Natural winemakers respond to Gambero Rosso

natural wine

Above: Frank Cornelissen, who produces wine on Mt. Etna, is one of the signatories of the following open letter. On Saturday, Italian journalist and wine industry observer Jacopo Cossater noted on his personal blog that the editors of the Gambero Rosso has managed to do what no one could until now: they have united the often discordant field of Natural winemakers in Italy.

On Friday, the popular Italian-language wine blog Intravino published the following “open letter” undersigned by a confederation of “natural” winemakers in response to a series of negative (and some would say blindly and wildly pompous, misinformed, and misguided) editorials on Natural wine published by the Gambero Rosso in its January issue (click the link for my excerpted translation).

The author of the Intravino post, Jacopo Cossater, notes that the editors of the Gambero Rosso have no intention of publishing the rebuttal.

I have translated the letter in its entirety below.

*****

Open Letter to the Gambero Rosso
February 1, 2013

Dear Sirs,

We write to you in the name of hundreds of wineries — both affiliated with appellation associations and consortiums and indepedent — that produce natural wine. We were dismayed to read the editorial by Eleonora Guerini (“The Natural Obsession”) and the observations by Bettane and Desseauve (“Have We Got Natural Wine For You!”) published in the January issue of your magazine.

To be honest, we have the distinct impression that you are not really up to speed with what has been happening, for years now, in the wine world. Your tout court accusation that “natural” winemakers produce only defective, oxidized, stinky wines is absurd. Your magazine regularly reviews and often rewards wines produced by wineries widely accepted as members of the natural wine orbit.

The technical part of your argument is wholly indefensible. What are the “new, ‘natural,’ and innovative” methods utilized to stabilize natural wines? Extended lees aging (a practice used for centuries, from Mt. Etna to the Loire Valley)? In Bettane and Desseauve’s article, the authors state that with natural vinification, “all of their grape varieties and terroirs end up resembling one another because the nasty native yeasts with which they are made — yeasts that greedily cannibalize the good yeasts if the vinifier allows them to do so — are the same yeasts that you find all over the planet”! From the implicit thesis of this singular affirmation, it would follow that a “selection” of yeasts — or rather, a small part of the entire population of the yeasts themselves — generates a “variety” with greater effects. You’ll have to excuse the irony, but this would mean that we need to eliminate all the black keys from the piano (those which have been “altered”) in order to compose more complex musical pieces…

And let’s not talk about the vineyards, where — as you yourself write — the will to greatly limit or entirely exclude herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers is a simple act of common sense.

We are the first to acknowledge that there is no wine that is completely and exclusively “natural” and that wine is a product of culture, the fruit of interaction between man and nature. Perhaps the term “artisanal” is better suited to our ideas: wine should be the fruit of choices made by those who work in the vineyards and those who transform the grapes into wine.

But we also believe that it is sensible, even fundamental, to discuss the greater or lesser “naturalness” of a given wine because the law allows winemakers to add a daunting number of substances — dozens and dozens — to wine must. If it were possible to list additives to wine labels (or even the substances that a given producer decides not to use), everyone would have all the tools necessary to effectively evaluate whether or not a wine is natural.

But guess what? This is not allowed. And no one ever mentions it.

And yet, the more substances that are added, the less the wine is spontaneous and digestible. This is what’s happening today: many wine drinkers and lovers — perhaps tired of the “obssession with the best wine there is” and the “obsession with the best vintage of the century” — shift away from the most manipulated wines and move instead toward more spontaneous products that don’t give you a headache, wines easier to digest and more food friendly.

We find it surreal that you accuse excellent French chefs of being “ingenious” because they decide to serve products that are not invasive, greasy, sugary, or woody with their dishes, opting instead for wines that interact with their food rather than overwhelming it. The most serious natural winemakers expressly strive for freshness, flavor, and digestibility in their wines.

It’s obvious that the combination of these wines and healthy, favorful, and substantive cooking happens more and more often. And if someone is not happy about it, that person can simply choose another restaurant. That’s all there is to it. They could also simply order a different bottle. The important thing is that the restaurateur’s choices are respected. She or he shouldn’t be accused a priori of being ingenious or incompetent. This is perhaps the aspect of the debate that most commonly escapes so many of the critics working today.

The authors cite Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which produces the most expensive wines on the planet, as an example of “good” natural wines. This observation is so ingenious that we are almost tempted to feel sorry for you. Clearly, you haven’t understood that the natural wine movement intends to restore a daily relationship with wine and to reaffirm its gastronomic and nutritional value, elements that have been neglected in recent decades in the name of prizes and scores. For many years now, we have watched this attitude bring about a vertical collapse of wine consumption.

