Day 24: Guilhaume’s Natural Wine Dogma

Guilhaume Gerard is one third of the trio that owns Terroir Natural Wine Merchant in San Francisco. he is French and thus gets the Bastille day post. He almost didn’t post this because of the vitriol it is sure to bring his way. i don’t agree with everything he has to say, but i’m glad he chose to post it. If it makes you angry, go download the mixtape of the summer from Chocolate Bobka.

1- No herbicides, pesticides or any of that Monsanto crap, even once a year.

I always hear the same thing from a lot of different peoples in the wine world:
“If you had a bad year and need to save your crop by spraying, just once, you’ll do it”

How do i feel about that statement?

As far as “natural wine” is concernerned, it’s bullshit. If you understand and respect nature and your costumers, you’ll find a way to learn a lesson from that bad vintage and work your way “naturally” towards a more respectful way of handling difficult situations. I know how it sounds, and i know a whole lot of peoples would disagree with me, but lets just think about what Paolo BEA’s done in 02′ for example, discarded 85% of his grape and made one wine instead of five. One really good wine. Sure, it’s not safe if you need to sell all your wine every vintage to make ends meet, but then, are we talking about good (natural) wine or just any wine?

When i was in ANGER last february, i’ve met a vigneron pouring his wines at the fair. All un-sulfured sauvignon and Gamay from Touraine. Every single wine was tasting amazingly well and i asked him how he managed to attain such purity, flawless wines being tottaly natural?
“I don’t know, the wine makes itself, when it’s good i sell it, when it’s bad i throw it away”
I can only admire what that guy was saying. Too many natural wines are sold as such because they are fucked up. It’s not right. Because you are working as naturally as possible doesn’t mean you can bottle just any disgusting crap and sell it, cheap or expensive, it’s always going to be overpriced. And it gives a bad name to natural wines.

2-No enzymes, dried yeasts, sugar or any additives.

To me, the yeasts issue is simple, if you are inoculating your wines, you might as well make a non vintage. I don’t care it’s not a “flavored” or “designer” yeast. I don’t care if the yeasts in sancerre are sloppy, and it’s hard to ferment sauvignon blanc all the way. Grow pinot, even better, grow chenin blanc for god sake!
Enzymes? I dont know and i’m pretty sure i don’t even want to know what’s that about.
Sugar is definitely the least important as it’s not harmful. Still, if we are talking about natural wines i think chaptalisation should be banned. It’s overused all over burgundy under the pretense that “pinot doesn’t taste good at 12% alcohol”. Again, i’m not here to dictate anything to anyone working their asses off in vineyards and cellars, but PACALET, or DERAIN doesn’t use any sugar and they often make beautiful twelve and a half percent alcohol village or Grand cru wines. They are my favorite burgundy producers, no doubt about it. I think that the fruit is the key, if you understand it, you know when to harvest it and what to make of it. It takes time i’m sure, but it’s the only way to achieve greatness in my opinion.

3-Farming the land. Better wines are coming from peoples understanding there land/fruit.

I don’t like negociants wines much. Some are good, most are barely drinkable market driven juice. I would much rather drink a farmer’s wine. I know, in california and all around the states, there is a trend of winemakers buying whatever fruit and making wine out of it.”we can buy fruit from a 100 years old zinfandel vineyard near lodi”, “My friend just told me about a half a ton of monterey pinot noir”. I want to be a winemaker as well. But it’s not going to happen while i write my blog, run my shop, or live in a city. I cannot seriously pretend to make a wine if i am not here, myself, in the cellar, in the vineyards, everyday it’s needed, let’s say over 300 days of the year?
To me, even the word winemaker is wrong, even the concept of having a winemaker or a
consultant (i’m not talking about a little help from your friends here) is wrong. If you are not in the vineyards, what the hell are you doing in the cellar? I’m often arguing that point. A winemaker and a vineyard manager sounds like a divorced couple to me. The vineyard manager gets to raise the kid for his whole life, and then abandon him. The winemaker, who has never even met the kid, is now in charge of his life. Do this, do that, act like this, go there…… Fuck that!

4- No clones in the vineyard.

It’s kind of a “in a perfect world” kind a dogma, but the clone issue is important to me. I definitely have a lot of respect for peoples like Marc OLLIVIER to name just one ( yes, there are plenty of others) that does not have a single clone in his vineyards. I know it’s more difficult, it takes more time, more attention, it’s prone to diseases and all that. But then, if you just wanted to harvest any fruit, seedless watermelon is a good option.

