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  • May 7, 2017
  • Supernatural Wine

  • by Al Drinkle

As much as I hate breaking the hearts of modish somm(elier)s, importers, retailers, distributors, disciples of unmanipulated beverages and gudgeons for the cryptic, the oracular, the enigmatic… It has to be said—“natural wine” is not enough anymore.

I know what the partisans are (or should be) thinking; “Damn! Did somebody finally realize that we were trying to pass off a set of amorphous principles as if they were impermeable dogma? Has our attempt at categorically defining a wine movement, while reserving the right to conveniently adjust the parameters along the way, been superseded by something even less concrete?” Yes, my friends, yes!!!

No more shall you have to suffer through vapid diatribes against intervention in winemaking, only to learn that egregious concessions are arbitrarily made when the resulting wines happen to be ones that the adherents are fond of. Examples might include dumping brandy into fermenting wine to emphasize the “natural” in vin doux naturel, the myriad adjustments that a bottle of “natural” traditional-method sparkling wine undergoes, or the potentially aggressive abuse of copper to “organically” farm the grapes for these and other wine styles. It is my honor and pleasure to be an early ambassador for “supernatural wine.” And who the fuck wants to drink “natural wine” when you can drink “supernatural wine?”

The votaries of supernatural wine avoid the nebular convolutions of natural wine by refusing to provide any axioms, practices, or definitions regarding their campaign whatsoever. I can assure you those very rigid criteria and maxims incontestably exist, in fact, they are the very crux of supernatural wine. But by proceeding furtively the supernaturalists successfully avoid the perpetual contradictions of their more transparently oxymoronic naturalist counterparts—if I don’t tell you what the rules are, you can’t accuse me of erroneously recalibrating them! Preternatural wine being perhaps a bit too metaphysically challenging, I believe that supernatural wine could be the way of the future.

It’s undeniable that natural wine is the perfect beverage for our “post-truth” political era. Both movements rely upon the human tendency to unquestioningly accept Delphic jargon and the accompanying inconveniences, but supernatural wine will be the fuel for the beautiful nihilism and anarchy to come… Grab a bottle, grab a torch…

Of course, this is mostly in jest. A significant portion of my very favorite wines of all time are considered “natural” by even the strictest definition of the word, and I’m enthusiastically responsible for the import and representation of several producers who proudly adhere to these tenets. The best of these recognize that pragmatism is the only realistic and sustainable approach to this school of winegrowing.

But the increasingly dubious use of the term “natural wine” by winegrowers, importers, sommeliers, and retailers in reference to undeserving products, the undeniable elitism of the many vociferous advocates of the movement (e.g., “natural wine, though we refuse to define it, is good and absolutely everything else is patently evil”), and the blind willingness of many dogmatists to drink and promote reprehensibly foul-tasting “natural” wine based solely on ideology is devastating to the movement. As somebody who actually cares, I urge us all to be a bit more careful with the semantics, the standards, and the mud-slinging before the natural wine movement becomes even more of a caricature of itself. ♦

(See also Kevin Goldberg’s “First as Tragedy, then as Farce?: A Short Story about Natural Wine.”)

Photograph by Al Drinkle, Damien Laureau’s Petite Roche vineyard in Savennières.

Al Drinkle, who is a rock-and-roll shouter and a German wine fanatic, manages a wine shop in Calgary, Alberta, called Metrovino. He has also written articles for The Art of Eating, including a review of Alice Feiring’s For the Love of Wine.