Air Provence: Provence Rosé Takes Flight

airp2The list of regions around the world that make good Rosé wine is very long because Rosé is a style of wine, not a wine grape variety. But the word-association game answer is easy: Rosé? Provence.

And although my friends in California and the Languedoc and other places that have nice Rosé  hate it when I say this, if you are talking Rosé here in the United States the conversation begins with Provence.

#1 Export Market: USA

The wine producers in Provence are understandably happy with this situation because they have come to depend on the U.S. market to drink up their Rosé wine exports. According to data provided by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), the U.S. was Provence’s #1 export market in 2018, happily emptying 26.3 million bottles of Provençal wine, 98% of which was Rosé.

Rosé is one of the hot segments of the U.S. wine market and the Rosé from Provence is very strong. But it would be a mistake for the Provençal producers to become complacent about their signature wine’s position in its most important export market.

This is especially true given that the overall U.S. wine market seems to be reaching a plateau and that the current trade war environment is not friendly to Rosé wines from France that have less that 14% abv and so are subject to the recently implemented 25% tariff. And then there is the threat of more tariffs in 2020.  Yikes!

Now Boarding: Air Provence

So the Provençial producers have organized an ambitious trade event called Air Provence that is scheduled for April 6 – 7, 2020 to keep their wines on U.S. radars and deepen market penetration.  Incredibly, given their success in the U.S. market, they have even more to share. The program offers wine trade members an intense immersion in the region and its wines, with 200 producers and more than a thousand wines on offer in addition to dinners, masterclasses, and so on. The event website summarizes the program like this:

The very first edition of AIR PROVENCE, organized by the Provence Wine Council for Côtes de Provence estates, invites you to take off on a unique immersive journey at the heart of the leading rosé wines appellation. For two days, experience a business class trip to meet producers and wine merchants, discover terroirs and landscapes, and taste wines as well as Provence art de vivre.

I’m interested in Air Provence in the context of the recent discussions about generic wine promotion in the U.S. We often focus on consumer-facing strategies (the “Got Milk?” approach), but there are many places in the product chain where leverage can be applied, either as a substitute for or complement to other tactics. The Provence producers are working to get the attention of trade actors (importers, buyers, etc.) who can become active  partners in selling their wines.

Provence Rosé wines are hot, but the trade wars are creating turbulence and headwinds for the wine market generally and for French wines in particular. Provence Rosé producers are smart to be proactive, using programs like Air Provence to build on their successful market foundation at this moment of uncertainty. I wish them good fortune, but as Bette Davis said  in All About Eve, better fasten your seat belts!

What Can We Learn from the Wine in Moderation Movement?

paul-giamatti-drinking-a-001Some say that it is time for the wine industry to take the initiative to change perceptions through a generic promotion program.  The “Got Milk?” campaign made people think about milk a bit differently. Maybe a similar initiative could shift the needle on wine?

One concern, as I wrote last week, is that as memorable as “Got Milk?” was, it didn’t prevent milk’s ultimate marketplace decline. Maybe “Got Wine?” isn’t the answer. But what would a better approach look like?

Wine in Moderation

I think there are lessons to be learned by studying the Wine in Moderation movement  that began in Europe a decade ago and has now spread to many corners of the wine world.

new_branding_slideshowWine in Moderation was founded in 2008 at a time when the European wine industry faced a growing threat. It wasn’t just that wine demand was falling — that had been going on for a couple of decades. And it wasn’t just the global financial crisis, either, although that didn’t help. It was rising anti-alcohol sentiments and policies that threatened wine both as an economic activity and also as an integral part of European culture.

I asked George Sandeman, President of the Wine in Moderation Association, to explain WiM’s objectives and the lessons they have learned.

Although a message of “moderation” seemed to be well aligned with the way wines are presented on a day to day basis, focusing quality rather than quantity, we encountered difficulty in waking up the wine sector to the cold wind blowing from Geneva.

