Lettie on Natural Wines

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Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Dale Williams » Sun Jul 07, 2013 11:15 pm

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 83968.html

OK, so while I like a lot of "Natural Wines", I can't be characterized as a true believer. But this article is just so bad- I've had issues with Lettie as a "journalist" before, but this article is pitiful.

So she asks several people who are into "natural wine" (and a couple who aren't) their definition- and they come up with (slightly) different answers. No evidence that they are contradictory, just phrased differently. So if "Natural wine" proponents (and hostile others) can't come up with a strict definiton, then Natural wines don't exist? In that case, would you argue that folk rock, Expressionist art, sports cars, and soul food don't exist? Because pretty sure if you asked fans/pros re any of those you wouldn't get a definitive definition.

She says Charles Massoud claims that natural wines are dangerous because of excess biogenic amines - that's mentioned twice in the article, despite her admission there is no proof of that. Could she or Massoud come up with ONE instance of someone being harmed by tyramine and putrescine in a wine? Or of a natural wine that tested in dangerous levels for one of those amines? The WSJ is usually all in denial mode re any manufacturer liability, yet here they sling accusations with absolutely no evidence.

Then there is her tasting of the wines. I'm fine with her not liking some of the reds, but why not name them so one can figure out if her tastes matter to you?

(edited because someone didn't like my characterization of the Massouds)
Last edited by Dale Williams on Mon Jul 08, 2013 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Florida Jim » Mon Jul 08, 2013 2:42 am

FWIW, in selling wine I find that most buyers (individual or commercial) feel natural wine is that which is fermented without inoculation and that which has not undergone RO or other similar winemaking techniques. Natural yeast appears to be the one thing everybody hangs their hat on.
Personally, the term natural suggests a sliding.scale or range . . . and not so much a definition.
In the words of the Supremes, I can't define it but I know it when I see it.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Victorwine » Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:21 am

Some might find the following link interesting

https://www.etslabs.com/assets/PTB007-B ... Amines.pdf

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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Jul 08, 2013 11:43 am

Seems like dangerous levels of histamine aren't likely in wine (especially since high levels of putrescine would smell, well, putrid).
Obviously low levels of sulphur can hasten spoilage- never heard anyone doubt that. But I think the wine would become undrinkable well before it was unhealthy.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Brian Gilp » Mon Jul 08, 2013 12:44 pm

while organic wines are made without the use of chemicals and pesticides.

Can someone tell me if this is technically accurate? Are sulfur, copper, and other sprays allowable under organic rules not considered chemicals? Even if technically accurate, I hate this type of writting as it implies that there are no sprays employed in growing organically which is not only wrong, its completely wrong since generally going organic results in more sprays not less.

As for the rest of the article, this seems about normal for one of her articles. I stopped reading her long ago as they brought nothing new to the table and in some cases even seem to distort the truth. I remember an article a while back where she recounted an evening with a "chicago wine collector and some of his friends". Seems that some of what she wrote was not exactly the way it happened or left out details that would make what happened seem normal but that would detract from what she wanted to say. The part that was most in question was using Grand Cru Burgundy to make risotto. She wrote it up in a way that implied that they were so snobish as to only make risotto with GC. In reality the bottle was flawed to the point that no one would drink it but not so flawed that it could not be used for the risotto so instead of opening a bottle just for the risotto, in goes the GC. The fact that the bottle was flawed completely changes the conclusions that the readers draw from the story and the fact that it was omitted was to me the equivalent of making it up since it is so material to the act itself.

Lastly, I don't understand the fascination with how the yeast gets into the fermentation vat. If it rides in on the grapes that's good. If it resides in the winery that's good as well. If it comes in a packet, that's bad. Seems like a strange distinction to me.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Jul 08, 2013 12:52 pm

Can I please have those 5 minutes of my life back? Gosh that was an awful article. I had to click though - it was like a train wreck.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Victorwine » Mon Jul 08, 2013 2:16 pm

Brian wrote;
Lastly, I don't understand the fascination with how the yeast gets into the fermentation vat. If it rides in on the grapes that's good. If it resides in the winery that's good as well. If it comes in a packet, that's bad. Seems like a strange distinction to me.

