I posited a question to the Milkman the other day: "Do you even use your imagination anymore?". I hadn't received an answer as all questions to the Milkman are generally rhetorical. But as I contemplated the increasingly routinized life of our tech-savvy, efficiency-minded populace, the question just nagged at my gut. And then this morning, I read a recent post by the Wine Economist (Mike Veseth) entitled 'The "Demolition Man" Syndrome' which touched on the ever increasing consolidation of producers and flavor profiles of wine in the world. What will wine taste like in the future? What gives wine distinction now? What's the difference between great wine and unique wine.....
It's no question that California has been in need of a wine revolution. The wine world is changing--quickly--with new and exciting regions emerging every year. Yet there remains California...plodding along. Adding a new AVA from time to time, some with more and most with less relatable purpose. In the annals of the history of wine it offers little beyond the founding fathers and phylloxera--hard to stand up to the hundreds of years worth of history in Europe and even the far reaches of South Africa. Something needed to be done.
And that something was aided by small groups of purists such as the Gang of Four. Dedicated to the natural production of great Beaujolais from Morgon, these ultra purists helped spur producers to pursue a less is more type of attitude: less wood, less filtering, less sulphur, less shenanigans in the winery. And I'm all for that. I travel and study to see and smell the terroir of a wine so I'm in favor of anything that puts that directly into the glass. To me, what these wines have in common across varietals is energy. It's a nervy tension that says "it's only grapes that are keeping me together here". At times, I feel like I'm drinking that bottle at just the perfect moment...right before it all falls apart. But then I open another bottle --the Occhipinto SP68 Rosso comes to mind-- and it's all right there again. But for me, their ageability is untested. I haven't had this bottle in my cellar for even a year yet. I'll see how far that tension stretches over time. But this wine, like the Breton Morgon (one of the Gang of Four), tastes as it should taste with greater delicacy and energy than many counterparts. What I don't understand are the many "natural" wines made by "purists" from scrappy, untended vineyards "discovered" vineyards (oftentimes behind a neighbors garage) that don't remind me at all of the grape on the bottle. Where is the line? Should I be okay with a bottle of bubbles that is the sour beer man's sparkling wine? Should a wine be so funky that it's the funk that drives the experience rather than the fruit? I've tried my fare share now and my answer is No. I get that these expressions are interesting and I welcome the fact that they are helping California create a new niche of creative expression. It is sorely needed. There are new grapes being bottled by trail blazing producers who can still get it together in the glass. Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Steve Matthiasson (Matthiasson) come immediately to mind.
So I continue to be excited about the great wines of this natural wine movement and reserve the unique wines for hipster somms and their clientele forever chasing down the cult wine of the moment. I'll quietly spend my dollars where this philosophy is backed by thoughtful and careful winemaking for this girl who prefers her sour in a lemon head or in the occasional bottle of beer.