Monday, February 4, 2013

Frank Buck, Natural Wine Hunter!


It's the first Monday of the month, so today's piece is at Tim Atkin, MW's blog. It's in England, so many of the jokes get lost in the translation. I think you'll enjoy today's piece. It's written by the great natural wine hunter Frank Buck, a man who risks his life ferreting out natural wines from what are usually dangerous places. Feel free to comment, if you're so inclined, here, or across the virtual pond at Tim's.

FRANK BUCK, NATURAL WINE HUNTER!



41 comments:

Sommelier Martin Charlebois said...

He must be paid by the amount of words in his writing...... so much for nothing.......

Thomas said...

Oh boy. Based on one comment over there, and the one here, the Hosemaster may soon find himself having opened a can of disgruntled worms. If that keeps up, it might take the fun out of it.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,
Wouldn't be the first can of worms I've opened. I opened a couple last night for dinner. I use them instead of pasta because I'm gluten intolerant.

Charlie Olken said...

It was too predictable that the holier than thou would object. Never mind. The rest of us enjoyed it.

Thomas said...

Ron,

Worms smothered in brown mud is exactly how I describe the lunchroom pasta in my grade school. I didn't even know about gluten then.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Charlie,
An awful lot of people seem to have hung their hats on "natural" wines without having defined the term, if there is a meaningful definition. And then there are those who are rabid about lower alcohol wines, followed by those who would teach us about balance, as though they'd discovered the secret to wine. Such a tiresome, pedantic, proselytizing group.

It's wine, pure and simple, and meant to deliver enjoyment and escape. I'd dare anyone to sit down and taste ten wines blind and determine which are the lowest alcohol, which are natural and which are the spawn of Satan. It's all just talk, which can only be defended, not by logic, but by mystical thinking. Like how I wear my lucky merkin and the Dodgers always win.

And, of course, it's the self-righteousness and paranoia that make them funny. They are the Amish people of wine.

Thomas,
Ah, well, that's the difference between you and me--in grade school I was a gluten for punishment.

Wines for the People said...

Careful, HMW, those Amish may take to trimming merkins next.

Charlie Olken said...

Jose says, "It's wine, pure and simple".

Naturally.

Thomas said...

Every time I read the word "merkin" I go into hysterics, because I knew an hysterical Broadway person who really wore one.

As for balance, I'd know a balanced checkbook when I see one; I just never get to see one. Almost the same thing with wine these days. But then, if you've ever tried to balance a see-saw with a friend, you'd know how easy it is to persuade yourself that it is an easy task.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Wines for the People,
It's really nasty when they use a weed whacker to trim your merkin.

Charlie,
Authentically natural is even better.

Thomas,
Yikes. I don't think I've met anyone who actually owns a merkin. Do they "fit" them? Can you get one with a part? I need to do some research.

Thomas said...

Ron,

On Broadway, if you were summoned for a merkin fitting you were engaged in a "crass call."

Jeff C said...

Well this hit a chord. I've been listening to the natural winemakers for years extoll the virtues of this crap, I mean craft......As an un-natural winemaker I've assigned my own description, "wine making thru neglect". They are either too lazy, cheap or clueless to want to use terrible things like nutrition, sulfites, enzymes or anything else that might actually make better wines. Occasionally they will condescend to doing a punch down, but don't count on it. I know one natural winemaker that literally covers the bins for 2 months and does nothing, then comes back and calls it wine (including whites!!!!) He extolls the virtues of this while offering up his brown cloudy chardonnay.....I'm not kidding. The "natural wine movement" is a way for lazy winemakers to sell below average wine to dumb consumers, period......I'll just keep making un-natural (or maybe un-Holy wines). Thanks for shinning a bright light on this awful trend, and making me laugh as always.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Jeff,
Glad it made you laugh. The "natural" wine, or "authentic" wine, movement is, at its best, disingenuous, and, at its worst, fraudulent. But most folks know crappy wine when they taste it, and crappy wine, whether "natural" or not, eventually goes away.

Again, I don't care that much how someone makes a great wine, but extolling "natural" wines as somehow inherently superior is stupid on the face of it. Or saying it's more expressive of the "terroir." This is unproveable, and is a way for the writer to feel more important, some sort of wine missionary doing God's work--which implies their readers are their spiritual children. Of all the kinds of wine snobbery, it may be the worst form.

