Wine Nakedness and the Natch’l Truth

baronrothandmrsWEB wine grapes

naturally Rich Bordeuax “vignerons”

How intriguing all this natural wine stuff. So controversial. We know a veteran winemaker whose wines we respect and enjoy. He was recently advised his wines were “insufficiently green” to be placed in certain natural wine shops. tBoW had to know more.

What might established Napa winemakers, who we know practice “traditional” and thoughtful winemaking, have to say when faced with poignant questions about all this natural wine stuff?

Here is the first of two interviews (we hope) from real world long standing Napa winemakers who in our opinion know what they are doing when it comes to making quality shit.

Jim Moore is the owner of U’Vaggio. Jim sources grapes from all around NoCal. He participates in farming decisions but I am confident he would not describe himself as a farmer. Jim specializes in Italian varietals which are clearly New World and just as clearly true to the varietals. JIm Moore SFC winemakersWEB3 wine grapes [ed. the grand Mondavi-Frescobaldi Luce project], and Bonny Doon and he has consulted on numerous wine projects in Napa Valley. He is often quoted here because his humor appeals to tBoW. Jim knows about much more than wine so it is a good fit. You will see.

Question 1: If this natural wine activity is a movement what, in your opinion, are the movement aims?

JM: Any number of things, ranging from cool, hip and avant garde to a simpler, humbler, retro approach and/or an attempt at craftsmanship and/or differentiation. Much more so the former when used for marketing and/or establishing ‘cred’.

Q2: Terms including sustainability, organic, and biodynamic are principles of natural winemakers. How would you define these terms?

JM: Sustainable = intelligent and prudent; organic = enlightened, noble and taking a longer point of view; biodynamic = there is so much hubris around here I had better bury some of this bullshit laying around. Anybody got a horn?.

Q3: The phrase “farm to bottle” characterizes natural wine. One often stated lament is that winemakers in the New World are not involved with the farming as are Old World winemakers and that this creates a dysjunction in the winemaking process. Comments?

JM: ‘Vineyard to bottle’ is much more of a European thing, especially from poor rural regions with a peasant history.

old school copper sprayWEB2 wine grapes

La Morra farmer sprays vines with copper ca. 2000

On the other hand, winemakers in the Medoc have probably worn ascots for a few centuries, thanks to the British merchants. In the New World, wine is a relatively recent thing – whether it was the Dutch in South Africa, the English in Australia or a polygot Heinz 57 in California. Not only is there a lack of strong (any?) cultural antecedents, land in the New World was generally held in large parcels. It is a lot easier being a vigneron if your family has tilled the same 2.375 HA in Burgundy or Piemonte since the 1700′s, less so when it costs $100,00 per acre in Napa Valley. I think the single largest divide between Old World and New World in this respect is the relative newness to the industry. New World winemaking is often a conscious lifestyle choice; even a second career. Dirty fingernails at Premier Napa is so gauche.

parkerstone2WEB wine grapes Q4: Wine made to a style is inconsistent with wine made by the vintage. Wine made to a style (Parker scores takes the heat here) is inconsistent with the concept of terroir. Allowing the vineyard and the weather to make the wine is consistent with terroir. Which is it?

JM: Oh the Parker thing. The industry allowed one person to ‘dictate’ things for far too long. Back in the late 80′s a clever Frenchman once said to me – your culture and your generation grew-up with obvious flavors (candies of all sorts, chocolate, Coca Cola, popcorn, pancakes with syrup, root beer, 7-up, sweetened cereals, vanilla and whiskey) so why be surprised when these flavors are embraced as virtues in wine?

Two other, more subtle aspects are that in general our soils are much more fertile and that we receive a tremendous amount of sunshine (and seldom any summer precipitation). Factor in a lower latitude and a longer season – what do you get? Extremely ripe and very malleable fruit as our base material. Throw in a newbie vintner chasing a dream as it might be defined by the popular media and what could you/would you expect? Lower alcohols and balance? Less new oak? Not when the goal is 95+ points or your picture in the Wine Spectator.

It has been argued that California lacks ‘terroir’. A very narrow definition of that concept would include having interesting and complex soils, or terrain. This is the new frontier. So until the echo-boomers, gens X-Y-Z and other new or eventual consumers get over an infatuation with craft beers and artisan cocktails, plus they develop some real spending clout and displace the old guard as the standard bearers for the same-old, same-old, not much will change.

Q5: “Nothing added, nothing taken out” is a natural wine axiom. Does this have meaning in how you make wine?

newmansown wine grapes

SO2 safe?

JM: If we ever adopt ingredient labeling, that is when I stop bottling wine. The government warning is bad enough. I use grapes and grape juice, occasionally augmented with naturally occurring acids (tartaric and malic), yeast (generally cultured, to realize specific outcomes), sometimes bentonite (mined from the earth), and a judicious amount of SO2. I think that I probably add less to our wine than Newman’s Own does to their pasta sauce or salad dressing.

Newman’s Own. Perfect.

Jim Moore makes Barbera and Primitivo reds along with Vermentino and Moscato whites. Final words from Jim’s website…

If you’ve ever tuned into NPR’s “What I Believe” show, you would know that it usually focuses on things like the Constitution, the Middle East and other worldwide issues. When it comes to the world of wine, here is what we believe:

Wine should be fun.
Part of that fun is trying something different.
Wine should complement a meal, not replace it.
One need not have to take out a loan to buy a case.
If you like our wine, open another bottle. Enjoy something new!

Jim likes old time music. Bet he knows this one.

4 Comments

  1. Wavatar
    mouse says:

    I did not understand his comments regarding terroir, or there lackof, in California. Please translate.

  2. Wavatar
    Kris-B says:

    This is awesome

  3. Wavatar
    Jim says:

    In the broadest sense, everyplace has its own unique terroir. However in a more narrow (and Eurocentric) definition, our fertile soils and lower latitude allow vines to flourish and offer bountiful yields, not necessarily struggle. A general absence of hilly terrain or steep slopes and other key defining elements (such as slate in the Mosel or limestone in Burgundy) help bolster this line of thinking. When you add drip irrigation and fertilization, some of California’s viticulture borders on being quasi-hydroponic farming.

    On another note, I was fortunate to have seen Taj Mahal perform live a number of times. (His guitarist Jesse ‘Ed’ Davis lived a block or two away.) The only person I saw perform more often than Taj was Tim Buckley, still a favorite of mine. I saw him perform about a dozen times, the most memorable being down by the creek in Topanga Canyon, at some half baked (no pun intended) music festival (my gratuitous local reference for the day).

    • Wavatar
      Bacchus says:

      Jesse Ed Davis was a superb guitarist. I own 2 – TWO – of his CDs. Which may have numbered two. I hope to sing “Reno Street Incident” one karaoke evening.