Natural Bordeaux Killers?
British wine writer Jamie Goode, whose does some excellent work in the area of wine science, has a curious item on his blog. Under the title “The Coming Wine War,” Goode contends that the “fine wine establishment” is feeling threatened by the natural wine phenomenon, to the point that it may even attempt to snuff it out. The great and the good of Bordeaux are particularly nervous, he says; that’s because vins naturels expose “high-end Bordeaux for what it is: on the whole, somewhat less interesting than the newly emerging terroir wines from other regions.” He suggests the Bordelais might use their wealth and influence to buy off wine writers, wine publications, and wine educators in an effort to prevent the natural ethos from gaining any more traction (purchasable wine journalists? I can’t imagine!). “Expect to see an increasingly hostile, organized reaction towards the natural wine movement, and those journalists who support it,” Goode darkly intones. With all due respect, was he channeling Dan Brown when he wrote this? Read his piece and judge for yourself. It should be noted that Goode has a forthcoming book about natural wines, something he neglects to mention in his article.
Goode makes a number of questionable assertions, but I find his central claim especially unpersuasive, not least because he offers no evidence to support it. Now, perhaps my skepticism of the natural concept has blinded me to its subversive potential, but I really don’t think that Christian Moueix is losing sleep over the proliferation of natural wine festivals (the 2010 en primeur campaign? That might be keeping him awake at night). The top growths of Bordeaux cater to a completely different audience than, say, avant-garde vintners in the Loire, and pace Goode, I seriously doubt that the kind of people who buy Pétrus are going to taste some unsulfured vin de table and decide that Moueix has been peddling soulless, inauthentic confections (and it is odd that Goode seems to think there is an inverse relationship between price and authenticity; is La Tâche an inauthentic wine because it commands a four-digit price?)
It is highly unlikely that the “fine wine establishment” is going be upended by the naturalista insurrection. Goode mentions Champagne and the grower movement; I think the experience in the Champagne region is instructive, but not in the way Goode means to suggest. For all the (justifiable) hype about farmer fizz, the growers haven’t taken much business from the big brands. According to Terry Theise, grower bubblies currently account for 3.74 percent of all Champagne sales in the United States—“a fart in a windstorm to LVMH,” as he put it to me in an email (Terry does have a way with words). But the grower movement has influenced the grandes marques. The increasing number of single-vineyard wines, the trend towards lower dosage—these developments can certainly be credited in no small part to the small fry and their innovative ways.
It’s hardly a profound insight on my part to note that path-breaking ideas are often conceived on the fringe and adopted by the mainstream. I suspect that if the natural movement has any broader impact, it will be precisely in this way: conventional producers will borrow a few of its practices and apply them in their own vineyards and cellars. Already, some leading Bordeaux houses are working organically, and Château Pontet-Canet has even moved to biodynamic farming. Perhaps other aspects of the natural canon will catch on. However, it is wishful thinking to believe that natural wines threaten the First Growths and such. I think Bordeaux is in danger of losing its place atop the wine hierarchy, but that’s because it is pricing itself into irrelevance, not because natural wines are stealing away customers.
So fear not, my good friend Alice Feiring: François Pinault surely won’t be putting a hit out on you.