5-No hybrid grapes

I don’t understand why all those crazy swiss scientists are having so much fun creating new grapes out of a lab… Criminal if you ask me!

6- Tradition

you can be as natural as you want, you still need to respect the region your wine is coming from. I know, the commercial driven mentality in the states would make you believe that it’s fine to grow grapes in the middle of a desert. You just need a little water and a little help from your friends (wells fargo, UC Davis, Monsanto…)

7- Politics

You don’t like my dogma, you can argue on the comment section.
You like it? Join the party!

Follow day by day here:

Up next: Movia Lunar under the Full Moon; or: i was promised the best drink ever.

~ by Cory Cartwright on July 14, 2009.

14 Responses to “Day 24: Guilhaume’s Natural Wine Dogma”

  1. Nicely written Guilhaume! These are as close to my beliefs on natural wine as I have read in a long time! Next time I’m back home, I will stop in and check out your place in SF!


  2. I really like the dedication and passion I get from Guilhaume when reading this post. I often think that is important in the natural movement and what I see the most from the diehards. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with all his points, but as I continue my wine production studies and actually get in the “real world” of wine, maybe I’ll better understand where he’s coming from.

    However, I do agree with his thoughts on the winemaker needing to be closer to the vineyards. Nice post, overall.

  3. Great passion.

    I could do the same thing for film but I know its not realistic. No big actors, no budgets over 500,000, try to use the medium as effectively as possible, no manipulation of audiences emotions, no marketing at all, no predicatbility, no actors/actresses than can’t act but are very attractive, all actors get paid the same salary based on screen time, etc.

    So I watch films that come as close to that as possible….Godard, Melville, Tarkovsky, Ozu, Kurosawa etc.

    Most of the wine I drink (except German….;)) falls under these categories..

    the clone thing is far out…..

  4. Nice post Guilhaume. It brought up many thoughts on “natural wine”, including:

    1. Is there such a thing as Natural Wine? All farming endeavors are in and of themselves manipulations of a piece of the Earth. The vines themselves are not native (to most growing areas of the world), so the act of growing them is one step removed from Nature.
    2. Even if a winegrower follows Nature as closely as possible, he or she must make decisions about growing those vines that are not part of nature. Even the decision to pick is based on human ideals, not natural ones. And every small choice can have big consequences down the line. Even a simple choice of to crush the grapes or not can alter the outcome.
    Masanobu Fukuoka distinguished between two types of natural farming – a pure natural farming that was Nature itself, and the attempt at natural farming that we end up (hopefully) achieving. His road towards Nature is very much in line with what Guilhaume outlined in his post. But it is only a way (in the true Buddhist sense of the word) towards Nature. It is not Nature.
    3. The best a winegrower can hope for is that the wine will be a true reflection of the terroir and vintage. But for the reasons given above (and many others), it is an imperfect reflection.

    I think the phrase Natural Wine is unfortunate – there is no really natural wine. Wine does not exist in Nature. A better descriptor would be Authentic Wine. A sensitive vigneron will base his or her decision making on what would be the best path to bring out the terroir and nothing more. No herbicides, no fertilizers, no tillage, no destemming, no new oak, no additives, no processing, etc. Just the taste of the vintage and the vineyard.
    Its easy to write about and imagine, but its sometimes very difficult. But the results can be astoundingly good.

    I think its important to remember, too, that what is achievable in one winegrowing region is probably not possible in another. Trying to copy another wine is not the way towards authenticity. We must accept that every region will have is unique characteristics and nuances. We should enjoy the diversity!

  5. I more-or-less agree with everything. Well, except communism.

    Hank, if you don’t like natural wine, just think of it as real wine.

    Eric Texier has made a Fukuoka wine, BTW. It’s cool, but I don’t think it’s practical.

    • VLM, Why would you say the Fukuoka methods are impractical?

      • Hank, for real? Do you know anyone working as a farmer using Fukuoka’s methods exclusively? I’m talking about someone who makes their entire living from farming, not from writing books, articles, trust funds, etc.

        The closest I’ve seen is probably Bob Cannard in Glen Ellen, but even he has to make adjustments for the reality of the market, California labor costs, etc.

