Natural Wine – the debate rages on.

by Patrick Sandeman

The debate rages on about ‘natural’ wines and I, for one, am delighted that such a respected and great winemaker as Michel Chapoutier has now spoken out against this new trend, deriding it as a ‘connerie‘. Please don’t get me wrong, we have been buying wines for over two decades that are made as naturally as possible, and are positively in favour of those wine makers who champion ‘la lutte raisonnée’, sustainability, and organic or biodynamic viticulture, so long as they are making great wine. But this new trend for ‘natural’ wines leaves us rather cold, since most of the wines remind me of the rather oxidative and alcoholic cider that I tasted as a boy, made by the Carthusian monks at Parkminster Abbey in Sussex, and which I could only assume they drank in order to keep their vow of silence.

Here is an extract from Decanter magazine:

‘Renowned Rhone producer Michel Chapoutier has added to the natural wine debate by denouncing natural winemakers as out-of-touch hippies making defective wines. Interviewed in the current issue of Decanter, Chapoutier tells John Livingstone-Learmonth the practice of natural winemaking – that is, using no sulphur dioxide to stabilise the wines – is a con. ‘It is a connerie. It is rubbish. It’s like making vinegar, bad vinegar. How can anyone allow toxic yeasts to develop so that these inhabit the wine?’ Moreover the Hermitage producer, who also makes wine in Australia, Portugal and Alsace, considers those who follow the practice, ‘hippies from another world’.

‘It is extraordinary that people defend products with defects on the grounds that in the past growers were making wines with defects, so that is good, or natural. Those old wines had defects because people lacked the tools and means not to make fault-free wines.’ Natural winemaking has a long history of attracting fiercely opposing views. In a recent column in Decanter, Andrew Jefford suggested that although the method could produce an undreamt-of ‘landscape of aroma and flavour’, it was also teetering on the edge of ‘charlatanry’. No winemaker, he argued, ‘should… fold their arms and stare righteously at the ceiling while their wines turn malodorously delinquent through neglect.’

As cutting edge as we might be at Lea & Sandeman, we will not bow to trends that promote bad wine!