Initially there was no recognition of the social responsibility attributed to the “wine sector” (“leave it to beer and spirits!”). At best it was a reluctance to accept the fact that wine needed to be part of the social responsibility which the category required, and at worst we were sleepwalking into the same treatment as tobacco.

The traditional culture of wine was frequently overridden by need to compete in new market environments … Add to this a powerful health lobby working to demonize wine …

So the first two lessons are that the wine industry needs to wake up to sector-wide issues. And the positive story of wine doesn’t tell itself. Someone has to do it.

What wine needed, the group’s founders proposed, was an organization that would help its members tell the counter-story of wine’s benefits when consumed in moderation, and would lean against the wind of damaging anti-alcohol regulations. This was no easy task, Sandeman notes. “The concept of ‘moderation’ is not a simple concept to communicate, varies with different cultures and viewpoints, and is difficult to translate for non-English speaking countries …”

Strength in Numbers 

Wine in Moderation has evolved in the 10+ years since it was founded (you can read about its progress here). As its efforts have gained traction, it has moved from a tight European policy focus to an approach that is broader in both geography and strategy. The map of Wine in Moderation activities is now global and its focus is shifting to education of professionals. Although there are Wine in Moderation activities in the U.S. I suspect that the impact is somewhat limited by the lack of a national coordinating organization,  a role played, for example, by Vinos de Chile, Unioni Italiani Vini, ACIBEV, and FEV in Chile, Italy, Portugal, and Spain respectively.

Seventeen national organization plus several global wine companies (Pernod Ricard, Möet Hennesy, Sogrape), and a host of other groups including WSET and the Institute of the Masters of Wine now support and implement Wine in Moderation programs around the world.

So the third lesson is that there is strength in numbers. It is important to work together on several levels to address important issues.

I first learned about Wine in Moderation from George Sandeman and Susana Garcia Dolla when I was speaking at ACIBEV meetings in Porto a few years ago. Since then I have noted the group’s participation at national and international meetings, always presenting a message of wine in a cultural context.

Wine in Moderation announced a major rebranding in November 2019 with the theme of Choose – Share – Care, which the leaders hope will carry the organization forward into even more ambitious professional and consumer programs in its next decade.

  • CHOOSE to make informed choices; choose the best wine for you to enjoy, choose whether or not to drink.
  • SHARE wine with friends & family, pair with good food and water. Drink slowly and take the time to fully appreciate.
  • CARE about the wine you serve, care about yourself and about others. Avoid excess and enjoy your wine in moderation!

Increased focus on wine tourism is another element of future work. Wine in Moderation’s association with the United Nations World Tourism Organization is one step along the path to providing wineries and regional groups with more tools to shape perceptions and develop the wine tourism experience.

Strike the Right Chord

Two things about Wine in Moderation are especially relevant to the current U.S. concerns. First, while I will admit that Choose-Share-Care does not have that “Got Milk?” punch, the message is one that I think might strike a chord with some of the groups that wine is currently failing to engage.  Health, community, and culture is a strong positive message and one that resonates with young the old alike.

And the way of getting the message out is relevant too. One thing that impresses me about Wine in Moderation (another lesson?) is its multi-layer approach. Here’s how it works:

  • The international coordination is provided by a not-for-profit international association, the WiM Association.
  • In each country, there are one or more WiM national coordinators that support the planning, coordination, implementation and accountability of the programme in their respective countries.
  • WiM supporters join the programme at national level. They actively support a wine culture that inspires well-being and healthy lifestyles and contributes in the prevention and reduction of alcohol related harm.
  • Leading wine companies further support the efforts made at international and national level setting the example with their leadership in social responsibility and high contributions. These leading companies are the Wine in Moderation Ambassadors.

Wine in Moderation movement members are given the tools they need to spread the word, which is a model that could work here in the U.S. Leadership is needed, of course, but it seems to me that our many regional wine associations and wine companies, too, would benefit from bringing a coordinated message into their diverse communications programs.

