"Natural" or no?

In writing a book on the history of wine in America, I’ve had to grapple with the national aberration known as Prohibition. One casualty of the crusade by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other groups was language: Their definition of “Christian,” for example, didn’t include Catholics, and “temperance” meant abstinence rather than moderation. It still does, in some dictionaries. Words matter.
        The current fuss in wine terminology revolves around “natural,” usually noted with an asterisk, like disputed sports records: wine made from organic grapes, with low-or-no sulphur, biodynamically. . . It actually encompasses a wide variety of philosophies—and generalizations. “Emotional black magic,” says a viticulturalist, “a hoax,” writes a Napa Valley winemaker, while a proponent of naturalism ardently claims that oxidation isn’t a flaw, and skeptics are demonized as being in favour of “mass-produced, manipulated” wines. You’d get a more rational discussion talking about bankers.
       Meanwhile, in Alsace, the Loire, increasingly in Burgundy and lately Bordeaux, in Sicily, Greece, Croatia, and Germany, good, honest dirt is celebrated; New Zealand’s aiming at 20% organic soon, and Oregon may top that. Want a true taste of terroir? Go to the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, where they’ve been messing  with biodynamics for over 20 years, and find delicious consistency. While the True Believers and Snarky Skeptics were playing dodgeball dogma, the train left the station. 
       And in all this, with two rival “natural” wine fairs competing concurrently in London, a flurry of books, and Facebook navel-gazing, something’s been lost: The audience--consumers, those folks who are supposedly our collaborators in the adventure of wine. While we up in the choir loft are poring over our hymnals, murmuring over subtleties of the sermons and the correctness of the liturgy, the congregation down below are simply happy to be in church, and looking for some comfort.
       My friend Joan, in her mid-80s, lives in a cottage in Sussex. She’s a good cook, and has a glass or two of wine with dinner every night. It will be red, probably Sainsbury’s own-brand, about a fiver a bottle, which is all she can afford, and the sort of thing the naturalists revile. Does she want a wine she might like when she “gets used to it,”, or to read a wine label to know how it was made? No. Is she a wine-lover? You bet she is.
       The wine trade has o’er-leaped the saddle, and fallen on the other side of the horse. We need to begin again, and ask what wine’s really for, and include the audience in the conversation. And we should be working toward civility, along with sanity.

copyright 2010-2017 by Brian St. Pierre