3 Ways To Know if a Natural Winemaker is Telling the Truth
I’ve been asked by my wine club subscribers “How do you know that your winemakers follow the natural, organic, and minimalist practice and philosophy that they say they do?”
This is a great question so we’d love to share the answer! There are basically three things that go into our confidence about the practices of our winemakers in their vineyards.
#1) We Go See For Ourselves
We visit all of our vineyards and wineries multiple times. We spend hours and hours if not days with the winemakers discussing extremely technical details of the whole process. In fact our winemakers have told us that we ask more questions than almost anyone they have encountered.The reality is that if you go to a wine region it is not too difficult to spot which vineyards are using chemicals and which are not. Typical vineyards are spotless, picture perfect, not a strand of grass out of place, not a bug in sight. Natural, minimalist vineyards are much more rustic.
We also see a big difference between typical wineries and minimalist, natural wineries. Wineries that are adding all kinds of things to their wines to get a certain flavor profile have pretty impressive laboratories. The traditional, minimalist winemakers don’t like to bust out their chemistry set to make wine so their wineries are pretty old school without high tech labs.
But of course you can’t just look and make assumptions…
#2) We Build Trusting Relationships
We start our relationships slowly and don’t barge in and pound the winemakers with questions the second we get there. If you do that, they don’t trust you with their information and will very possibly just tell you what you want to hear.
We meet lots of different types of winemakers. Sometimes you can tell the winemaker is just making wine because of the business opportunity or just because it’s the family business. These are incredibly easy to spot. What we look for are the few extremely special winemakers that are incredibly passionate about what they do. They don’t just tell you about what they do or what they don’t do. They have very strong opinions about what is right and wrong to do in the vineyard and in the winery. You can easily feel their dedication to natural methods and sustainable winemaking. They practice natural winemaking because they believe that that is how to make the very best wine. The wine from these winemakers is a reflection of their soul.
But there is one other trick….
#3) We Pay Attention to the Region
It is much easier to be organic in some wine regions. When the weather is hot or windy, mold and bugs are less of a problem. So at small vineyards in Rioja, Spain and Douro, Portugal, organic treatments in the vineyard are normal, unless you are a co-operative or mass producing huge quantities of wine. In regions like these, organic vineyards are easy to find.
Still, it is more of a challenge to find the winemaker who is also a minimalist in the winery. Dão, Portugal is not as hot and windy, so not a natural choice for organic farming, but the one producer we import from in the Dão, João from Quinta da Boavista, is a natural wine extremist. The last time we visited, he hadn’t even mowed the grass in the vineyard for 2 years and it looked like a jungle.
Languedoc-Roussillon in France is another region where it is easy to be organic and we import wonderful natural wines that really stood out from the others in the region produced by Le Conte des Floris, in the village of Pézenas.
During our first wine scouting trip to Europe, which lasted 9 months, we also explored Minho, Portugal and Bordeaux, France, among many other regions. The weather is very very wet in both of these places and it is much more tricky to be minimalist in the vineyard. When you drive around in spring time there you will see endless stripes of green and brown grass everywhere, from the very obvious chemicals sprayed down the vineyard rows. This is not something we like to see, and we don’t import from these regions.
So, as for the kind of claims we are making about the naturalness of our wines, can we legally verify them? Maybe not in every case. But much more goes into our confidence than just believing what we are told.