I can imagine a program with a general message agreed at a high level, but implemented with creative local twists and turns by the dozens of regional wine associations around the U.S. Such a plan would share the creative energy (and cost) while leveraging wine’s broad and diverse base.

Work together? Is that realistic? Well, what’s the alternative? In Europe, as George Sandeman said, the alternative was being regulated like tobacco. The alternative here in the U.S might be a  gradual (and then sudden) wine market bust.

This Changes Everything?

Everyone would like to find a silver bullet that would change everything for wine — in a positive way. But silver bullets are hard to come by and they show up in unexpected places. Do you remember the impact of the 60 Minutes “French Paradox” broadcast? Or the Sideways boost for Pinot Noir? (BTW Miles’ “dump bucket” scene from Sideways is definitely not an example of moderate wine consumption!)

Wine in Moderation has moved the needle in its target regions according to its most recent report. Worth further study, don’t think?

Got Wine? Is It Time for a Generic Wine Promotion Campaign?

 

I’ve had several conversations recently that circled back to the idea that the wine industry should invest in a generic promotion campaign. You know what I mean. Not “Got Milk?” (maybe the most celebrated generic promotion of all time), but something along the lines of “Got Wine?” or “Got California Wine?” depending on who’s talking.

“Got Wine?” is too copy-cat to work, of course. You can come up with something better if you give it some thought. But you get the idea.

Subsidy Wars?

One argument for generic promotion of wine is based on the realization that wine isn’t connecting with new, younger consumers the way we hoped or expected. If we want consumers to have a particular image of wine (or of the wine-drinker identity), maybe we should be more proactive in shaping perceptions.  Laissez-faire isn’t working so well. Let’s do something.

A second argument, which would support “Got California Wine?” or “Got American Wine?” is provoked by the  subsidies the European Union is giving to its member states to promote their wines in the U.S. market.

Years ago the EU used to support prices and winegrower incomes directly, but buying up surplus grapes and wine (we called the result the European Wine Lake). Now the EU has changed tactics and supports the modernization of wine production and the promotion of exports. Basically, they want the wines to be marketable and if the EU market won’t buy it all (and it won’t), then exports are promoted to avoid re-filling the dreaded lake.

This is a better approach from an economic standpoint, but you cannot blame American producers for thinking that it creates an uneven playing field. It might be better, many argue, to get the EU to stop subsidizing wine export promotion. But that would be complicated and take time. In the short run, the argument goes, generic promotion of U.S. wines might even things up a little.

Milk is All Over

Talking about wine promotion got me thinking about milk. That “Got Milk?” promotion ran for 25 years and attracted lots of attention. All sorts of celebrities posed with milk mustaches (aka moo-staches) to draw attention to milk and its broad appeal.  Everyone enjoys milk — that was the message. The Whoopi Goldberg ad was my favorite.

But, memorable as these advertisements are, they were fighting a losing battle. Increasingly, American consumers don’t follow the “Got Milk?” path.

milkI first realized this a few years ago when I heard wine economics guru Karl Storchmann talk about trends in various consumer beverages. He examined Google data about searches for wine, tea, coffee, milk, and water and concluded that  while water was rocking it, milk was fading fast. “Milk is all over,” Karl said at the time (here is a pdf of his study).

Karl wasn’t wrong. Dean Foods, America’s largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy in November 2019.  Milk sales fell for 4 years in a row as Americans shifted to plant-based cow-milk alternatives, including oat milk and especially almond milk.

Wine vs Milk?

Got Milk? Yes. Always. But increasingly it doesn’t come from a cow.

When you think about it, what happened to milk is a little bit like what seems to be happening to wine. There are lots of new products available that compete with wine including craft beer, craft spirits, and alcoholic sparkling water.  Some of these products are popular in part because they have less alcohol than wine, addressing a health concern  in the same way that almond milk avoids a health problem for some dairy-intolerant consumers.

Is wine all over? I don’t think so. But the industry is obviously not as healthy as we’d like it to be.