We do not believe that it’s a coincidence that the financial crisis has had a less visible impact on the natural wine sector (a very small sector, let’s be clear). Could this be the reason that the small world of artisanal winemakers is being subjected to so many attacks? Is this the reason that so many seek, with increasing insistence, to violently discredit it?

We are convinced that a healthy and open critical approach needs to be comparative and it needs to have the will to understand an expanding phenomenon by examining its pros and cons (and by no means do we think that this phenomenon is without its defects). Such an approach should inform its audiences objectively instead of crying out, at every opportunity, words like “defective,” “volatile,” and “oxidation.”

Wine lovers and enthusiasts should be free to choose: we don’t want to hold their hands; we simply want them to have all the necessary tools, in the most transparent and earnest way possible, so that they can be free to decide for themselves.

The tone of the articles published in January, it should be noted, was truly aggressive, as if natural and artisanal wine were a sort of enemy to battle at all costs and not an alternative worth knowing and, above all, respecting.

We believe that there is a place for everyone — small, big, natural, organic, biodynamic, and conventional — as long as winemakers work ethically and responsibly. We don’t claim to have cornered the market on the truth. But we have our own ideas and we like to defend them and stand behind them because they are the fruit of our daily toil.

During Vinitaly, there will be three natural wine fairs: ViniVeri in Cerea, VinNatur at the Villa Favorita (Sarego), and the Vivit pavilion at the Vinitaly fair itself. We invite all open-minded journalists — and wine drinkers, naturally — to come taste, discuss, and compare with us.

Cordially,

ASSOCIAZIONE RENAISSANCE ITALIA
ASSOCIAZIONE VINNATUR
ASSOCIAZIONE VI.TE
CONSORZIO VINI VERI

Albani, Alberto Anguissola, Aldo di Giacomi, Alessandro Torti, Alla Costiera Altura, Ampeleia, Andrea Scovero, Andrea Tirelli, Antiche Cantine de Quarto, Arianna Occhipinti, Aurora, ‘A Vita, Bonavita, Borgatta, Bressan, Ca’ del Vent, Ca’ de Noci, Camerlengo, Camillo Donati, Campi di Fonterenza, Campinuovi, Cantina Giardino, Cantina Margò, Cantine Valpane, Cappellano, Carla Simonetti, Carlo Tanganelli, Carussin, Casa Belfi, Casa Caterina, Casa Coste Piane, Casale, Casa Raia, Casa Wallace, Cascina degli Ulivi, Cascina delle Rose, Cascina la Pertica, Cascina Roccalini, Cascina Roera, Cascina Tavijn, Cascina Zerbetta, Casebianche, Castello di Lispida, Castello di Stefanago, Cinque Campi, Clara Marcelli, Colombaia, Corte Sant’Alda, COS, Cosimo Maria Masini, CostadiLà, Crealto, Cristiano Guttarolo, Crocizia, Daniele Piccinin, Daniele Portinari, Dario Prinčič, Davide Spillare, Denavolo, Denis Montanar, Denny Bini-Podere Cipolla, Elisabetta Foradori, Elvira, Emidio Pepe, Eugenio Rosi, Ezio Cerruti, Fabbrica di San Martino, Farnea, Fattoria Castellina, Fattoria Cerreto Libri, Fattoria Mondo Antico, Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Ferdinando Principiano, Ferrandes, Filippi, Fiorano, Fontemorsi, Franco Masiero, Franco Terpin, Frank Cornelissen, Gatti, Gianni Massone, Gino Pedrotti, Giovanni Montisci, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Gonella, Gradizzolo, Guccione, Haderburg, Il Cancelliere, Il Cavallino, Il Maiolo, Il Paradiso di Manfredi, Il Tufiello, Irene Cameli, Iuli, La Biancara, L’Agricola del Farneto, La Castellada, La Distesa, Laiolo, La Marca di San Michele, La Moresca, La Pievuccia, La Stoppa, La Visciola, Le Barbaterre, Le Calle, Le Chiuse, Le Cinciole, Le Coste sul Lago, Loacker, Lo Zerbone, Lusenti, Macchion dei Lupi, Marabino, Marco de Bartoli, Marco Sambin, Marco Sara, Maria Letizia Allevi, Maria Pia Castelli, Mario Macciocca, Martilde, Massa Vecchia, Massimiliano Croci, Mlečnik, Monastero Trappiste di Vitorchiano, Monte dall’Ora, Monteforche, Montesecondo, Monte Versa, Musto Carmelitano, Natalino del Prete, Nino Barraco, Oasi degli Angeli, Odilio Antoniotti, Pacina Panevino, Paolo Bea, Paolo Francesconi, Pialli, Pian dell’Orino, Pian del Pino Piccolo, Bacco dei Quaroni, Pierini e Brugi, Pierluigi Zampaglione, Podere Concori, Podere della Bruciata, Podere Gualandi, Podere Il Santo, Podere La Cerreta, Podere Le Boncie, Podere Luciano, Podere Luisa, Podere Pradarolo, Podere Santa Felicita, Podere Veneri Vecchio, Poderi San Lazzaro, Poggio Trevvalle, Porta del Vento, Praesidium, Punta dell’Ufala, Quarticello, Radikon, Radoar, Remo Hohler, Roagna, Ronco Severo, Rugrà, San Fereolo, San Giovenale, San Polino, Santa Caterina, Santa Maria, Serafino Rivella, Skerlj, Stefano Amerighi, Stefano Legnani, Stella di Campalto, Taverna Pane e Vino, Tenuta di Valgiano, Tenuta Grillo, Tenuta l’Armonia, Tenuta Montiani, Tenuta Selvadolce, Tenute Dettori, Terre a Mano, Tenuta Migliavacca, Tenuta Terraviva, Tenuta Vitereta, Trinchero, Tunia, Valdibella, Valli Unite, Vercesi del Castellazzo, Vignale di Cecilia, Vigneto San Vito, Villa Bellini, Vino di Anna, Vittorio Bera e figli, Vodopivec, Walter Mattoni, Weingut Ebnerhof, Zidarich.