        But in truth I think this sort of approach is a little off-base. For me the value in Fukuoka’s work is learning how his philosophy and logic guided his responses to the particular challenges he faced, in his unique situation. I certainly don’t take his methods as some kind of literal guide to natural farming.

  6. […] Saignee. Cartwright invited a bunch shakers and makers to contribute to the site. Be sure to read Guilhaume Gerard’s frankly dogmatic manifesto, Joseph di Blasi on Frank Cornelissen in Sicily, Lyle Fass on natural in Germany, Joe Manekin on […]

  7. you mention one winemaker who eschews sulfur but how do you feel about the addition of sulfur at bottling? Is it consistent with natural wine production?

  8. What is about this new T-shirt communism/ Trotskyism? Slogan of the week? Communists have had disastrous environmental records (see Chernobyl from which the effects are still being felt in Europe) and couldn’t give a shit about good food and wine. In Europe the communists riot for more subsidies to distill wine to alcohol and for state coops that produce crap industrial wine. (Capitalism has its failings to be sure as to all systems, but the hard left doesn’t seem like a very good alternative. Just a pet peeve: let’s not forget it was a French Socialist government that bombed the Rainbow Warrior.)

    • Hey mccarthy! Did you live under a communist regime or you just know everything about everything naturally?
      I travelled extensively throught ex communists countries and peoples are being abused by capitalism at least just as much as by communism….
      Also, a weak, moderate, french socialist governement ( as far as left wing, mitterand wasn’t that convincing) does not equal communism!!
      Greanpeace…… Pffffff, bunch of smelly hippies trying to get your credit card number in the streets of every major city, who fucking cares? What are they changing?
      But so you know, i don’t believe much in politics, my point was about dogma, and how peoples like to be part of groups and all that junk.
      You know, like my group is Terroir, defending natural, artisanal, farmers wines,
      and your group is called WINE SPECTATOR, and you guys just talk about the big negociants that advertise in the magazine.

  9. slaton, Dude, come on by and visit sometime. My vineyard is Fukuoka-oriented. So it can be done, yes.
    Fukuoka did not wish his methods to be dogma, rather he wanted his guidelines to be seen as a path towards working closely with Nature. What he did in Japan will not work everywhere, and anyone slavishly copying him that way is a fool. But adapted to your local environment…it can be done.
    Every farm is different, no?

  10. Hank…cool, I think we are saying the same thing here. Where is your vineyard?

  11. Guillhaume: I really don’t want to be in a pissing match esp. over politics. I enjoyed your bar and talking with you when I dropped in Feb But in all humility I did want to make a small point about integrisme/dogma which I do believe exists among writers sometimes who live in cities such as New York and don’t know much about winegrowing and winemaking.
    On the Terroir website you cite the Plageoles. I love them for the same reasons you do…the resurrection of the old cepages. And in fact I featured them in my book Corkscrewed. But as is pointed out in the book, their agriculture is not organic etc. as they used what at the time were state-mandated insecticide treatments against cicadelles (leafhoppers) that were spreading the vine killing bacteria flavescence doree through the south of France, Spain and northern Italy. I had never heard of this disease before and it was Bernard Plageoles who told me about it. I wished they did not have to use the treatment, but they did use it on a yearly basis and I appreciate their honesty. In fact I have been amazed how hushed up this disease was and is in the general wine world.

    Another case is COS, the first wine listed on the Terroir site. I know the owners Giusto Occipinti and Titta Cilia and consider them friends. They are talented architects turned winemakers who have been very successful and have a beautiful new winery. The one thing that astounded me about COS on driving up though is the irrigation hoses in the vineyard in front of the winery. They are natural winemakers in biodynamics and I have asked them repeatedly about irrigation—they don’t need it. Sicily is hot and dry yes, but there are very few who irrigate. They have built a small lake fed by underground aquifers– and I think the feeling is that they get free water so if they feel its necessary and the plants get blocked in the height of summer they can irrigate the vineyard that is close by.
    Anyway this is to just to point out that everyone’s case is different, and everyone has particular problems. I appreciate the honesty and the fact that these winemakers don’t try to hide their interventions from the public. My goal is that we understand farmers rather than putting easty USDA-type labels on them.(labels that end up getting manipulated by the big corportations. I mean what does “organic” mean anymore in the USA? )
    The best to you and keep up the good work.

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