Manifesto: In defense of low-intervention winemaking ✊🍷
Updated: 3 days ago
We, wine lovers, live in a polarized world. Two well-defined extremes: conventional winemaking, and radical naturalism. Both are so different one from another, but they converge in the same, in a very homogeneous tasting palette. They result in a very different homogeneity that, however, gives rise to wines in which the personality, typicity, and varietal identity are completely blurred.
On one hand, conventional viticulture is guilty of being overmanipulated, stipulating a false and homogenized typicity. Everything starts from the maxim that the wine from a region "x" has to be cut by a certain pattern, being easily recognizable by the consumer; giving wines that are very similar to each other, regardless of the winery in which they were made. What does this translate to? In wines intervened oenologically until obtaining a product that satisfies the expectations of consumers, thus becoming boring, conformist wines, destined to satisfy the masses. It is over-regulated viticulture, where guidelines imposed by regulatory bodies must be followed. Regulatory bodies whose directors are the members of those wineries and/or cooperatives that buy more back labels. Let's put this in context: until the middle of the 20th century, the vast majority of vineyards worldwide were cultivated by hand. In the eyes of naturalists, cancer arrived when great technological advances were introduced shortly after World War II. This brought with it that many winemakers began to seek scientific answers to refine their products, leading wineries down the path of industrialization, mass production, and a taste for money.
On the other, the followers of radical naturalism (those who have the "courage" of doing nothing), most of the time, are guilty of justifying defects, passing them off as typicity. This group is made up of a bunch of careless winegrowers whose attitude can be summed up as "I don't care how my wine tastes like since naturalness must prevail over everything and, if faults arise, it doesn't matter as it was what Mother Nature has ruled". The problem with defects in wine (high volatile acidity, mousiness, excess of Brett, etc.) is that they always taste the same, regardless of the variety and terroir, masking the identity of the wine under that veil of defectiveness; standardizing products.
This being so if, in the end, we have two homogenized viticultural philosophies... Why should we buy natural wines over conventional wines?
Like everything in this life, not everything is black or white, but there is a great palette of grays in between. This palette is stipulated by the philosophy of each vigneron, their way of understanding the landscape, the vineyard, and what they want to communicate with their wine. The wine has to be the result of honest, artisan work, filled with purity. There must be a love for nature and sensitivity to understanding the territory, working with the conviction that his wealth as a winegrower is given by those values that he has inherited and that he will be able to pass on to the next generation.
Should we then look at biodynamic or organic viticulture? Neither.
Both start from the basis that they were born as a reaction against those agricultural practices that abuse of using chemical treatments in the vineyard. Summarizing it "very much", biodynamic viticulture is based on organic viticulture (which advocates for working in the vineyard without pesticides or herbicides), but takes it a step further, to a holistic level; since it takes into account the interconnectivity of absolutely everything: the astral plane, the moon, the sun...
Following both philosophies, there are vignerons who make iconic wines, meanwhile, others screw them up. Why? Simply because both organic and biodynamic practices are not dogmas that can be applied uniformly to everyone. Each viticulturist should face his vineyard letting himself be guided by its individual sensitivity instead of following the rules established by both viticultural movements; since each vineyard is unique and, they have particular needs that are very different from one another.
An extra aspect to take into account is that neither one nor the other establish what to do in the winery as they only give farming guidelines for responsible behavior in the vineyard. No matter how well you take care of your vineyard if, in the end, you screw up when it comes to vinification by using products that shouldn't be used to ensure consistent levels of production vintage after vintage... that's cheating, not only on you (the final consumer) but on their own ethos, selling their soul to a marketing trend.
Artisan Wine (or low intervention wine) is not a movement, but the act of going back to the most primitive practices of making wine, without demonizing scientific advances. Artisan wines are those that let themselves be surprised by Mother Nature year after year, returning to the path marked by the knowledge inherited from the past, that of those who had preceded them but also looking from the eyes of those who want to understand and not only accept the established rules.
