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.
Religion, dogma and the things of man, are often inflexible. Mother Nature, however, is spontaneous. The magic remains in her hands.
Cultured yeasts are also natural. They are not genetically manipulated nor are they synthesized. To not utilize a cultured yeast perhaps more ideally suited to a site, choosing instead a wild yeast simply for didactic reasons, is to do the wine, and the consumer, a great disservice.
Sulfites exist in anything that is fermented: bread, cheese, wine. My sulfur additions are modest; well below the threshold of what is compliant. I use them sparingly and just enough to protect our wines so that they may be enjoyed for their most essential beauty. To not protect them would be to bury their birth site; bury their identity. Why sacrifice varietal character and site specificity in the name of an unforgiving dogma? Religion, dogma and the things of man, are often inflexible. Mother Nature, however, is spontaneous. The magic remains in her hands.
To be a winemaker is to be an interventionist. The simple act of removing a cluster from a vine is an act of intervention. The vocation of winemaking is simply one of taming; taming a wild process so that something pleasurable and revelatory might emerge.
A wine that declares itself entirely natural as a matter of course, but is unstable, does little to please the palate, inform the intellect or honor its origins. After all, Man, too is natural. Winemaking is the interaction between two natural species. When I intervene in the vineyard or cellar, it is to protect something elegant and fragile. If I remain dedicated to my craft and push myself to perform at a high level, I too am changed by the source of my inspiration.
“To me, you are still just a little boy like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. To you, I am just a fox like a hundred thousand foxes. But if you tame me, we shall need one another. To me, you will be unique. And I shall be unique for you.”
The Little Prince