I’m not convinced that anybody is going to be interested in the past 4 days of our trip. It involved driving…a lot. The length of France, through the Alps, down to the coast of Liguria and following the ocean as far as Pisa before cutting cross country to our current location – Montespertoli. Whilst the trip was beautiful and punctuated by a few key stop offs, like pizza in Turin and camping on the beach south of Recco, it doesn’t make great literary fodder. Once we fix a glitch on loading pictures onto this blog, I will do so. Far more interesting.
Instead, I am going to throw in some ramblings about natural wine, as we are due to visit a natural vineyard outside of Castelnuovo Berardenga later today and with plenty of driving time, I have been thinking a lot about it!
My true introduction to natural wine was through Joel Wright of Wrights Emporium (also now Wrights Wines). I had heard much about it, but understood little. I had read a little, but had not had the opportunity to try any as it is pretty much illusive around Wales, unless you are in the know of where you can pick it up. What’s more…I didn’t feel I had a particular reason to seek it out. I was enjoying my wine just as it was. But one day Joel spoiled me! He gave me a taste. And I can confidently say I haven’t looked back. I’ll explain my reasons why.
(A quick pause, just to be very clear. There are assumptions that people automatically know what natural wine is. I am going to explain as if I was talking to myself pre-Joel. I am no expert, so very happy to be corrected. I enjoy continually learning and happy to put myself out there. Simply put, natural wine is the process of making wine with minimal interference from the winemaker. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Usually grown following organic/biodynamic principles. Very crudely, if you put a bunch of grapes in a bucket and leave them you will get one of two things. Wine or Vinegar. What you get depends on the amount of good/bad bacteria on the grapes. The influence of how many good bacteria versus bad bacteria comes from the vines, landscape, soil, how they have been grown – the terroir.)
At Dusty Knuckle we go to huge lengths to make sure we are supplying the best food. This isn’t just paying lip service to knowing your food or jumping on the ‘eat local’ bandwagon. We know the provenance of everything on our menu. If we don’t, it doesn’t go on. We are careful to ensure that we understand the processes involved in creating the ingredients. This involves spending time on farms where the food is produced such as with Charcutier Ltd, getting to know the majority of the people who produce the foods, if thats not possible then we rely on organisations such as Slow Food to inform us. Whatever avenue we take, if we can’t confirm the product….we don’t use it. It can be frustrating at times, when we have great ideas for new items, but can’t find a good source of ingredients, but it is what we have chosen to adhere to. What doesn’t make sense is to go to these lengths and then pair this food with the wine equivalent of a pot noodle. Processed and full of shit!
In producing a commercial bottle of wine, producers have an apothecary of up to 70 additives they can chose from approved for use in the EU. They can manipulate the wine using these additives to produce millions of bottles of wine that all taste exactly the same. If you want a softer wine then add some shit, want the wine a bit more fruity…add some more shit. Keep adding shit until you have the wine you think will be most commercially successful and duplicate. When was the last time you had anything natural with a consistent flavour over and over, year on year. The frustration of eating a plum that is absolutely perfect, then going for a second and finding it to be too sour, too hard, too sweet. That is nature. So you have to ask how can a wine producer make every grape produce exactly the same wine. They can’t without chemical additions. What is as concerning is that there is a veil of secrecy about what is used in our wine. If a winemaker uses an additive as part of the process as opposed to an ingredient, it doesn’t have to be spoken about. Doesn’t make the label. Doesn’t have to.
So what’s the difference? Natural wine is alive. The flavours are like waves that come crashing into your senses. It can be weird. They can taste different with just about every mouthful. Pour a glass and take a sip, leave it half hour and it can be very different. They can be quite undrinkable and then you match them with a bit of food and they are perfect. The point is, they have their own character. They are living things. They are not manipulated to behave in a certain way. They are cared for in the sense that someone is checking them through the process. If there is something wrong a good wine maker can use a natural process to correct the issue. If they can’t, they will get rid of it! Save the addition of perhaps a small amount of sulphites when absolutely necessary, nothing added.
It is how wine has always been produced. It isn’t a new thing. The addition of antiseptics, fermentation nutrients, stabilisers, etc. is a relatively new thing. Before this, all wine was natural. It was a source of nutrition…considered a food almost. The term natural wine is problematic, but I will talk about this another day.
So these are the main reasons I can’t look back on our decision to only sell natural wines at Dusty Knuckle. This information and my opinions have been formed through conversation with people like Joel and Simon Wright, reading books such as Natural Wine by Isabelle Legeron and online resources and meeting wine grower themselves. As with food, I’m not trying to tell you what to eat or drink, just have the information and make a decision. So far we are one of the very few places in South Wales that are selling these wines following the lead of Wrights and I really hope this changes. But until consumers start asking for it and giving a shit, I suspect it unlikely. So if this makes sense to you, start looking into it a bit more, start trying a few and see what you think, and start asking for it!
Now I’m off to meet Stefano and Giovanna at Pacina to learn a bit more…..