Artisan wines are, thus, the result of the efforts of small producers for whom each vintage is different and, it is precisely there, where beauty resides; facing the challenges that arise year after year in those small vineyards that give enough fruit in return to fill just a few bottles. The producer behind an artisan wine is the one who starts with the idea of making his wines intervening as little as possible during vinification, moving towards a non-manipulated wine.
These artisans become the antithesis of cooperatives and large-scale winery groups. For these wineries, what really matters is to satisfy the demand of supermarkets, being in the largest number of shelves as possible; so its philosophy could be summed up in two points: large volumes + consistency. Under this premise, the wineries stop being wineries to become factories, where the quality of the final product has to be exactly the same year after year. The concept of wine is distorted and a product is manufactured under the same recipe as if it were Coca-Cola. With this, the concept of terroir, vintage, and all that infinite series of interesting natural processes that occur not only in the vineyard but also in the winery, are sacrificed.
Are low intervention wines unsophisticated? On the contrary. Many of the great winemakers on the planet are people who vinify under these practices, facing a greater number of challenges than the "wine factories", since they cannot depend on the use of systemic correctors to ensure their production. These winemakers understand wine and make decisions based on the quality of the final product.
Artisanal wines show us a pathology to be faced by exerting a common resistance. The small romantic producer, against the big factories. These are wines in which it is essential to take extraordinary care during the different stages of vinification. In fact, much more attention is needed in artisanal winemaking than in conventional winemaking, where sophisticated technologies and oenological and chemical additives can be used to correct and preserve both the must and the resulting wine.
Where does low interventionism start? In the vineyard. Working under sustainable practices of minimal intervention (I include here both organic, ecological, and biodynamic viticulture), and then, take this same philosophy into the winery, where the wine must be left naked as much as possible. It is the winemaker who must interpret the wine and, if things do not go according to plan, it is then when he must intervene to correct it using common sense. Many of these winemakers do not consider themselves as such, since they "do not make" wine, but guide it.
Although this philosophy of viticulture is not regulated, I dare to cite some common characteristics to be followed by those who vinify in this way. I am going to break down that palette of grays that I was talking about before, identifying what is acceptable to me, as long as we obtain a final wine that speaks of the variety, the territory, and the philosophy of the vigneron. Thus, below I leave you with a series of points that I like to take into account when choosing the wines I work with, laying the foundations of the viticulture in which I believe:
In the Vineyard:
1) It must start with the raw material: the vine. It sounds like a truism, but we must bear in mind that, within the wine industry, things have been done wrongly from the 1980s until, approximately, the beginning of the 2000s. It seems that those times are long gone when the fever caused by the Chardonnitis, the Cabernitis, and another series of French varieties, seriously jeopardized the existence of many of our native varieties throughout the Spanish vineyard map. Artisanal viticulture rewards hyper-localism, valuing those vintners who are committed to the native varieties of their land, either by taking care of old inherited vineyards, replanting foreign varieties with native varieties, or recovering old abandoned vineyards.
The age of the vineyard is also important, since the older the vines, the better the quality of the wine.
2) We put a lot of emphasis on demonizing those who use chemical treatments in the vineyard when the question should reside, not so much in whether it is treated or not, but in "how it is treated". It is necessary to understand what are the treatments that can be given in a sustainable way. Moving from an interventionist to a non-interventionist mentality requires weaning from many of the modern winemaking techniques, and looking for solutions in the vineyard to obtain optimal ripeness and balance in the grape. It is not about making a "Taliban" viticulture (bottling the first thing that comes).
The work in the vineyard, therefore, must be carried out without using systemic products such as insecticides, fungicides, systemic copper, or systemic sulfur, which can be harmful both to the environment and to the quality of the grapes harvested. Its use usually entails between 8 and 12 annual treatments, although there are producers that exceed these figures. Although it may seem incredible, when the chemical composition of the wine is analyzed in the laboratory, traces of these products can be found, and that, my friends, it's going into your body. Pesticides can not only harm our health and the environment but also transform the aroma and taste of the wine, questioning the very notion of typicity on which the legitimacy of wine appellations of origin is based.
