“Un-trending” wine

“Un-trending” wine

Thu 18 Apr 2019 8:30 AM

Over the last ten years there has been a lot of buzz around “natural wines”. As experts wanted to know more about how their wine was made, a new wave of authentic and unstandardised wines was created. These natural winemakers originally hailed from lesser-known winemaking regions and they needed a voice to match those of Chianti, Bordeaux and Champagne. Areas such as Jura in France quickly gained recognition, but as stockists and sellers caught on to the potential trend, they sparked a series of business-driven guidelines that robbed natural wines of their unique character.

Natural wine started as an amazing and unforeseen revolution. It didn’t explode in the same manner of the craft beer movement; instead, it grew silently and steadily in the hands of a few enlightened winemakers. Slowly, the niche developed a following. Before long, cool labels, catchy names and rockstar farmers became the norm. The wines soon became fodder for trendy rooftop bars in London, Paris and Milan as natural wine spiralled into another hipster status symbol. Demand soared, and so did prices, as the notion of “natural” became more important than the wine itself.

Things have now evolved so fast that we are already talking about an “old generation” and a “funky generation” of natural winemakers. The problem was that it didn’t take long for distributors to buy into the natural wine trend and create a commercial format for winemakers to follow, powered by the same marketing rules early natural winemakers were seeking to escape.

Now, some natural wine producers in Italy are joining forces to buck this trend of trending. By building a social network of winemakers under the banner of #UntrendingWine, sommelier Marco Rossi and me are hoping to ensure that natural wine doesn’t lose its way. Focusing on terroir, the natural climate and soil of a region, these winemakers have challenged themselves to break with convention and produce stunning and trend-defying wines. It’s all about individualism in the face of territorialism.

Vegetable graden at Salcheto, Montepulciano

One area joining the natural wine crusade is Arezzo. The region closely aligns itself with the demands of today’s new wave wines for which the Jura became famous due to its continental climate and eccentric varieties. As such, there has never been a trending wine in the area, only the traditional methods passed down from Etruscan times. Thanks to a “lost” young generation of winemakers, Arezzo’s contemporary wine scene is home to some of the most exciting natural wines anywhere, sought after by leading sommeliers including world number one, Luca Martini. These rebellious, hard-working and talented winemakers have no tasting standards in mind, just a commitment to traditional natural processes and the goal of bringing natural wine back to where it belongs: the table.

The three wineries from Arezzo that have helped to form #UntrendingWine since the beginning have unique stories to tell, starting with Pomaio. Everything brothers Iacopo and Marco Rossi do follows three rules of sustainability: recycle, reuse and rethink their method of winemaking. The wines are the result of the work grounded on the respectfulness of the environment, producing nearly 20,000 bottles made from mostly Sangiovese grapes. The multiple expressions of the surrounding territory are elegantly demonstrated in every glass.

The second winemaker who has defined the movement is Marco Biagioli from Ornina, a small cantina in the hills of Casentino. Here, Marco has recovered the native grapes of Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, Colorino and Pugnitello that have resided in vineyards planted in the early 1970s, in predominantly clay soils. After years of experimenting, he has found a balance that allows him to work in a natural way with excellent and sometimes surprising results in the bottle.

Thirdly, Lorenzo Naldoni from La Pogiolina is a leading example of a new winemaker who’s not following the trend of natural oenology but going his own way to fully express the Valdarno territory in his wines. He makes young red juice that hasn’t passed through oak, which experts might regard as a risky decision, but the results are impressive with a light, fruity taste that have put Lorenzo on the map for buyers seeking real natural wine.

These are a few of the winemakers with a purpose to pour a better world into your glass. Travelling around Italy, especially Tuscany at this moment, you will encounter generations of farmers who are putting their efforts into making and keeping their environment as it once was. A far cry from rockstar winemakers and Instagrammable vintages, these #UntrendingWine makers hope to restore the reputation of natural wine for good.




What makes a natural wine?

To understand why winemakers are frustrated with the way the natural wine industry is unravelling,
we must first understand what makes a “natural wine”. In general, they adhere to a few key guidelines:

VINEYARD MANAGEMENT: Natural wines require a certain approach to year-round vineyard management. This means no pesticides or chemicals and restricted use of copper and sulphur. Natural preparations are, however, permitted from plants, flowers and even bees.

VINIFICATION: In the cellar, vinification must be managed delicately, avoiding chemicals and any unnecessary ingredients. In conventional winemaking, makers are allowed to use up to 330 additional ingredients, but with organic certification the amount of ingredients is drastically reduced to 47, including organic yeast. What’s more, natural winemakers will often have spontaneous fermentation and only accept added sulphites on a maximum level of 40-50 mg/L. For the unordained, that translates as “hangover friendly”.

LONGER AGEING: The ageing process will see two winters pass before bottling. Big wood, neutral and recycled barrels are used instead of oversubscribed small French oak barrels, for a longer refining time. It’s not uncommon to see concrete, clay or other types of containers to deliver a unique and natural tasting experience.



Bacchus and Venus

Il Borro’s Vino&Arte Gallery, near Loro Ciuffenna, reopens its doors for a new exhibition titled Bacchus and Venus: The Role of the Female in Wine History. It’s a journey that meanders between two mythological figures, one of whom is seen as the cause of the other in the sphere of love.

The show emphasizes how women take an active part in every stage of winemaking, from the grape harvest to selling wine at markets, as well as concentrating on females whose lives have been woven into the story of wine and its symbolism from the Old to the New Testament, starting with the Virgin Mary.

Highlights include Marc Chagall’s Nature Morte au Bouquet (1960) and Francesco Bartolozzi’s engraving Frumentum electrorum et vinum germinans virgines (1750 c.).

The exhibition is open to all on prior reservation and includes a winery tour and Il Borro wine tasting.

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