Especially if the “packet” yeast or bacteria (MLB) is “selected from nature”, and using so called “packet” or “desirable” strains of yeast and bacteria could possibly reduce the risk of “things to go wrong” (the production of “excessive” levels of amines for example).

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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Mon Jul 08, 2013 2:29 pm

Especially if the “packet” yeast or bacteria (MLB) is “selected from nature”, and using so called “packet” or “desirable” strains of yeast and bacteria could possibly reduce the risk of “things to go wrong” (the production of “excessive” levels of amines for example).


Yahbut....sometimes it's the "things to go wrong" that elevates a winemaker to cult status. :twisted: :mrgreen: :twisted:
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Mon Jul 08, 2013 2:30 pm

Lettie Teague is to 'responsible wine journalism" as...... (finish this analogy).
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"Bad" Article???

Postby TomHill » Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:07 pm

Finally read thru Lettie's article.
A "bad" article???? I wouldn't characterize it as that.
Vapid? Insipid? Uninformative? Shallow? Bland?....yeah...that I'd call it. Maybe even...gasp...(long/boring)!! :-)
It's pretty characteristic of her writings I'd have to say. At least for the audience of wine geeks that hang out here.
But there may be some folks who live under a rock in the WSJ readership who've never heard of "natural" wines....and
it might provoke/prompt/encourage some of them to try them.
The issue of amines in "natural" wines is a bit irresponsible journalism. She should have shot down Massoud's assertions.
I would like to have seen a bit more detail on the "natural" wines she tasted.
Whatever "natural" wines are (which she makes a point of in her article...they're not well defined...unless you use sweetAlice's
definitive definition)?? I don't think it's going be something that will ever be...like beauty or pornography...precisely defined.
My reactioon to her article...meh!!!
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:55 pm

Hoke wrote:Lettie Teague is to 'responsible wine journalism" as...... (finish this analogy).


The Twilight Saga is to great literature.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Mon Jul 08, 2013 5:15 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:
Hoke wrote:Lettie Teague is to 'responsible wine journalism" as...... (finish this analogy).


The Twilight Saga is to great literature.


:D
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Thomas » Mon Jul 08, 2013 6:14 pm

In so many cases, a reporter covering a certain beat normally has either been educated in that discipline or, at the very least, brings some hands-on experience to the coverage.

Sadly, this is not the norm with wine reporting. With one or two exceptions, I can't bring myself to read anything written in a newspaper that has to do with wine, except maybe the wine club ads, for the humor they bring to the table.

I have to say, however, that some of those amines do indeed make it into commercial wines, but as Hoke said, that often catapults them to cult status...
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Paul Winalski » Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:31 pm

Brian Gilp wrote:Lastly, I don't understand the fascination with how the yeast gets into the fermentation vat. If it rides in on the grapes that's good. If it resides in the winery that's good as well. If it comes in a packet, that's bad. Seems like a strange distinction to me.


There's a school of thought that says that viticulture and winemaking should be done with as little human intervention as possible. So hand weeding is better than spraying with Roundup. Avoiding pesticides is goodness. Using the indigenous yeasts to do the fermentation is better than inoculation. One should avoid sulfur. No fining or filtering. And so on.

My own personal take on the issue is best summarized by the famous quote by Albert Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

I'm all in favor of using indigenous yeasts--provided that they're the right yeasts for the job. In the great viticultural areas of Europe, where there's been intensive cultivation of vines for centuries, this tends to be the case. Not necessarily so in North America. And what good is it to avoid sulfite treatments (a safe and effective disinfectant), if by doing so the result is a flawed wine with VA or other problems?

I've talked to several great winemakers in Burgundy, and they take a hands-off approach and let the wine make itself as much as possible. But if things start to go wrong, they don't hesitate to bring technology to bear to rescue the situation.