37 thoughts on “Natural winemakers respond to Gambero Rosso

  1. Thanks for providing the full translation Jeremy.

    Most wine viewpoints that are based on broad stroke pronouncements are, in my view, inherently flawed. The Gambero Rosso suggestion that all natural wines are essentially no better than bathwater is laughable. As with any winemaking philosophy, there are good and bad examples.

    What amazes me is that Gambero Rosso may have just poked the bear so to speak. A movement which to date has been held back, again only in my opinion, by a lack of an overarching definition as to what exactly constitutes a “natural wine” may have just found reason to put any minor philosophical differences aside and unite against one perceived slight.

    What’s next? Wouldn’t it be interesting if all these producers refused to provide samples for the 2014 Gambero Rosso Guide? That’s never going to happen of course but would make for an interesting situation.

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    • Tom very well put, actually Jeremy used “sincere” as an alternative to Natural and can’t agree more with him.
      So Jeremy I’m going to use sincere from now on……
      Thank you both

  4. I would have been proud to add my signature to that letter were I living and working in Italy. I find it sad that all these people had to waste their time and energy in replying to criticisms that were completely without merit.

  5. Does this mean that Gambero Rosso is “anti-natural”? Well, no, because there are plenty of “natural” wine producers included in the 2013 annual guide. Valter Mattoni, for example, co-signed the open letter but here he is, listed as producing 5,500 bottles from three hectares—hardly a wine that is likely to be easy to obtain. But the guide suggests “they are well worth seeking out”.

    Also note that Eleonora Guerini is senior editor of the guide. If she really did have an axe to grind with “natural” wine then possibly it would be trashed in the preface or excluded completely from the book. But this is what it says in the 2013 guide: “(Wines are described) without prejudice or preference for fermentation in new wood, stainless steel or even earthenware amphorae”. That “even” before “earthenware amphorae” is telling but nonetheless “natural” wine is given space and respect.

    Bettane made up his mind about “natural” wine a long time ago. I have worked with Michel and he is not the type to change his kind (he’s French ain’t he…). But I don’t believe that Gambero Rosso has an agenda against “natural” wines. It takes the view that some are crap and some are good—which is my own view, and true of all wine. So it goes.

  6. SDG, showing diversity and being politically correct doesn’t mean they respect natural wines as such and as competitors.

  7. GR critic/editor seems to be barking up the wrong vine ~ so to speak. The backlash in my home was quick and decisive as my wife and I promptly opened and enjoyed a bottle of “NATURAL” wine upon reading this translation… (and a nip of scotch of course). Thank you Jeremy, for the translation, even though I’m a bilingual illiterate. PS – Your misnomer that no wine is truly “natural” is quite evident ~ I mean, even Jesus had an issue making a natural wine, yes?!?! ;-)

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  9. A great read. Thank you for translating. In the letter they mention that…” If it were possible to list additives to wine labels (or even the substances that a given producer decides not to use), everyone would have all the tools necessary to effectively evaluate whether or not a wine is natural.”
    This reminded me of the piece written last year by Meg Maker on the subject. I recommend a read of the piece and comments.

    http://www.makerstable.com/2012/08/ingredients-on-wine-labels.html

    • There is not enough space on a 75cl bottle to list all the additives they use. If that was a regulation they will only be able to do so possibly in magnum bottles………..