That said, we must also be consequent of the fact that there are very humid and temperate regions, where 100% natural viticulture is always very risky, in which there is no choice but to apply some treatments if you do not want to lose 100% of the harvest. However, it is advisable to get rid of systemic products and use natural alternatives or seek rationalization strategies for disease control that lead to intervening only when necessary. This praxis entails reductions in the estimated total production. After visiting many wineries, and debating alongside some of these vignerons, some of these fair alternatives I've come across include practices like the following:
Non-soluble homemade preparations of silica: consist of covering the leaves of each vine with a white layer that acts as a physical barrier. This reflects part of the sunlight and therefore acts as a protector against heatstroke. In addition, it is efficient in preventing animals from eating the grapes (since it generates silicosis) and it is also a good enemy against the development of Botrytis in case of rain (since it absorbs water and creates a protective layer around the skin of the grape).
Ormus: This component is a multimineral solution extracted from the salts of ocean waters. It concentrates dozens of bio-available minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc; among many other essential elements, which serve as nutrients for the vines to correct any deficiencies they may have.
Infusions: what it's called "phytotherapy". They are nothing more than medicinal plants in infusion (in small proportions and using rainwater) that are applied by spraying the vines. The most common are: nettles, which protect the vine from fungi; comfrey, which mobilizes potassium; dandelion to provide silica; and herbal tea to reduce the amount of sulfur and copper.
Copper: Copper is the main phytosanitary product to combat fungal diseases in the vineyard, especially mildew. The copper applied to the vineyard ends up mainly in the soil and, once there, it can accumulate associating itself with the different components of the soil and/or affecting its microorganisms. It is an aggressive product, but, to date, the only effective option to eradicate mildew. Many of the winemakers in these areas of the planet work by limiting it to a maximum of 4kg per hectare per year and, in most cases, stop applying it in June / July so that there are no residues during the harvest time.
Powdered sulfur is one of the only products allowed in the biodynamic vineyard. It is not a systemic product, it acts by contact with the leaf and is not introduced into the plant. In fact, it is essential to maintain a healthy vineyard free of powdery mildew. Ideally, powdered sulfur is used manually and respectfully. Vine by vine, since each vineyard is a world, and it'd be irresponsible to spray it all over the vineyard.
It all comes down to understanding where you are and achieving the best viticulture that allows each winemaker to subsist by making their wines. If it is natural and ecological, perfect, but those artisans who do not make it an obligation should not be demonized, as long as they make moderate and rational use of the treatments.
3) Biodiversity must be promoted through the growth of plant covers, which serve as a shelter for useful fauna, that is, those species of insects and mites that prey on other species that are harmful to the vineyard. It is a natural way of maintaining a balance between pests and predators. The greater the biological diversity, the greater the capacity of the ecosystem created around the vineyard to resist external attacks. In addition, this technique offers other advantages such as reducing soil erosion caused by rains, avoiding soil dragging and soil loss. Another advantage is that it provides nutrients, oxygen, and organic matter to the soil, improving its structure; and contributing to the natural fixation of nitrate, necessary for soil fertilization. Depending on the philosophy of each vintner, the covers can be spontaneous (the flora indigenous to that environment), or controlled (crops are selected based on the benefits for the vineyard and the needs of each soil).
4) You must be very aware of the natural fertilization of the soil: Although the vine does not require excessive nutrition, if the necessary organic matter is not provided, the production itself will decrease the fertility of the soil. It is advisable to use fermented manure or slurry from ruminant animals, since it accumulates humic substances in the soil that degrade very slowly, favoring temperature regulation, the absorption of nutrients by the vine, and an improvement in soil pH.
