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Authentic Wine and Mistaking the Tail For the Snout

21 - dec - 11

by Tom Wark

The author is an American wine blogger, a public relations professional in the California wine industry and founder of the American Wine Blog Awards

I don't like the idea of taking issue with Jamie Goode. He's smarter than me. He's a better writer than me. And he's better looking than me. But on this issue of "Authentic Wine", the topic of his latest book, Jamie gets it wrong.

n fact, it's the very premise of his and Sam Harrop's "Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking" that can't be justified. In their introduction they write:

Wine is now at a metaphorical fork in the road and from here it can go one of two ways. The first is to continue down the road taken by New World branded wines: huge volumes, a reliance on technology and marketing, reliability at the cost of individuality, an emphasis on sweet fruit flavors and a loss of terroir....The Other road involves a retracing of steps and a celebration of what has made wine different and special: a respect for tradition, a sense of place, and an acknowledgement that diversity is valuable and not just a convenience."

Jamie and Sam have penned a false choice and they've done so based on a fiction.

The great defining aspect of the world wine industry in the last 20 years is DIVERSITY. In California alone the vast majority of wineries are small or medium sized wineries that focus on an artisan approach to winemaking that values terroir, estate vineyards and single vineyard wines with the goals exposing terroir. This isn't opinion. This is fact.

Yet the set up in "Authentic Wine" would have you believe that unless the right choices are made, wine lovers will be hurled down into a pit of sameness, no long able to access unique, terroir driven wines.

The authors go on to offer another great fiction: "The middle ground, once flush with diversity, has rapidly eroded, and those still in the game are seeing their access to market dry up."

Wrong. Right now, within seconds, I can locate 1000s of wines from 50 different states. Give me a few more seconds and I can locate many thousands of wines from countries such as France, Australia, Germany, Uruguay and Canada. There's no erosion in the wine marketplace. There is hyper diversity.

I honestly don't know how Jamie and Sam come to this conclusion that diversity in wine is diminishing. It's a notion that is undermined by logging on to the Internet and marveling at the huge, vast diversity of wine in the marketplace and available to all. It's a notion that is undermined by tasting the wines from various vineyards and regions in California, Oregon, Texas, Washington, New Zealand and nearly every other serious winemaking country.

But it occurs to me that there must be a good reason to write a book that attempts to define and explore  "Authentic Wine". That reason has to be based on the defense of something. The "Natural Wine" movement has a very evangelaic quality to it. Those who adhere to this undefined realm of winemaking either imply or say that they are trying to save the wine industry from itself, from forces that are pushing what was once an authentically artisan, craft-laden endeavor toward eventual sameness. Marking a metaphorical fork in the road is one way to do that...even if it doesn't exit.

In many ways the "Natural Wine" and now "Authentic Wine" movement is well behind the curve. Winemakers the world over have long embraced the notion of exposing terroir and connecting a wine to the plot of land from which it derives. Sustainably farmed vineyards proliferate all over the globe. Minimalist cellar techniques are common place. Native Yeasts have long been favored by many winemakers without even knowing there was such a movement as "native wine".

Those currently pushing the idea of "Natural Wine" think they may be on to something transformational and important when in fact what they have done is mistaken the tail of the dog for its snout.


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