  10. Kinda glad I just write jibberish and stories about my son, wee neighbors and occasionally what I’m drinking and eating. So much drama and dogma for such a civilizing beverage. No one has it completely right and everyone has a right to drink as they wish…period. And that goes for both sides of the natural/not natural fence. Why these camps are even talking to one another I have not a clue…kind of like Fox News and CNN bickering and getting about as much right. Sigh….makes me sad. Anyone wanna meet me in the sandbox for a glass of Champagne?

  11. SAHMmelier, I couldn’t agree more about the labeling issue. And I have in fact put my label where my mouth is, and my latest shipment of natural wines to the USA, bears this back-label: http://vinosambiz.blogspot.com.es/2012/11/my-back-label-dilemma-revisited-and.html
    It includes substances that I decided not to use and also processes that I decided not to use! I don’t think I’m the first winery to do this – but maybe the fifth or sixth out of the world’s hundred-thousand wineries or so!!!

  12. Jeremy you are the man, thank you for translating the letter.
    I haven;t understand WHY THEY PUBLISHED THAT LETTER.
    What or who if anything/anyone is hiding behind?
    What did they try to achieve?
    Why so much vengeance against growers and producers that never bother anyone and are going with their every day work without too showing off or flashy acts?
    WHY?

    I agree with Andy Pasternak on the amazing and on the spot response from the producers!

    I truly wish I would have the space first and foremost to have them all in our cellars. A lot of them are my favorite craftsmen/women of SINCERE WINES (as Jeremy called them a couple of days ago)
    Some are represented in Cyprus others we import directly and we are about to Snatch a few more by in a couple of months.

    To hell with them

    NO OAK – - NO FRUIT BOMBS — NO PARKER-IZATION AND GAMBERO ROSSO-NIZATION

    If to them we are anarchist then
    WINE ANARCHY IT IS!!!!!!!!!

  13. Margarita Ευχαριστω (thank you)
    But also NO GAMBERO ROSSO-NIZATION
    btw the NO PARKER-IZATION is written on the wall of one of our restaurants……..

    go to

  14. There are some truths in both articles, in Bettanes and in the one above. And some statements that are not true or arguable, at least.

    “And yet, the more substances that are added, the less the wine is spontaneous and digestible” (see above).
    This Statement is not necessarily true, especially concerning digestibility, and the underlying assumption that wines with few or no substances added are always more digestible and solubrious is also not necessarily true.
    Natural wine production bears a significantly higher risk to generate biogenic amines, some ‘species’ cause headaches, nausea and even allergic reactions, mainly due to phenylethylamine. I had many natural wines where I had symptoms within minutes! I can’t say I never have it with conventional wines, but it is very, very rare. I’d like to have an analysis with each natural wine.

    And I absolutely disagree with Bettane that all natural wines are horrible:
    There are some excellent ‘natural’ or ‘Zero Sulfite’ wines. Not many, but there are:
    2005 Sylvaner zero sulfite, Pierre Frick, Pfaffenheim, Alsace
    to name one example. 7 years old, unusual, but still very good!

  15. or Emidio Pepe’s wines – unbelievable! Beautiful wines! You drink and you start to feel… to dream… to really enjoy life!

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  17. I still can’t get over the GB comment that using native yeasts makes the wines all taste the same. My wonderful mother-in-law has been on a bread baking adventure over the last few months. As a result, we were watching some videos last night about bread makers in Paris. In the bread making world, it’s interesting that the most respected bakers in every country cultivate their own native yeasts to make bread and would never use commercial yeasts. So commercial yeasts make better breads but they don’t make better wines?

    • As Samantha pointed out, this conversation has gotten way out of hand. And it’s unbelievable to me that Bettane and Guerini would have made such broad-stroke statements… and it’s so important to remember that yeast never occurs in a vacuum. Commercial and native yeasts are everywhere and are unavoidable… Thanks for reading and commenting, Andy… I want to try some of that bread!

        • Giorgos, always great to see you here. It’s been such a trip to see the conventional wine world reel… I never would have expected this. I have a post in the works… Freud, Marx, and Natural wine (again)… add Woody Allen to the mix and we’ve got a blog post! ;) thanks for being here, man…

      • Jeremy thanks, it often happens when least expected, that’s we life is so magical. Looking forward for your next post.
        I owe you a t-shirt I don’t forget, a little lazy a little this, a little that….. but I need to add a few new ones in the collection. I’m visiting Sardinia & Sicily end of April and going to meet with COS, Arianna, Salvo Foti (who we are going to import directly as well as Dettori and of course Frank Cornelissen that we currently import.
        Anyway you’ll get the t-shirts when you don’t expect them

  18. And thanks to everyone for sharing here… as much as I was surprised by the sometimes violent reaction here, I’m so glad that my blog is a place where people are connecting and exchanging ideas. And wow, Tom Wark finally spelled my name right!

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