What about the happy biodynamic preparations? There are a great variety of them that are used for composting, for fertilization, or as preventive weapons to replace pesticides and/or fungicides. Such practices are burying cow's horns stuffed with dung, or stuffing a cow's stomach with chamomile flowers; to then dig them up the following spring to prepare homeopathic dilutions from them. But they are not the only ones, as there are practices as bizarre as burying, next to a river, the bark of an oak inserted inside a skull of a domestic animal; or that of collecting Yarrow in spring to be placed inside a deer bladder, hanging it to dry in the sun during the summer, until autumn arrives, which is collected and buried until the following spring to serve as a biocatalyst.
There are very few studies that prove the accuracy of these agricultural practices that build up their pillars in some esoteric beliefs. As long as the final product is clean and expressive, it doesn't seem like bad practice to me; even though I would like to make a reflection, since when a viticultural practice becomes dogma, we forget that each soil is different, with different needs. Using some standard preparations may be beneficial for a certain soil, causing the opposite effect in others.
Using pruned branches as organic matter that nourishes the soil is another common practice. Both by burning them and by burying them (for the latter vignerons must be sure that there is no previous disease in the plant).
The reduction of tillage. The habitual practice of tilling the vineyard to control weeds translates directly into greater soil erosion. Currently, there are great hopes for the development of spontaneous plant covers in the vineyard, compared to conventional tillage management, as a preventive and even palliative measure, in some cases.
Intensive green pruning is also a good sign that things are being done well, as it is a crucial practice for achieving better quality grapes, by focusing nutrients on those parts of the vine that really need it. Green pruning is nothing more than removing those non-fertile shoots that begin to emerge from the branches, focusing on the selection of future fruitful clusters, thus reinforcing those shoots that will produce a high-quality grape.
As you can see, after all, whether the vineyard is worked organically, biodynamically, or sustainably, the emphasis has to be focused on creating a healthy ecosystem, where the microfauna and microflora are respected, minimizing the use of chemical inputs. Then it is up to each vigneron to harvest (by hand) the healthiest grapes possible, with an optimal level of ripeness, which ensures retention of natural acidity that will allow us to avoid making corrections in the cellar or introducing strange things into the wine.
In the Winery:
When we make minimum intervention wines, almost everything can be translated into leaving that wine as naked as possible. Once healthy grapes with a perfect degree of ripeness and acidity have been harvested, it is time to look at what happens inside of the winery. It is at this stage that you will understand why I do not opt for organic or biodynamic viticulture per se. Both are practices full of good intentions, but they only look at the vineyard. What is the use of having grapes in perfect condition if we then spoil all that previous work when we handle the grapes in the cellar?
The basics of vinification are overwhelmingly simple: you tread the grapes to squeeze the must, the yeasts begin to do their job and, sometime later, we already have wine. This process which seems so easy is subject to a thousand variables that can spoil everything. That is why there are many oenologists who do not risk and decide to intervene to control this process, distorting the naturalness of a vintage.
1) Indigenous yeasts must be used. Always. They are organisms that are literally everywhere. These yeasts love to feed on the sugars contained in the must, causing fermentation to start spontaneously. They live on the surface of the grape, associated with the vine (in its bark, leaves, flowers...), and in the equipment of the wineries themselves. Fermentation with endemic yeasts (that is, own and exclusive to a certain locality or region) is what we call spontaneous. The purest, with which organoleptic characteristics of the terroir to which it belongs are achieved. A good part of the flavor of the wine derives from the work of the yeasts. They are the ones who identify all the potential of the grapes and extract it to turn them into something wonderful. And, best of all, each place has its endemic population of yeasts, which is one of the reasons why the same variety has a different olfactory and palatal profile from one region to another, and from one year to another; because each family of yeast extracts different things.
The risk of relying only on endemic yeasts is that many times, the microbiota (population) of yeasts existing in the environment is insufficient or inadequate and can lead to delays in the start of fermentation or, worse, to finish ahead of time, keeping winemakers on edge during the whole process. It is this fear that makes inoculation a choice of one's own, rather than a matter of necessity. Indigenous yeasts are normally removed (using heat, sulfur, filtration systems, etc.) to inoculate select yeast families in a laboratory to reduce risk and encourage specific (misnamed "typical") flavors and aromas. The vast majority of winemakers like to be in control and to be able to sleep at night knowing that the result they want for their wines is halfway through. They want to be masters of their destiny, which is why they resort to that palette made up of a wide range of laboratory yeasts to compose their work.
