Why Natural Wines are like Camels
Over the past two years, as a small winery dedicated to Natural wine, I have seen a notable change among the trade when it comes to the reception of wines calling themselves “Natural.” A change likely representing human beings' tendency to want to categorize and organize chaos more than anything else. But an unwelcome change in my opinion –- one that subverts the very essence of Natural wine itself.
I have long been frustrated with the tendency of the trade to put so many wine varietals, AVAs, non-vintage wines, non-AVA wines, or wines according to price point, in a solid opaque box. A box of their own making; fortified by training, consensus, leading media, published ratings, momentum of status quo, and personal preference.
Any wine that is perceived as outside the preconceived notion of acceptable norms of that wine based on its TTB identity, is usually dismissed. That same wine, with the same price point, and a different identity (not brand, but classification) might be received much more favorably – by focusing on taste.
The classical music industry long ago evolved to conduct “blind auditions” where the performer plays their heart out behind a screen, which shields their identity from the jury. It is a tool clearly designed to combat bias, and has successfully advanced the cause of gender and racial equity. Nicely done.
In statistics, a distribution range of outcomes with two peaks is called bimodal, and looks like the back of a camel. One implication of a bimodal curve is that it suggests there are two distinct groupings with certain commonalities represented in a data set.
In the current Natural wine market, a bimodal curve most represents consensus in the trade today, and the boxes they have unfolded:
It is a marker of the growth of Natural wine as a category that what was once entirely considered out-of-the-box, has now been narrowed into two concrete (or clay?) boxes that many of the trade seem to have in mind while tasting.
At Justice Grace Vineyards, we don't interfere much with the Life Within. The microbiome on the incoming grapes melds with the microbiome of winery, winemaker, and barrel to create what it wishes. We don't test for any numbers for any wine until putting blends together, after they have been profoundly shaped by the microbiome for 1-3 years. Nothing known at Harvest, and nothing known until blending. At bottling I taste all barrels, and see the palette that I have to work with that year. Then the blending begins.
It is a risky ethos that causes lots of uncertainty, loss of control, some lost wine, but ultimately fulfills my desire for purity of expression.
Q: Is it varietally “correct”? Q: Is it within the acceptable norms of an AVA? If I'm doing little more than allowing the life from vineyard, winery, winemaker and barrel to express itself, and adding only water/ SO2 – to me, how could it not be?
When I fell in love with Natural wine ethos in 2010 and jumped in with religious fervor, I started off dogmatically by entirely rejecting all additions of any kind. But I’ve listened, grown, and changed. Stylistically, I’ve always wanted the wine to become rounder and more sophisticated than some of the raw/ vivacious attention getters, so needed to let the wines age in used barrels for 2-3 years. I then learned barrels evolved into high alcohol (evaporation) and high VA (low/ no SO2) wines during aging, and after a few years, I began to hear the Buddha screaming at me (OK fine, maybe I'm projecting). I was reminded of his ancient wisdom of “the Middle Way,” which now intellectually registered anew, and soon, confirmed via my senses.
It is this Middle Way that we target in our Label Series of Compassion blends. This is the spot on the camel back Natural wine distribution curve that strikes an appealing balance between the two, more commonly found Natural wine expressions. We do it via only two total additions to the organic/ biodynamic grapes: water and SO2, and blending.
It is still as raw, energetic and uncompromising as most Natural wines are, but strives for a more balanced, broader and richer expression on the palate. Perhaps it is the tension that exists between the two more commonly found modes on the camel's back that also draws us in. The comfort zone.
If you're going to ride a camel – where else would you possibly sit?
So when you come across the unusual, mesmerizing, sensorily transporting Natural wine camels that are emerging from dry and desolate lands – just let go. She will take you to the captivating and fertile new world that your soul has long begged for.
Don't try to grab the reins – there are none. And I beg you, Please do not try to pick up the camel and put it into a box. Cigarette companies have already done that – and look where that got them (I know… but after that).
It turns out that the camel- Natural wine analogy is humorously accurate in other ways.
When it comes to making Natural wine, Wikihow site suggests,
“While they may respond to the occasional tug or push, you shouldn't try to steer or direct them — they'll just be unhappy with it.”
When it comes to tasting Natural wine:
For her Blog: Expand Your Limits Just a Little Bit More, Diana writes:
“I was in two minds about my first experience of riding a camel. On the one hand, I’m (almost) always open to new experiences, especially those that involve a certain amount of action and adventure” and “On the other hand, most people I know who’ve actually ridden a camel haven’t exactly raved about the experience.”
Linda Smith of Tripelle.com, writes:
“First, let’s allay some of those rumors about camels and their “nasty” behavior. They do have different characters, some are friendly, some are aloof, and some are grumpy, but generally they are kind and obliging”
Blog: Journeybeyondtravel, writes:
“Riding a camel is one of the most uncomfortable experiences you can imagine. Now that that’s out of the way, I should also tell you that riding a camel is fantastically fun and bound to be one of your favorite memories “
Bedouin travel guides, Wadi Rum Nomads, writes:
“Some people think of camels as gentle, charming giants. Others call them desert demons. Either way they have got a great sense of humour. And appreciate serious love and attention”
Wadi Rum Nomads suggests
“Sometimes your camel likes to nibble, sneeze and occasionally blow a big bubble of foam. Therefore it is a good idea to always stand aside of your camel. This way you and your camel will be fine at all times. And you can enjoy your time with this beautiful creature.”