martedì 13 ottobre 2015

Notes on natural, raw wines: thoughts and considerations (part one)

We were at the end of the ‘70s, a time where there was a huge gap between viticulture and oenology. The motto of some in the industry was even: “bring us grapes of any kind and we will make wine, actually, we don’t even need the grapes”. At the time, I was conducting scientific research with Professor Luciano Usseglio Tomasset and I still remember this period with excitement. Tomasset, a distinguished and world-class oenological chemist, shared my then still-youthful enthusiasm for balanced production and grape quality, and among his clever teachings, I remember that he, on numerous occasions, coined the phrase that would later become widespread: “Dear Dr Corino, wine is made in the vineyard; in the cellar we try to lose the fewest possible values contained in well-grown grapes, and we can improve nothing”.

Late 19th century artisan cellar
It was an exciting time for my scientific research. Encouraged to follow this teaching, which I had already seen applied by my family of wine producers, I devoted most of my following years to the cause that would return viticulture and the territories to an economically important position in the aim of making good and original wines.

The next step was to commit myself even more, not only in the vineyard (the management of flora and the vitality of the soil), but also in the specific environments adjacent to the vineyards (hedges, trees, birdhouses, fields meadows and wooded areas) in order to achieve a more ‘natural’ situation. Many suggestions were also shared with me by experiments in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, which were all simultaneously growing, particularly in some territories, a more balanced viticulture and more mature wine production.

The term “natural”, as already stated several times, is a word that is used in the absence of more appropriate synonyms. I would say that the english expression “organic wine” is far more accurate. To produce these wines, we must remember at least some important steps:
  • the use of the ancestral vines of the area and the preservation of their genetic variability; 
  • the selection of environments that are very suited to the vines in order to optimise results; 
  • cultivation with simple, few or no invasive interventions, also on the surrounding people and environment; 
  • maintaining an adequate production balance with the physiology of the plant and clusters with high potential for future wine.
A vineyard producing natural wines
Consequently, organic-natural wine is the strongest expression of the area and vintage, which must be explained and documented in order to promptly share the dynamics that occurred up to ‘finished’ wine (soil, weather conditions, physiological synthesis trends in the clusters, wine-making methods etc.). In the cellar, it’s worth remembering that natural wines should not receive any type of treatment nor additives during the winemaking, fermentation, aging and packaging process.

But how does one taste these wines?

The colours of natural wine
The industry of conventional wines has, over the years, become very organised. It has established very targeted regulations that include legislation, with an extraordinary ability to undertake interventions especially in the cellar. Tasting a conventional wine leads to a quick or almost immediate judgment on the features of the just-poured product. This method is widely adopted and taught. Even the end customer has been taught to have such an expectation.

Natural, raw wines normally have a very different production style from conventional wines and certainly don’t undergo any kind of manipulation in the cellar, but are ‘living’ and constantly evolving. Therefore, as soon as you open the bottle, you must have patience, let it breathe and approach the tasting without any prejudice or prefigured expectation, so as to be better prepared for all expressions of smell and taste as they arise. Only later and with a few pauses are considerations more appropriately made. In any case, these wines normally continue to surprise even at a distance of days and weeks. 

In some years and especially for some varieties, the presence of ‘anomalies’ can still occur: oxidation, values of evident volatile acidity and unconventional tastes. We must remember that the producer of organic wines must always work with skill and diligence to achieve good wines, but has to accept that there can be variability with sometimes surprising results. Finally, it is important to remember that properly achieved organic-natural wines also indisputably healthy. ‘Perfect' wines, but only because the additives make them so are an ‘offense’ to our health and we must be conscious of this. 
Wine, a ‘magic’ product, possesses a long history and is deeply intertwined with human society. From its dawn in Mesopotamia, continuing with the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Romans. From each of these peoples we have been gifted pivotal teachings in viticulture and oenology and we have to remember this precious legacy.

Complexity in the vineyard in spring
Research and technology with their extraordinary results represent important progress but should not lead to applications that have little in common with the values of authenticity, territoriality and the genuine goodness of taste. An organic-natural wine is also a duty and should become a priority because it contains priceless economic values: but it is a hard job that reveals the true artisan.

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