I would also like to mention the work that some wineries develop to isolate their populations of endemic yeasts year after year in order to cultivate and reproduce them in a bioreactor, administering them to their musts during different vintages. With them, the effects of a bad vintage can be mitigated at the same time as being able to extract the maximum aromatic potential of a certain variety. This is rather an R&D work carried out by a certain winery that seeks a mere emphasis on commercial stability to please palates and ensure sales. Do you still use your own yeasts? Yes, but after all, why should I be using my yeasts from, for example, 2017 (because they have given me a wine profile that I like) in my wines from future vintages, if it is not to standardize the style of my wines? In the end, it's a more subtle way to manipulate.
2) Cleaning. A warehouse must be a pristine space. By keeping cellar surfaces clean, winemakers minimize problem-causing microbes to develop and reduce the chances of defects that can arise from Brettanomyces (Brett) and acetic acid bacteria.
3) Absolute "NO"s: Today, all winemakers have access to a large catalog of "weapons" and processes to be able to manipulate the winemaking process: Selected yeasts, antimicrobials, antioxidants, acidity regulators, filter gelatins. They can chaptalize (add sugars to raise the alcoholic strength of underripe grapes), they can add must to sweeten the wine, they can add colorants, they can pass the wine through electric fields to prevent calcium crystals from forming and potassium, reverse osmosis can be applied to lower the ABV; or, conversely, alcohol can be added to increase it.
4) Filter and clarify or not to filter and clarify? It depends on how extreme is the vigneron's philosophy. How it should be done, it's one of the debates even among those who make wine. I think we shouldn't go crazy with this, since it depends a lot on what each winemaker prefers.
Most naturalists will defend the idea that filtering and clarifying wines make them worse since we are getting rid of much of their flavor, aroma, and complexity; not to mention texture. It is true that with these practices we get rid of all those particles that make the wine appear cloudy. However, we seem to forget that filtering wine also stabilizes it. It should be remembered that the wine, once finished, is not a naturally stable product, and all post-fermentation residues increase the risk of it becoming unstable.
Filter: It consists of passing the wine through a "strainer" that eradicates all the particles resulting from fermentation that we do not want, helping us to improve the clarity of our wine.
Clarify: It consists of adding substances to the wine, to which those remaining unwanted particles, such as microbes, adhere; making them group together, gain weight, and fall to the bottom of the tank where the wine is resting. Are any vegans reading this? It is precisely here that it will depend on whether a wine is suitable for you or not since the most common clarifying agents are egg whites, fish bladders, bentonite, and casein.
There is another process that can be chosen, racking, in which the wine is allowed to settle for a certain time without moving the wine, allowing all unwanted particles to settle at the bottom of the tank by gravity, naturally, to later clarify the wine by transferring it to another tank, leaving all the sediment behind.
There are other options to reduce the risk of an unfiltered wine becoming easily destabilized, such as letting it go through that second fermentation called Malolactic (which occurs in all reds, but not all whites), or adding sulfites (in moderate quantities) at the time of bottling to eradicate microbes that may have been introduced into the wine.
5) Let's talk about sulfites, a preservative that is commonly used in the wine industry to prevent oxidation. Many of the winemakers adhering to the low-intervention movement add a small amount of sulfites (again, consciously) at the time of bottling, precisely to reduce the risk of spoiling or destabilizing the wine, which is the result of a long year of working and interpreting a territory. It must be said that no wine is exempt from containing sulfites, since, during alcoholic fermentation, the yeasts produce very small amounts of SO2. The introduction of sulfites does not prevent the wine from being classified as "natural" (since sulfites are accepted as long as they do not exceed a maximum of 70mg/L). The healthier the grapes enter the winery, the less need there will be to add sulfites, which is why the entire process of working in the vineyard that I spoke about before is crucial. The level of sulfites can also be kept lower if the hygiene in the cellar has been impeccable.