So what should wine do? A generic campaign is fine, but it matters a lot who it is aimed at, what it says, and how it is organized. And someone has to pay for it. A “Got Wine?” style consumer-focused campaign isn’t the only option.

Sue and I recently attended a promotional event for Italian wine that was aimed at trade — importers, distributors, sommeliers, journalists, and various “influencers” — but not consumers themselves (there was no consumer tasting).  The product chain for wine is long and complex and there are several points where promotion can be effective.

Come back next week for thoughts on some of the issues that a “Got Wine?” push needs to take into account. In the meantime, I have discovered that there already is a GOT Wine — GOT stands for Game of Thrones!

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The chart comparing Google search term data for wine, milk, etc. is taken from Karl Storchmann, “Wine Economics.” Journal of Wine Economics 7:1 (2012), p. 3.

The video above is the very first “Got Milk?” commercial.

The Future of Wine on “The Rocks”

mfrocks2The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater is a distinctive wine region. Small in size, it is defined, more or less by an alluvial fan. The rocks go very deep and draw vine roots down with them. To provide perspective To Kalon, the famous Napa Valley vineyard that is the source of many cult wines including Opus One, is also an alluvial fan. Terroirist territory to be sure.

Rock Power

Early settlers to the Walla Walla region and those who followed planted fruit trees in the rocks. Grape vines? Some for sure (see Kevin Pogue’s comment below — and a few of the Cinsault vines are still there), but things really took off when Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards came along and drew attention to the area’s potential. Cayuse, Horsepower (another Baron project), Reynvaan Family Vineyards and others made the rocky region a focus of intense interest among wine-makers and wine lovers.

The wines can be amazing. Sue and I visited Cayuse a few years ago and I was prepared to be disappointed. Clearly the wines themselves could not live up to the hype that surrounded them. But I was wrong. Powerful, aromatic, elegant. Terrific. The Horsepower wines, which come from some of the most densely-planted vineyards I have ever seen, are powerful, too, and intimidate me a bit.

Rocky Finesse

rockA recent visit with the Reynvaan family reinforced our enthusiasm for the wines from this area. The Reynvaans purchased the land for their “In the Rocks” vineyard from Baron and started making wine with his help. Now Matt Reynvaan makes the wines and his sister Amanda (who was my student at the University of Puget Sound) handles operations.  Rich, elegant — that’s what my notes say for Syrah co-fermented with Viognier. A classic Cabernet blend from the “In the Rocks” vineyard blew my mind with its finesse and surprised me because I tend to think of the rocky vineyards here in terms of Rhone grape varieties. Think again.

Cayuse and Reynvaan command Napa-style attention and critics’ praise, but if you are thinking Napa Valley when you visit Milton-Freewater to see the rocks, you will be very disappointed. Although it is part of the Walla Walla AVA, The Rocks District sub-appellation is over the border in Oregon, away from the fine-dining restaurants and tasting rooms of Main Street Walla Walla. Milton-Freewater is what it has long been, a real agriculture town that serves the needs of farmers and workers more than tourists.

We visited Watermill Winery, which has one of the few tasting rooms on the Oregon side of the border. You almost can’t miss the big Watermill Building, which once stored fruit from the owners’ orchards and now houses cider production (and associated tasting room) and the winery, too.  Watermill’s owners are fortunate to have considerable acreage in The Rocks District and are intent on expanding wine production in the next few years. The wines are excellent — Sue is especially fond of the “Hallowed Stones” Cabernet Franc — and they are more available and affordable than cult wines.

Far From Napa

stonesThe small footprint of The Rocks District limits wine production in the long run,  but many new vineyards are in the works today. Water is an issue, of course, and so is profitability. High quality tree fruit from The Rocks District exported to Asian luxury markets can be more profitable than wine grapes at this time according to one source.

Land prices and grape prices here are far below Napa levels. $45,000 buys an acre of vineyard land with secure water rights, we were told. How much prime vineyard land do you think $45,000 buys in Napa these days?

