More Natural Wines
It is sort of a funny thing, this Natural Wine Week. The idea of getting people talking about all the work and decisions that go into any bottle of wine is a good one. And setting a week aside to talk about natural wine and to honor those people who make wine with integrity is great. The odd part about it is before the week began and after it ends, we will be pouring the same types of wines – even the exact wines in some cases. Our program at Nopa has always been about small, artisanal and natural producers. When Jeff Hanak wrote the original list, his focus was on organics in the vineyard. We maintain that focus. The conversation in wine today has expanded from natural practices in the vineyard to natural processes in the cellar. Fortunately, many of the producers who led the way in organics are also leading the way in non-intervention wine making. And the truth is they were doing it back when the discussion was just about organics, the change is more in the scope of the dialogue than the actions of the producers.
Although our focus during Natural Wine Week will be on two California Producers, most of our wines by the glass fall somewhere within the realm of natural wine making. Three of the most natural are the Le Dilettante Sparkling Vouvray from Catherine and Pierre Breton, the Gamay from Clos du Tue Boeuf and the Lunar from Movia.
The Le Dilettante is 100% Chenin Blanc and is made by Catherine. The fruit is from her family’s holdings in Vouvray, whereas most of the Breton wines come from Chinon or Bourgeuil. The Loire Valley is ahead of the curve on organics and natural winemaking. The Breton’s have been leading the way in this most progressive of French wine regions. They are organic but employ some biodynamic principles in the vineyard. They use indigenous yeast and as little sulfur as they feel they can get away with. They are an extremely nice couple. I had lunch with them here in San Francisco a couple years ago and was enamored by them. Pierre is rather serious and Catherine not at all. At the time, Catherine’s English was better and there was constant play going on between them – she teasing him, he scolding her, both of them laughing about it. Their energy was fresh, alive and completely real. I know it sounds silly, but that good energy I felt from them at the lunch table translates into their wine. Perhaps when one really keeps the processes natural, even that becomes part of terroir.
We currently have the Gamay from Clos du Tue Boeuf. Sometime during the week we may be switching to the Pinot Noir/Gamay blend. My visit with Thierry Puzelat at Clos du Tue Boeuf was one of the highlights of my recent trip to France. He is young, progressive, completely down to earth and friendly with a slightly punk edge. He is one of the leaders of the natural wine movement in France. Thierry has an appealing blend of confidence and humility. One gets the sense there are very strong convictions guiding his decisions and that he makes these choices without hesitation yet he easily admits mistakes. He is a keen and even harshly, objective judge of wine (even his own) yet he passes the judgment in a way that is forgiving and understanding at the same time. Perhaps because he knows the difficulties and pitfalls of making natural wine he is more capable of leniency. He is religious about terroir. He blind tasted me on a wine and I guessed it to be old Chenin Blanc. It turned out to be old Menu Pineau – but he said don’t worry, the grape does not matter – it is only the earth and the site that matter here. His wines are always exciting to taste. They are alive and energetic; the force of Mother Nature is apparent in them.
Movia is Ales Kristancic. He is a dynamic figure well known by much of the wine world, especially here in San Francisco where he is a regular visitor. He is a Tazmanian Devil of a spokesperson for biodynamics and natural winemaking. His energy is contagious and his positivism incredible. I have personally seen him achieve the near impossible through sheer positive will. We will be pouring the Lunar by the glass during Natural Wine Week. This is a wine that started as an experiment to see just how naturally wine can be made. Naturally as in let nature make it. He touches the grapes only twice, once to cut them from the vine and then later to bottle the wine. The grapes are put into special barrels with openings that mimic the ratio of the opening of a grape to its interior space. They are left to ferment on the skins until the wine is complete. It is then drawn off and put into bottle. It doesn’t get more natural than that. Like the Chardonnay from NPA, the skin contact protects the wine and alleviates the need for sulfur or other treatments. The grape here, Ribolla Gialla, is actually a rather tannic grape, so this ‘white’ wine has a decent amount of tannin. It is a very cool wine and a rare opportunity to be able to pour it by the glass.
Posted August 26, 2009 • Filed under Wine
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Wine Director, nopa
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