Thomas said...

"But most folks know crappy wine when they taste it..."

Maybe, but not always--like when it's orange.

gabe said...

I get the dogma against natural wine. I understand the backlash against the extremists. But I think it sucks that people use the extremes as an excuse to dismiss a really interesting movement in winemaking.

I can't taste a wine and tell you how its made. I don't subscribe to all the natural winemaking dogma. But I can taste a wine that has been fed with nutrients and enzymes, fined and filtered, and tell you that it tastes over-polished. Like a bleach blonde with fake boobs and too much makeup. Fortunately, there is no name for that kind of winemaking, so it escapes judgement.

Samantha Dugan said...

Psst, hey Frank, looks like they're biting here...
http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=98884c0401c55c5dea2533764&id=350a8a3a94&e=dc9bdce786 looks like you might need a tweet or hashbrown or something but it's worth a shot right?

Oh and Ron My Love, the merkin "Can you get one with a part?" killed me. I love you!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
I don't think it's an attack on natural wines themselves, but more of a revolt against the zealots who portray them as somehow superior in both taste and morality.

Overblown, overmanipulated wines are the butt of a lot of jokes as well. They have often been labeled things like "spoofulated." And they are legion, to be sure. But you don't find a large group of writers and winemakers promoting them as superior, and for good reason. It's all just wine.

I've been trying to find a quote from Kingsley Amis, the great British novelist, and I finally did. I think it speaks to this issue:

"Unquestioning devotion to authenticity is, in any department of life, a mark of the naive--or worse."

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Wow, will that ever be an ugly crowd that attends. Wish I could go. Lots of fodder for Frank Buck there.

And those curly merkins get old. I'm thinking a jet black one with a Jerry Lewis sort of part. Too cool.

I love you! Wanna comb my merkin?

Jeff C said...

Gabe,

You make a good point, and I certainly don't subscribe to over processed wine either. I think the point is to use all available tools based on needs. Personally i try not to do anything not required by the chemistry of the juice or common sense, conversely, ruling out the use of all modern practices is dumb.

gabe said...

jeff,

i hear what you're saying, i just think that different winemakers draw the line of whats "required by chemistry" at different places.

I have seen the winemakers you talk about, who do nothing, ruin their wine, and call it natural. but i have also seen winemakers who are forced to pay meticulous attention to their wines because they are trying to make their wines as natural as possible. people who create a ton of extra work for themselves for no reason, other than extracting a little extra soul from their wine. i have infinite respect for those winemakers. i never hear them profess that their wine or wine making style is superior to others. but, in my humble opinion, those wines have more meaning to them. more soul. whether i can pick them out in a blind tasting is irrelevant

gabe said...

Ron,

There are a lot of wine writers promoting over manipulated wines as superior to others; all I have to do is look at the highest scoring wines in the Willamette Valley.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
Yes! Or wait, is that a euphemism?

Gabe,
Once again, I agree. To say that super extracted wines aren't being rewarded is simply untrue. Just where does the term, when used negatively, "Parkerized" come from? From those of us that taste shit like MollyDooker and hork it up, with gag reflex and all, and cannot believe Parker gave that syrup candy juice wine like 98 points. Gack! And before anyone jumps down my throat, I'm not blaming Parker for the fact those wines are the way they are....but the wines he likes and gives high scores to are often manipulated to all shit and taste like cordials and...yup, highly touted.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe and Samantha,
My point, and I didn't make it clearly, is more that there isn't a tasting called "In Pursuit of Samantha Horking." The Parker darlings don't band together and have tastings promoting how they're on the right track and everyone else who makes wine is an idiot, and misguided, and a poor sinner in the church of the Holy Grape.

And, honestly, I think you'd find Parker more open to "Natural Wines" than you'd find Alice or Jamie Goode or Jon Bonne open to wines they considered, I don't know, what's the opposite of "authentic"--fraudulent? There is far more zealotry on that side of the fence, and that's very annoying and narrowminded and intellectually dishonest.

Gabe, you said you couldn't tell much about how a wine was made just by tasting it. Isn't that the point? It's good or it isn't, it suits you or it doesn't. Labeling wines "natural," "real," or "authentic" is crap. Always has been, always will be. All wine is manipulated to some extent, and far more than anyone ever admits. I hate lousy "Parkerized" wines and I hate lousy "real" wines. All the rest is intellectual masturbation.

