Michel Bettane’s diatribe against Natural wine in the current print-version issue of the Gambero Rosso monthly came to my attention this morning via the popular Italian wine blog Intravino (where I also grabbed the above image of the French wine writer).
The issue also includes an op-ed by editor Eleonora Guerini in which she writes, “every time that I hear someone talk about natural wine, I begin instinctively to laugh.”
I didn’t bother translating her piece (for obvious reasons) but, in the interest of transatlantic dialog, I have rendered excerpts from Bettane’s harangue in English below.
The image of the page comes from the Facebook of Jonathan Nossiter (via @AliceFeiring). Click the image for PDF version.
We sincerely hope that Italian wine lovers will not be subjected to what has been happening in France: an invasion of so-called “natural” wines — in other words, so called “zero sulfur” wines — with the complicity of numerous sommeliers, wine merchants, and irresponsible journalists…
[These winemakers] insist on making wine without sulfur and they peddle their “beverage” as if it were true terroir.
Their products are easily recognizable: the red wines stink and 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. The wines are cloudy and unstable and they show an excessive presence of carbonic gas, giving the impression that the wine is incomplete.
The white wines — when possible — are even worse: more or less oxidized from the moment of birth and therefore stillborn. Their decomposition is then “managed” posthumously! We are amazed by the ingenuousness of the many excellent chefs who now only include such wines on their lists. They are so careful about their food: they should be the first to be ashamed of such rotten wines!
It’s up to their clients to point out that what they believe is a wine closer to “nature” is actually nothing more than a bad wine whose only intention is to give you a headache.
With some luck and perseverance, it’s possible to make wines without the addition of suflur. These are simple and very pleasant fruity wines that should be consumed where they are produced. But they need to be stored in a cool cellar and — most importantly — they mustn’t travel!
For every cuvée that turns out well, there will be two or three that are completely wrong.
But who has the means to not sell them and accept responsibility for one’s own errors?
—Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve
This assumes Gambero Rosso is the moral compass for Italian wine – a claim I am not sure they can make anymore. Next….
such a good point… why do they even bother? I ask rhetorically: the notion of the “other” just touches such a raw nerve in them that they can’t help themselves… thanks for reading, Ace…
Thanks for the translation. I was hoping to find one.
I’ve been, and remain, a fairly vocal critic of the “natural wine” movement. But what I’ve never done, never will do and am disappointed to see Bettane and Gambero Rosso do, is make sweeping and critical generalizations about the quality of “natural wine.”
It’s so easy to dispute this kind of generalization. All one needs to do is show a nice tasting, well-traveled “natural wine” and this critique of “natural wine” becomes worthless and shown to be without merit.
Bettane and Gambero Rosso should know better.
There is a great deal about which to condemn this whole “natural wine” movement. One of those things is not quality.
Thanks, again for the translation.
it touches a nerve b/c they see the mere existence of “the other” as a tacit disapproval of themselves and their way of winemaking. SO sensitive! ;)
Traci, one of the problems with the “natural wine” movement isn’t a tacit disapproval of all other wines. It’s is an explicit disapproval of all other wines. Additionally, the naturalistas seem entirely incapable of admitting that what they are promoting is old hat, thereby dismissing the amazing work done by winemakers across the globe who have worked tirelessly to promote terroir-driven wines, though without making claim to the fraudulent moniker of “natural”.
Nicely stated Tom!
Tom, I think you will find that 90% of winemakers who aim to vinify with minimal intervention, including those who use no sulfur, are not dogmatic about what is “natural” and do not disapprove of all other wines. The assertion that they do, however, is a common defense put up by those who make or champion heavily manipulated wines. And there are good reasons to disapprove of those.
When the winemakers you refer to speak out against the large number of champions of “natural wine” that make these kinds of fraudulent claims, then I’ll be sympathetic to you your point. The problem is, they don’t. Rather, they remain silent. And don’t mistake my indictment of the “natural wine” movement as a “defense” of anything. You should interpret it as a fairly straightforward attack on fraud in the wine business.
Hi Tom, What fraudulent claims? And who is making them?