Some people add sulfites during fermentation, but this is like putting oneself between a rock and a hard place, since if high levels of sulfites are used, Malolactic will not occur easily, and if few are used, the wines always would be a bit more unprotected against oxidation throughout the whole process.
6) Finally, it is time to talk about the free interpretation of the vigneron. And this is precisely what has made me fall in love with the world of wine, since two winemakers, working with the same varieties and, being a few meters from each other, will understand and interpret their landscape in a different way, making those decisions (both in the vineyard and in the winery) that they consider as most appropriate to achieve this purpose. When viticulture reaches this extreme it is pure liquid poetry.
I must confess that the decision of writing my personal vision, which I hope is understood as an objective look at what quality viticulture is, it's been caused by a reaction to sitting in front of young colleagues, many of them self-taught, who have plunged headlong into the world of natural viticulture because, we are not going to fool ourselves, the values they sell are very cool; but, at the moment of truth, they justify a winemaking defect by defending things such as: "it's typicality", "the wine is alive", "it's a bottle variation", and a whole sort of idiotic etc.
Please, let's no forget about an elementary concept: to obtain a wine that is a faithful representation of terroir, we need to avoid, at all costs, the degradation of the olfactory molecules responsible for the character of the grape varieties and the territory from which they come from. The defects in wine are always imposed on the varietal and territorial character, however, the most illogical thing is that the olfactory defects are always the same, regardless of where in the world we are and the grape variety it's been used to vinify.
The biggest problem is debating about what is, and what is not, a defect, as the strong subjectivity of each drinker plays a very important role, since there are people with good tolerance to this type of aromas, seeming to them, even attractive. What is certain is that the defects of the wine alter its own aroma, causing a clear uniform sensory effect:
Mould & humidity: Considered a serious defect if its intensity is so high that covers the rest of the olfactory palette, since, in small doses, they can add complexity. They are mainly produced by the poor phytosanitary status of the harvested grape, contaminated by fungi that develop due to micro-injuries in the skin.
Smoke taint: caused by the smoke resulting from forest fires or by burning stubble from pruning, which is absorbed through the skin of the grapes. It is also found in those with an excessive level of toasting.
Mousiness: This is possibly the most stubborn defect out there because it cannot be picked up by sniffing it, as it is only recognizable when the retro-nasal is activated, making you no longer want to take another sip of the wine. It's also stubborn because there are people with more tolerance to mousiness than others, some of them don't even notice it. The reason why is still not very clear, but it is beginning to be stipulated that there are several factors that affect its development, although it is not clear how the interaction between them occurs so that this defect is born: The first of them it is the buccal PH (hence, each of us perceives it in a more or less intense way), therefore, several compounds have to co-exist (compounds formed by certain families of lactic acid and Brett bacteria); and, finally, the degree of exposure of the wine to oxygen. As you can see, a complex world, which results in an unpleasant retro-nasal reminiscent of a dirty hamster cage (hence its name), with extreme bitterness and the taste of charcoal embers.
Uncontrolled Volatile Acidity (aka VA): Fixed acidity (malic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and succinic acids) is the backbone of every wine. However, volatile acidity (acetic acid) is the proportion of vinegar in a wine, and keeping it to a minimum is one of the greatest efforts of any winemaker. VA is that severe acidic feeling that makes your eyes water. An effect that reminds you of a sour cider, or vinegar. As long as the Volatile Acidity does not exceed 0.55 or 0.60 gr/liter, the flavor of the wine does not lose much, but it must be taken into account that the quality of a wine is greater the lower its volatile acidity.