Samantha Dugan said...

Nope Babe, those zealots just point their fingers at those of us that get off on wines of restraint and call us "puritans" or accuse us of deriving less pleasure which is dishonest and profoundly, arrogantly, judgmental. Look I was at Pursuit of Balance today and came home aching to write a piece about it....that was before I remembered that my blog is dead, but it was a strange spot for me to be in for sure. The French wine buyer, one that does happen to be put off my sweeter wines that burn my tongue and and leave my palate feeling covered with a sucrose like saturation, or jam like thickness...but also a person that does not believe all the wines here in California taste like that and even if they did, I wouldn't judge people for liking them. Just aint my thing and had today's tasting been one of Parker favorites I would have simply stayed at the shop. I went to the tasting to learn, I did in fact find some wines I totally dug, and found some hipster twats that made my shoulders just as tense with, "Shut the fuck up" as the goo-seeking, finger-pointing, "You don't like pleasure" idiots. I think there are wads in each camp, big ones and I'm sorry if I will not concede that the natural wine folks are any worse than the E-Bob dorks. Anyone that thinks they have all wine figured out is a knob, period.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm not sure who you refer to when you talk about people who say you're deriving less pleasure from wine, Love. Anyway, the debate isn't about pleasure. It's about whether there are such things as "authentic" wines and then every other wine that someone, whoever that might be, decides isn't authentic, or real, or natural. All of that is lazy thinking.

Your blog is only dead because you think it's dead. You should write about your experiences today. I'm interested. And I'm also sure we probably agree about most of the wines we both tasted at "In Pursuit of Balance." Though, I think it's obvious, every great wine has balance, but not every balanced wine is great.

Yes, anyone who thinks they have wine figured out is a knob. I could not agree more wholeheartedly. As for profoundly and arrogantly judgmental--that's probably the HoseMaster.

Samantha Dugan said...

My Merkin Love,
I've read posts at both STEVE!'s and Charlie's that made comment to lean wine lovers not getting as much pleasure, STEVE!'s the one that called us puritans and that was what I was referring to. Didn't mean to imply that you had, just that you find these natural wine wankers more offensive when I think they are pretty much the same. Not knocking your knob Baby and you are one of the last people I would ever call judgmental.

Charlie Olken said...

I am afraid, Sam, that you have lost me here. It is not lean wines or high acid wines that are the problem. It is insipid wines with character that is restrained to the point of being scrubbed, sanitary and sour that are the problem.

The top Chardonnays in my rag the last three years have come from Freestone, are low in alcohol and firmed by plenty of acidity. They also have pure and expressive flavors.

Now, I don't care who likes or does not like wines that are structured but low in character--and I am not suggesting that you do--but by the same token, I don't see how you can generalize about Steve or me or anyone else when we complain about wines that lack character.

High acidity and low alcohol wines can be good and they can be not good. Same for natural, semi-natural and unnatural wines. Oak does not destroy wine. Ripeness does not destroy wine. Acidities under 0.70% do not destroy wine.

But when some group of pompous prigs start telling the world that there is only one way to make wine, then you will find me on the side of those who taste with their palates, not with their calculators.

It is the Bonnes and Parrs and their ilk who are branding the rest of us as ignoramuses for not praying at their alter. If a wine does not merit "their" seal of approval, it is branded as some sort of false god.

Fie on that and screw 'em. They are trying to end the conversion rather than accepting, as I do and most of the rest of the wine-loving world does, that wine come in many useful and enjoyable guises.

I will still argue, however, that insipid is not one of them, and my proof is that lower alcohol, higher acidity wines are not a priori insipid based on some formulaic basis.

Samantha Dugan said...

Sir Charles,
I was speaking about two specific posts, (one on your blog and one of STEVE!'s) that blatantly called out those of us that like the wines, that you may call sour, and said we were restricting our pleasure. I think Stephen wrote the one on your blog but it was many months ago so I can't be sure. The one thing I can be sure of is it isn't true and to tell someone, anyone, young or old, new to this or otherwise that they are getting less pleasure out of what they drink, well that's just wrong, to me. If Alice and her group dig wines that smell more like horse butt than fruit to me it doesn't mean they are getting less pleasure...just as I would never say to you that you are holding back or "not getting it" because you like wines with more forward and upfront fruit than I do most of the time. Look I'm no freaking saint in this here department, I make fun of lots and lots of people, (Rombauer anyone?!) but as much as I don't get it I just don't think I have any right to think someone else is tasting less or enjoying less...not my place. Know what I mean?