Driving through the rocky area presents a different scene from Napa, too. Orchards, vineyards, a few residential houses, and open fields.  I wonder what it will look like in twenty years? Very different, I think!

The Milton-Freewater local leaders want to encourage wine-fueled economic development in order to capture value-added beyond grape production. So, in partnership with Willamette Valley Vineyards, who have vineyard interests in the area, the city is working to develop a shared-use wine production facility and high-end tasting room.

If You Build It They Will Come

The tasting room is intended to draw wine tourists across the border with the hope that they bring some cash with them. The shared-use concept, where several wine “studios” exist under the same roof,  takes advantage of a quirk in wine regulations that currently limits the number of wines that can use “The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA” designation.

Most of the local wineries are located on the Washington side of the border, but the grapes are in Oregon. A Washington winery can use Walla Walla Valley to designate its wines from The Rocks District because the WW appellation spans the border, but the wines actually need to be produced in Oregon to use “The Rocks District” designation.

Most wines that come from “The Rocks District” today therefore cannot say they are from The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater appellation, which limits the AVA brand’s value. Investors in The Rocks District are caught in a sort of Catch 22 situation and Milton-Freewater hopes to break the deadlock by attracting a critical mass of producers, who can use the AVA name by producing at the new facility.  It’s kind of a “if you build it they will come” business strategy and marketing studies are in progress to see if the idea as promising as proponents believe. 

Force Majeure has built production facilities on the Oregon side and Rotie Cellars, which is known for its Rhone Blends, is just finishing a production and tasting room facility. Everyone we met is watching these projects closely to see how they are received along with a handful of other serious projects currently in process.

Steve Robertson, President of the Rocks District Winegrowers, is an enthusiastic advocate of the AVA he helped create. He writes that

As you know, there are only 340 prox. planted acres today within the AVA, and most of that is controlled by estates. Additionally, today’s modest volume of Rocks District wines are highly sought after in the marketplace….many of which are allocated. This will all begin to change over the next handful of years. New vineyard development will push planted acres to over 500 within this time frame. And a majority of those planned-to-be-planted acres will be delivered by new entities to WW Valley. Indeed, a couple hundred of those acres wine grapes will be available to other producers. A transition is surely in the making!

Robertson sees a critical mass of vineyards, wine grapes, and wineries using The Rocks District appellation on the horizon. Certainly there is a lot of excitement and interest. And the wines we have tasted merit the attention they receive.

Wine on “The  Rocks” District? I’ll drink to that!

Wine Book Review: Redrawing the World Wine Map

atlasHugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas of Wine 8th edition. Mitchell Beazley, 2019.

The notion that we must redraw the world wine map comes up a lot. Climate change is redrawing the map — you’ve heard this before, haven’t you? And I’ve written about how globalization is redrawing the world wine map. And money — changing consumer patterns across the globe and among generations — is changing things, too.

The Great Convergence

The idea that we must redraw the wine map is easy to talk about, but actually doing it turns out to be devilishly difficult. But that’s the task that Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, and their team of expert collaborators set for themselves in the revisions that produced this 8th edition of The World Atlas of Wine. It’s quite an achievement.

Robinson discusses the challenge in her introduction to the weighty volume. A couple of decades ago it seemed like wine was on the path to global homogenization, she writes, with wine production everywhere converging on a few marketable varieties and even fewer popular styles. I think the rise of efficient international bulk wine transport put a premium on sameness — more market opportunities if your Chilean wine can seamlessly substitute for California or Australia juice.

Cool is Hot

I won’t say that the convergence has stopped, but there’s been a reaction to it that focuses on differences and highlights indigenous grape varieties and traditional wine-making styles. Climate change and scientific research have altered wine’s physical domain, pushing grapevines into unexpected places. Tasmania and England are hot, attracting lots of attention and investment, precisely because they are cool — cool-climate, that is.

