Natural Wine Foot Soldier, ready to die in battle!

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Jean Pierre Robinot’s “Fêtembulles”, one of a growing number of spectacular “natural” wines available in Maine.

I’m undergoing a touch of the ol’ identity crisis, friends. Comes from wearing a hat or two too many. I work in retail, helping to sell wine in a group of stores that focus on local produce, meat, dairy and other products. We work on a small scale, nurturing relationships with many local producers.

In a store in New England, you can’t really do that for wine, but you can try to sell wine whose producers reflect similar values: small-scale, relationship-based, earth-respecting. The thing is,  I also write about wine, hoping to discover more fascinating and true wines, explore what they say about the real world, and try to share these experiences in a spirit of ardent love.

Anyway, the crisis: In retail, any good merchant is out to help the customer, and to do that well you need to be catholic in your tastes, empathic, selfless, non-judgmental. Some wine writers might try to do this as well, but I think it’s a con. I’d rather clearly state my biases up front: less Willy Loman, more the opinionated Jack Black character from “High Fidelity”.

I’ve recently gotten consciously turned on to “natural wines”, and I can’t turn off, or back. I don’t right now know the way to go on selling (or writing about) conventionally made wines, even if they “taste good”, because I’m a foot soldier in some sort of revolution, and I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

(Whether something “tastes good” is actually a lot more complicated than whether it tastes good, if you get me…)

The debates continue about what even constitutes a “natural wine”, but my most recent column in the Portland Press Herald is a continuation of my attempt to discuss it. Call it Part Un of my interview with prominent natural-wine importer Zev Rovine. No matter where you draw your lines, we’re talking about wines that are grown organically (and usually biodynamically), ferment exclusively with their own indigenous (or “wild”) yeasts, and receive either no sulfur at all or a very small amount just before the wine is put in the bottle.

Part Deux is coming soon. As to what the hell I write about after that, since the number of natural wines available in Maine, where most of my readership resides, is on the slim side, I have no idea.

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