Reduction: Reductive aromas arise when the wine has not been exposed to sufficient micro-oxygenation. It should also be noted that there are varieties that are more reductive than others: putrid aromas, rotten eggs, cooked cabbage, sulfurous water, etc. However, the reduction is not always bad as there are also a series of sulfur molecules that give more pleasant aromas reminiscent of tropical fruits, flint, bonfire, or the smoke of a vintage lighter. Many factors intervene in the development of reduction: the availability of nutrients for the yeasts, the amino acid composition of the must, the environmental conditions for the fermentation, having the wine for long periods of time in contact with its lees without doing, or doing little bâtonnage; and the aging techniques.
Taste of light: This is a disease that occurs in wines (more likely to occur in whites and rosés aged on the lees) that are kept exposed to light pollution. This exposure causes Riboflavin (vitamin B2) to break down the amino acids present in the wine. This disease is perceptible both in visual terms (browning effect, color darkening), and olfactory terms (since it generates volatile sulfur compounds that give the wine aromas of cabbage, wet wool, and garlic soup).
Oxidation: The relationship between wine and oxygen may be one of the most controversial topics, oenologically speaking. Exposing the wine to oxygen can give us two results: Either it ruins the wine completely (it makes it vinegary), or it allows us to create truly interesting styles. Everything will depend on the amount of oxygen to which we expose it. How to know when a wine begins to oxidize? The smell of apples exposed to the air for a few hours is what marks the border between an oxidized wine and another that is not. It uniforms the aroma of the wine, prevailing over any varietal aromas.
The tedious world of Brett: One of the most fashionable words among natural wine lovers in the last decade. When we talk about a wine showing a "Brett character" we are talking about a series of aromas such as horse skin, stable, woodworking workshop, mahogany furniture, tennis ball, etc. which are not a sign of a varietal or territorial identity, but from a microbiological infection by a yeast called Brettanomyces. For a long time, winemakers were accused of having poorly clean barrels, however, today it has been shown that the development of Brett can be produced in cement, hoses, filters, bottles... if they are not perfectly sterilized. Is it truly a defect? Again, it'll depend on how pronounced it is. Natural wine lovers ain't discovering anything new, as it's been present in some of the greatest classical wines. As far as the varietal character is respected, it can add a strong personality to the final wine.
Cork taint: A series of molecules are responsible for the dreaded "cork smell", TCA being the most famous. If the production of natural corks has been carried out properly, we have a great chance of drastically reducing the microflora that could infect the wine. It is relatively easy to detect (and I say relatively because there are times when it is very subtle, which is why it is essential to face the wine without swirling the glass) since it provides aromas of humidity, old cupboard eaten by termites, mold, wet cardboard, wet fur, etc. always in an unpleasant way that takes away all the aromatic complexity of the wine.
In terms of production... how many bottles are we talking about?
I wouldn't go crazy about imposing numerical limits on craftsmanship. There are winemakers that produce only a few hundred bottles and others that produce around 300,000. The way in which I evaluate the wines I work with depends to a large extent on the guidelines that I have given before and that summarize to perfection the viticulture which I like. As I stated at the beginning, not everything is black or white, since there are low intervention winemakers who have a label that they produce in a conventional way in order to financially sustain their romantic project and, on the contrary, large conventional wineries that keep some vineyards to work sustainably and in accordance with these rules.
To (finally) put an end to this sort of personal manifesto, I want you not to misunderstand me. Artisanal vinification is not going to take a wine that has scored 80 points to, suddenly, obtain a 100; but it will allow that wine to express its terroir, and to transmit, in a much more honest and reliable way, what the producer wants to tell us.
I am aware that mass-produced and bulk wines have to exist, after all, they are the ones that democratize the access to wine consumption (obviously, due to a very attractive price point). However, I, from this modest pulpit, invite you not to drink wine for the mere pleasure of drinking it, but to take a little step further and look for those wines made by people who want to tell you things, support their efforts, and fall in love with their ethos.
Long live the artisan wine revolution! ✊🍷
Sommelier & Director at Fìon
President of the Spanish Sommelier Association