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
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.
ASSOCIAZIONE RENAISSANCE ITALIA
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.