It might once have been possible to think about wine in terms of old world and new world, but today’s map is more of a tapestry, with global elements interwoven with exciting local developments. How can this dynamic be captured in a wine atlas? There are a couple of obvious approaches and I think Johnson and Robinson have chosen the best and most difficult one for this book.

The Great Revision

So how do you redraw a world wine atlas? One approach I have seen to updating a big book makes heavy use of text boxes and call-outs. The bulk of the text gets a once-over-lightly revision, while the new material is patched into using the boxes. This makes the new material easy to spot and updating the book the next time is basically updating the boxes. This saves time and money, but the result is necessarily uneven if only because some topics need a lot of updating and others less so, but the editorial format often calls for equal numbers of box opportunities.

Much harder to do — so hard with a 400+ page book that it is almost crazy — is to rewrite everything taking the dynamic elements fully into account. That, of course, is what we have in this 8th edition. The changes are not always obvious because they have been seamlessly integrated, but they are there on every page.

Literally Redrawing the Map

Inevitably, this process means that the maps at the core of any atlas have to change. All 230 of them (!) have been updated as necessary and 20 new maps drawn (plus new 3-D maps and soil maps). Seven regions get their own entries for the first time: Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel, British Columbia, St. Helena (Napa Valley), Brazil, and Uruguay. 

You might think the challenge of a 416-page atlas is to fill the space, but the reality is just the opposite. There’s an emphasis of economy and selectivity throughout. Each entry is a delicate balance of breadth versus depth and, while those with specialized interests may be frustrated, I think on the whole it works pretty well. That said, I’d love to see even more detail about China (which was allocated an addition page in this revision), since the wine world’s center of gravity is slowly shifting in that direction.

Bottom Line

The new 8th edition of the World Atlas of Wine is a great achievement. Highly recommended.

Wine Book Review: Jonathan Nossiter’s Natural Wine Manifesto

insurrectionJonathan Nossiter, Cultural Insurrection: A Manifesto for Arts, Agriculture, and Natural Wine. Other Press, 2019 (previously published in French as Insurrections Culturelle by Éditions Stock, Paris, 2015).

I learned about Jonathan Nossiter’s new book just as I was writing about wine’s tribes and the group that I have dubbed the Naturalists and the Natural Wine movement they represent.

A few clicks and a few days later, Cultural Insurrection arrived and I want to review it here not so much as representative of the views of Naturalists in general, but as a personal “manifesto” of a noteworthy figure in the world of wine.

Its a Wine World After All

I know Nossiter’s previous wine works pretty well. He is the director of the 2004 film Mondovino, which I wrote about in Wine Wars and used to good effect in my university class on “The Idea of Wine.” Mondovino was a manifesto of sorts, too. It opposed commercialization and globalization and cleverly used wine to engage emotionally an audience that might not otherwise want to think about these big things.  Nossiter is also the author of a 2009 wine book titled Liquid Memories. You can ready my review here.

Cultural Insurrection is at its core a celebration of the natural wine movement and a critique of commercialization and globalization, but that fact isn’t always obvious. Early chapters analyze ancient Greek theater (Nossiter majored in Ancient Greek, he tells us), film directors and their films, the power and abuses of finance, and the power and abuses of agricultural chemical businesses. We are teased by promises of natural wine while these varied and weighty packages are unwrapped.

Puzzled, I jumped to the back of the book where I found appendices that list the films cited in the text and the directors cited in the text, but not the natural wines and their makers. So it is perhaps natural to wonder what the book is really about?

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Natural Wine?

The key, which I initially overlooked, is in the Preface where Nossiter asks us to consider natural wine as a radical metaphor for culture, art, and politics.  Culture, art, and politics are all corrupted by money and greed, a fact that he tells us is shockingly apparently in agriculture (the original culture, we are reminded). So what we are talking about when we talk about wine is not just wine. It is, well, everything. Or at least everything that really matters.