Michael, over the past couple of years a number of claims re natural wine and “non-natural” wines have been made. That said, among the fraud committed by the “natural wine” champions are:
1. Calling the wines “natural”
2. By strong implicatio
n suggesting all other wines are not natural
3. Positioning the movement as “new” or in the vanguard of some sort of new approach to winemaking
4. Referring to “natural wines” on the one hand and “industrial wines” as everything else.
5. Claiming that “natural wines” exhibit terroir better than other wines.
6. Claiming that natural wines are healthier than other wines.
Tom, I fear you are hiding a polemical urge. To my questions “who” and “what fraudulent claims” you answer “a number of claims re natural wine and “non-natural” wines have been made.” That passive voice does not say who. Then your list of “fraudulent claims” is just a list of opinions. A fraud is a knowing lie, not an opinion. But you know that. I think I will disengage from this form of debate. I catch a whiff of bad faith.
Michael, I don’t think I’ve ever hid my polemical side, ever. That said, we are communicating here in a comments section, where it probably isn’t proper to direct you to another blog (mine) where I’ve laid out extensively many of the bad actors in the “natural wine” movement”. You are of course welcome to track down the many posts on the subject where names and named. Finally, the numbered claims I’ve offered are not opinions. Every single one is regularly put forward by champions of “natural wine.”
Fascinating. For sure, there are some bad natural wines out there in the same way there are some bad non-natural(?) wines. I’d take exception with the argument about the yeasts creating wines that taste like every other wine. My guess is that there is a wider variety of natural yeasts out there than commercial yeasts. If all the non-natural wine makers are using some version of Saccharomyces, shouldn’t the logical argument be that their wines all taste the same too? While there is always variability, I find that the natural wine makers tend to make wines with more terroir that have individual and idiosyncratic tastes. For me, the more commercial wine makers that make wines that I have more difficult time figuring out where they are from. They can be good wines but they are also seem to be conforming to some universal standard.
Disengaging from this kind of debate is the wisest thing you could do! It took me about 2 years to discover that for myself :)
Your comment on the 90% not being dogmatic is perfectly true I believe, in fact probably more like 99%, but the loud-mouth 1% seem to make enough noise for the rest of us to get lumped in together with them, as if we were all some kind of mindless followers of great leaders! Go figure!
With respect, I see that you are still living in a fantasy world, far removed from the reality of the great majority of natural wine producers, traders and consumers! One the one hand I was pleased to read you say above “what I’ve never done, never will do …, is make sweeping and critical generalizations about the quality of “natural wine.”, but on the other hand you’ve been making sweeping and critical generalizations about the “natural wine movement” for years, and then even make 6 of them in your next comment!!!!
Fabio, Nicely stated. Thanks. One thing surprises me when I see debates on this topic — the market share of wine that anybody would call “natural” or low-intervention is very, very small. Why don’t the conventional wine makers just ignore us?
Michael as a fan of wine in general I’ve been following some brands around California for several years who are working bio-dynamically and “minimally” or “organically” and had stumbled upon your name and brand several months ago. Who is the winemaker for your winery? I wouldn’t mind getting his take.
I think that the vast majority actually DO ignore us! It’s the tiny, but vocal, hi-profile minorities on both sides who are generating non-debates; instead of focussing on common ground and creating added value, interest and enjoyment for all consumers and for the wine trade as a whole.
Fabio, that makes good sense. you are a level-headed guy. let’s make wine! -m
Thank you for this post. Sarah May
Mwah, I can’t get exited over mr. Bettanes words. My natural winemaking friends choked when we got the piece in Italian, it went round the whole group of serious producers, laughs all around. It is funny that most of them sell all of their wine every year, that is proof that they are on to something…? This btw ‘Bettane and Gambero Rosso should know better.’ is a sentence I do not understand.
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Dennis, Los Pilares uses custom crush services. I am the winemaker in the sense that our custom crusher (who doesn’t crush, by the way) makes the wine to my specified protocols and I and my partners source the grapes. Happy to discuss with you what we do. firstname.lastname@example.org
Great thank you for your reply Michael, it is appreciated. Could you forward me the winemaker’s info then? I am interested in talking to him/her.
eric van drunen at charlie & echo sorry for the VERY late reply. :-)