument that advocates for or excuses less delicious wine.

The second was seeing an ad for an online wine club that made a bunch of dubious claims about the health benefits of natural wine. There's no doubt that organic and biodynamic farming is better for the land being worked, and for the people doing that work. I support attempts to make that the default for much of wine production, as a well-managed vineyard shouldn't need chemicals or fertilizer to produce excellent wine. The also demonize wines with residual sugar: while some times those wines can have RS because they're grown to preposterous levels of ripeness, some of the best wines on the planet simply need at least a bit of sweetness to feel fully balanced.

I don't begrudge any individual winemaker the choice of how to make their wines. If they want to rely on spontaneous fermentation and not add sulfur, that's totally their choice. Yet I won't give them any bonus points when I evaluate the quality of the wine, and I don't think you should either.

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