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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Thomas » Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:08 pm

The trouble with the term "indigenous yeast" is that local yeast populations can easily mix with "vacationing" yeast populations.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:55 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:I've talked to several great winemakers in Burgundy, and they take a hands-off approach and let the wine make itself as much as possible. But if things start to go wrong, they don't hesitate to bring technology to bear to rescue the situation.


Infidels!
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Brian K Miller » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:43 am

Thomas wrote:The trouble with the term "indigenous yeast" is that local yeast populations can easily mix with "vacationing" yeast populations.


Miscegenation in the microflora world! Where is a Republican Congressman to bemoan this fact! :mrgreen:
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:50 am

Brian K Miller wrote:
Thomas wrote:The trouble with the term "indigenous yeast" is that local yeast populations can easily mix with "vacationing" yeast populations.


Miscegenation in the microflora world! Where is a Republican Congressman to bemoan this fact! :mrgreen:


Attach it to a motorcycle bill?
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Brian Gilp » Thu Jul 11, 2013 1:27 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:There's a school of thought that says that viticulture and winemaking should be done with as little human intervention as possible. So hand weeding is better than spraying with Roundup. Avoiding pesticides is goodness. Using the indigenous yeasts to do the fermentation is better than inoculation. One should avoid sulfur. No fining or filtering. And so on.


But unless I am missing something this was in context of "Natural Wines" which by most definitions only is concerned wth what takes place in the winery. Viticultural pracitices are a differnt classification such that one can be biodynamic but not natural just as it can the reverse of biodynamic but not natual.

If I want to paint a really stupid for instance, I believe that one could dump yeast into the lugs in the field and those wines would meet the definition of "Natural wines" since one is not innoculating the fermentation vat.

The question for me is not if innoculated fermentations are natural or not but if there is a real difference and if there is a difference why does it exist. I have read a fair bit on this especially related to all of the different indigenous yeast that can be in a fermentation to reaction kinetics impacting fermentation temperatures and skin contact times as well as other theories. I have also read that many winemakers believe that any noticable difference in the finished wine only exists for about the first 18 months after fermentation and that aging removes all of the differences induced by yeast. I don't know how much of this to believe. I have not yet had fruit clean enough to attempt a fermentation without innoculation but I have a hard time believing that it can take longer than the one I did using Asmussen. Also, every bottle of Ridge that I read claims that fermentations are done without innoculation and most are pressed at dryness after a six day fermenation. So this seems to fly in the face of the logic that native yeast result in longer ferments.

I also don't understand how the use of SO2 at crush works with the idea of natual wines as it seems to me that one is altering what nature gave you. if going to go native, go all the way.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Thu Jul 11, 2013 7:53 pm

Okay, Brian, gotta back up a little. I'm confused (I know, not an uncommon occurence.)

You said:

I believe that one could dump yeast into the lugs in the field and those wines would meet the definition of "Natural wines" since one is not innoculating the fermentation vat.


How is adding yeast to a lug not "inoculation"? You've added yeast You're not depending on either ambient or "wild" yeast...and going even further, there's a significant difference between using "wild yeasts" and utilizing yeast that has been cultivated form and exist within your biosphere. But the major point is, if you add yeast, any kind of yeast at any time, you're "interfering" with the "natural process."

Purists, experimentalists and provocateurs (er, marketers) can proseytize all they wish: there is no such thing as "natural wine." Period. All wine production is based on human intervention. All wine production is based on controlling the process by which grapes are grown and fermentation transforms sugars into alcohols (and heat and carbon dioxide gas). When you decide, at any given point what you are (or are not) going to do and when you are (or are not) going to do it, that means the resulting wine is not "natural wine."

You also said:

I also don't understand how the use of SO2 at crush works with the idea of natual wines as it seems to me that one is altering what nature gave you. if going to go native, go all the way.


Again, once you have made any intervention---any intervention, any decision, any choice,any involvement, any alteration of what "naturally" happens---you don't have natural wine anymore. Skin contact time? Alteration. Controlled temperature fermentation? Alteration. Attempting to lenngthen or shorten the duration and intensity of fermentation? Alteration. "Crushing" or pressing the juice? Alteration.