Natural wine in this context is a reaction to the social, cultural, and economic issues just cited. It is, Nossiter says several times a concrete action in opposition to a corrupt system. This statement made me think how how the natural wine movement compares with the Slow Food movement, which I wrote about in my book Globaloney 2.0. Both movements are global and oppose commercialization and commodification by presenting attractive and viable alternatives.  Wine is part of the Slow Food universe, of course — there is such a thing as Slow Wine — but not all Slow Wines would make the natural wine cut.

An important similarity is that both Slow Food and natural wine rely upon global networks to cultivate local products. The Slow Food movement aims actively to harness a global market network to oppose the abuses of global markets, which is clever indeed. Nosssiter’s idea of natural wine relies upon global networks, too, but he is uncomfortable with the role of markets despite their power to spread both natural wines and the manifesto globally.

What Makes Wine Natural?

What does it take for a wine to be natural in Nossiter’s manifesto? At one point he seems to give us a production checklist. Natural yeast — check. Left to ferment naturally — check. With no chemical additives such as sulfur — check. Winegrowing should be natural, too, of course, but exactly how is complicated. Check.

These criteria are necessary but not sufficient, however. Nossiter eventually rejects the idea that there is any sort of checklist that determines that a wine natural.  Natural wine is cultural more than technical, produced by families, in relatively small quantities, with little concern for profits. Natural wine, in other words, is what natural wine producers make. This might sound circular, but in fact I think it applies pretty well in this case. Natural wine, like terroir, may be vague in the details, at least in Nossiter’s analysis, but you will know it when you see it or meet the producer.

Tribal Rivalry

I bought Nossiter’s book looking for a personal perspective on natural wine and I got that and a lot more. I was also looking for an understanding about why the tensions between natural wine’s tribe and the rest of the wine world are so intense.  I don’t claim to have found this just because I’m not sure every natural wine proponent would endorse all of Nossiter’s manifesto.

But there is this. Clearly Nossiter rejects wine that isn’t natural by his standards, and so he dismisses the work of a lot of people who might not like to see themselves thrown in a pile that includes the worst capitalist and agrichemical abuses. He is, in a way, like some critics who dismiss natural wines generally on the basis of one or two badly flawed examples that seem to use philosophy was an excuse for poor winemaking. Easy to see how terroirists and naturalists could back each other into corners. Too bad.

More Interesting Than Delicious

So what about the book? I’d say it is more interesting than delicious, which is the way I have described some wines. The mixture of the cinema, global finance, argi-chemicals, and wine doesn’t always work for me. And I still don’t understand the relevance Nossiter’s longish digression on the difficulty of “dolly shots” in film-making. Maybe I need to read that part again.

But I think it may be wrong to read Cultural Insurrection as a book like I did. Try to experience it as a film instead — which will require some imagination and maybe a dolly shot or two. Nossiter’s famous film  Mondovino shifted around in the same way as this book. Some of my students found Mondo to be disorienting, but others went along for the ride, picking out the messages that resonated with them.

Experience the book in this way and you will certainly feel Nossiter’s anger and his yearning. And you’ll appreciate his cautiously optimistic conclusion. Glass half full? I’ll drink to that.

Terroirists vs Naturalists: Tribal Wine Wars

terroirWine has many tribes — you probably belong to one of them. Last week I wrote about the Martians, who are interested in only the best in wine and are often disappointed with what they find, and the Wagnerians, who promote a more democratic “everyday wine” vision.  They are often disappointed, too, but in different ways. You can read more about these tribes here.

Land versus Brand

I don’t really understand why the Martians and Wagnerians can’t find common ground (Oregon’s A to Z winery says that it offers “Aristocratic wines at Democratic prices”), but the tension endures, which is how tribes work I guess. There are two more tribes that we need to discuss that, on the face of it have so much in common that they might be cousins, but that also have that tribal feeling. They are the Terroirists and the Naturalists.

I wrote about the Terroirists in my book Wine Wars. Terroirists are all about wines of place — they are protagonists in the Land versus Brand battle for the soul of wine that colors much of my analysis. Terroirists can go to shockingly unnecessary extremes to defend their turf as some French terrorist terroirists demonstrated when they sabotaged wine tanks full of cheap Spanish bulk imports. But this is the exception.

