Wines have been natural since the beginning of time. The “Natural Wines” category—by name alone— proposes a bizarre hook. What are consumers supposed to conclude defines a wine as natural?
At our Nathan Coombs vineyard in the Coombsville district of the Napa Valley, we work solely with wild yeasts. Wild yeasts are also commonly referred to as indigenous or native yeasts. This site is teeming with just enough organic matter and life for wild yeasts to be prevalent and assertive enough to complete fermentations. I work with other sites, though, where a cultured yeast proves better suited to a vineyard that might, for example, be challenged by a more marginal climate. Humidity at a site can be very challenging to wild yeasts, reducing their population to such a degree that the type of critical mass required to complete fermentations can never be reached.
Each site I’ve been privileged to work with is unusual. Accordingly, the fruit planted there expresses itself in such a way that could never be replicated. More precise still are the varieties planted there, in specific rows, within specific blocks. The final nuance is, of course, a vintage. To quote W.S. Merwin, a vintage is “unrepeatable as a cloud.”
Though the etymological origins of “collaboration” means, literally, to “work together”, the most gratifying collaborative efforts I’ve been involved with always begin in isolation. By isolating myself with the object of my affection; a vineyard site or a wine already being raised in the cellar, I can better determine where it seems to want to go. Really, the act of isolation is one of extreme listening; if I am distracted by others or by my phone, technology…whatever the case may be, I am no longer present. I am no longer open to receiving any inspiration that may exist in the moment.