I know of no wine currently being commercially produced that is a "natural wine". And I doubt I ever will. And even more than that, I doubt I'd ever appreciate one were I to have it.

Mind you, I champion the outliers and the chance takers, the experimenters and the outside-the-boxers, the pushers of edges and borders and constraints. God bless each and every one of them. But don't feed me the bullshit and the Feiring-esque contortions of language that passes for "natural wines."
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Thomas » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:42 pm

And if I may pile onto Hoke's list of interventions: pruning vines is not "natural," neither is tying them, suckering, or even cover cropping between the rows--the rows themselves are not "natural."
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:56 pm

Thomas wrote:And if I may pile onto Hoke's list of interventions: pruning vines is not "natural," neither is tying them, suckering, or even cover cropping between the rows--the rows themselves are not "natural."


Domesticated grapevines are not "natural". Wild grapevines are largely insect-pollinated. Domesticated grapevines are largely self-pollinated. And most of them these days are cloned (although admittedly many dedicated growers are attempting to avoid cloning these days).

Thomas: you created a vision in my head of a "natural wines" vineyard---a thicket of massive trees with grapevines festooned all over their trunks and throughout their branches--vitis vinifera. :mrgreen: :lol:
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Brian Gilp » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:09 pm

Hoke wrote:Okay, Brian, gotta back up a little. I'm confused (I know, not an uncommon occurence.)

You said:

I believe that one could dump yeast into the lugs in the field and those wines would meet the definition of "Natural wines" since one is not innoculating the fermentation vat.


How is adding yeast to a lug not "inoculation"? You've added yeast You're not depending on either ambient or "wild" yeast...and going even further, there's a significant difference between using "wild yeasts" and utilizing yeast that has been cultivated form and exist within your biosphere. But the major point is, if you add yeast, any kind of yeast at any time, you're "interfering" with the "natural process."


I do believe that it is inoculation. My comment stems from something I read on another board by a winemaker that promotes the natural wine approach and his definition that natural wine relates to only what happens inside the winery and that anything that happens outside the winery is irrelevant wrt the definition of natural wine. Sure he was talking about how viticulture does not matter wrt natural winemaking and maybe i am taking liberties with his explanationI but from how he stated it, the stupid scenario I propose would be still qualify as natural wine since it happened outside the winery and the winemaking process.
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Re: Lettie on Natural Wines

Postby Hoke » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:20 pm

Brian Gilp wrote:
Hoke wrote:Okay, Brian, gotta back up a little. I'm confused (I know, not an uncommon occurence.)

You said:

I believe that one could dump yeast into the lugs in the field and those wines would meet the definition of "Natural wines" since one is not innoculating the fermentation vat.


How is adding yeast to a lug not "inoculation"? You've added yeast You're not depending on either ambient or "wild" yeast...and going even further, there's a significant difference between using "wild yeasts" and utilizing yeast that has been cultivated form and exist within your biosphere. But the major point is, if you add yeast, any kind of yeast at any time, you're "interfering" with the "natural process."


I do believe that it is inoculation. My comment stems from something I read on another board by a winemaker that promotes the natural wine approach and his definition that natural wine relates to only what happens inside the winery and that anything that happens outside the winery is irrelevant wrt the definition of natural wine. Sure he was talking about how viticulture does not matter wrt natural winemaking and maybe i am taking liberties with his explanationI but from how he stated it, the stupid scenario I propose would be still qualify as natural wine since it happened outside the winery and the winemaking process.


Which underlines the fact that there is no such thing as "natural wine" and that any given individual can define it in any way desired because it doesn't exist. And never did--except maybe the first time someone dipped into a jug of grape juice that had "gone bad", took his life in his hands, and got seriously shit-faced. :twisted:

Please understand, Bryan, not attempting to diss you at all---as I said, I honor those who go a little further, those who push the envelope, those who explore. But "natural wine" was never anything more than a contrived tag to sell something that never existed in the first place. It was a tag devised, oddly enough, by the very same people who are the quickest to deride marketing tags used by other people.
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