I have to admit that, even though I appreciate how important brands are in today’s crowded market, I identify pretty closely with the terroirist tribe. I look for local and single-vineyard wines, I get excited about field blends and old vines, and I seek out wines made from native and threatened grape varieties. My idea of a great day in the Napa Valley takes me to places like Tres Sabores and Robert Biale winery where other terroirists hang out. Think global but drink local — that’s a rule that I try to follow as much as possible.

The Naturals

I have friends (you know who you are) who belong to a different tribe that I guess I will call the naturalists. Their idea of wine seems to be less about where the wine comes from than how it is made. They want wines that are as close to nature as can be, with as little manipulation as possible and often, at least for the white wines, with a lot of skin contact. They hang out in natural wine bars or attend events like RAW wine, where they can contemplate natural wines from all around the world.

Sue and I have had several very positive experiences with natural wine, so I have never thought of terrorists and naturalists as opposing forces. We are big fans of Chateau Musar, for example, one of the early champions of the natural wine movement. And our visit to Georgia, the cradle of wine, exposed us some of the most natural — and quite delicious — wines on earth.

The natural wines we have tried varied, of course, but that’s true of wine generally. Some were more interesting than delicious. We were done with others after the first sip. Meh. The nature of their production didn’t overcome the problems we had with what we found in the glass.

Most of the natural wine makers we’ve encountered have been terrific, too, although I admit we met a couple of naturalists who went a bit over the top. One winemaker, for example, tried (unsuccessfully) to convince us that a “mousey” characteristic is a feature not a flaw. I checked Jamie Goode’s book Flawless and, sure enough, he says it’s a flaw. “Always bad,” according to Dr. Goode. I agree.

Wines of Place or of Style?

Both terroirists and naturalists are attracted to nature, so it seems that they should be allies in the wine wars. But the particular ideas of nature when it comes to wine don’t always match, so there is a tension. I didn’t really appreciate this until we were invited to seminar and tasting of natural wines and a question came up about wines of place (terroirist wines) versus wines of style (a reference to naturalist wines).

“Is this a wine of style or a wine of place?” asked a panel member as he swirled one of the natural wines in his glass. “Definitely a wine of style,” the wine’s maker shot back without hesitation. He makes lovely terroir-driven wines that Sue and I admire a lot, but this wine wasn’t about the vineyard, it was about the cellar, the way it was made, and perhaps the philosophy behind that technique.

Jamie Goode, who was part of the panel discussion, tried to bridge the gap between place and style. Perhaps natural wines do tell a terroir story, he said, but we are just don’t understand it yet because natural wines are so different. Maybe we need more experience in order to pick out the place when the glass in front of us contains natural wine.

The Natural Divide

This is a very sensible perspective, and I look forward to doing some research, but sometimes sensible middle grounds get over-shadowed by tribal conflicts. Jancis Robinson wrote in a recent Financial Times column  about the extreme positions some natural wine proponents take and the extreme reactions to them. Real tribal stuff. It is easy to see how things could get out of hand.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that wine has become this way.  Politics has become more tribal and more confrontational, reflecting general social attitudes.  Wine was bound to become more divided, too.

So what’s the particular problem that divides the terroirists and the naturalists?I think it has partly to do with the word “natural,” which the naturalist wine tribe seems to have claimed (or, in some cases, been labeled with). Natural is a privileged word. To say that something is natural is a powerful statement. If something is natural you almost don’t have to argue its legitimacy. It is just there, like the natural rights cited in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. No wonder Enlightenment scholars claimed it to justify their claims.

Terrorists think they are making natural wine since they seek to draw out the nature of the place where the grapes were grown. Naturalists want more. Easy to see why there is tension, but the the differences seem to cut deeper. Come back in two weeks for a wine book review that might shed some light on this question.