I wasn't complaining about you disliking anything Charlie, you or STEVE!, what I was talking about was making comments and making judgements about the level of enjoyment others get out of whatever it is they like to drink, just isn't correct as the whole damn thing is subjective and I feel it just perpetuates the bickering....which of course, for some, is exactly the point.

Lots of people might find my Chablis shrill or sour, to me they are sexy and thrilling. Just like I find Dave Matthews painfully desirable and my dearest friend thinks, "Boys don't talk that way"...in my head and mouth I'm correct, in hers so is she. I adore you Charlie and used both you and STEVE! here because I do admire and respect you both, which of course is why the comments kind of stuck with me, you feel them a little more when they come from people who matter. Luckily for me I've been at this a long ass time and I love you so much that I can "humpf" and be over it. We simply disagree here just as Ron and Alice do. Hey, you think they love each other like you and I do?

gabe said...

Ron,

I get it. Alice Ferring can be self-righteous, and the pursuit of balance tasting is self-aggrandizing. But those aren't the winemakers being zealots, and telling people their wines are superior. You can be upset at the writers and sommeliers all you want, but I just don't think its fair to blame the winemakers.

And I realize I am biased, but I do think it matters how a wine is made. There are people spending years of their life, working day and night, on a single wine. When some monsanto wine corperation comes along and puts 10,000 gallons in a tank with oak chips, spins it thru reverse osmosis and calls it the same thing, i call bullshit. just my two cents

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
I may have somewhere indicted winemakers, but not very often. I have great respect for their ilk. I tend to blame wine writers and marketing folks more than any other groups.

Though I had to laugh at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting when Raj Parr was listed as "winemaker" for Sandhi wines when it was Sashi Moorman who made the wines (though he's no longer there, I guess).

Of course it matters how a wine is made--to you and maybe me and a few other wine geeks. A vast majority of the folks who consume wine don't care how it's made any more than they care how Van Gogh executed his brush strokes. They just want it to taste good. And, honestly, that's all I want when I sit down to drink. I might know more than those other folks, be able to tell a badly manipulated wine, but we have the same desire. To get buzzy on something that tastes good.

Charlie Olken said...

The problem, Sam, is that IPOB is not about wine, it is about structure first. You cannot play in their house unless you make wine in their image.

I rarely criticize the wine recommendations of anyone, although I have been known to poke fun at them, but it matters not to me what Jon B recommends. That is his business. But when he begins to put his imprimatur on style as the first qualifier, then it gets a little too "I am the next Bobbie" for me.

And my recollection, my dear, is that we began our love affair with a loud disagreement about style--although I don't remember where--maybe over on Wark.

Samantha Dugan said...

Charlie My Sweet Love,
It was over at that whinny Ken Payton's I do believe....

Charlie Olken said...

Yes, Sam, I do believe you are right. Whatever happened to Ken, by the way?

Samantha Dugan said...

Charlie,
I believe he made the Top 100...then burst into flames.

gabe said...

Ron,

I think you and I can agree on how we feel about winemakers who don't actually make wine. But I have to disagree with your disregard for how wine is made. I'm not nearly as good a writer as you, so it is hard for me to explain. But it is like buying a product at walmart instead of buying it from a real store. sure, it tastes the same and you save some money, but you become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. yes, very few people truly care about what wines they drink. but i think that people who really care about wine should be buying wine from wineries and winemakers they believe in. and i think the how is as important as the what.

ok, i think the pinot is taking over this comment. just saying that making natural wine is much harder than making wine with enzymes and cross-flow filters, and makes wine with more soul. i get tired of hearing natural winemaking and biodynamics get constantly smeared because they are easy targets for our jaded and sarcastic generation. those guys are doing a lot of extra work at a significant extra cost because they love wine and are trying to make something special. i know that your blog is meant to be funny, and to make people stop taking themselves so seriously. but i also think there is a magical, unquantifiable quality to wine. and i think you know that as well. and i think natural winemaking is trying to bring out that quality, and i think thats a good thing...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Gabe,
I simply have problems with this "unquantifiable" thing with winegrowing and winemaking that supposedly makes wines with "soul." Now Matt Kramer says that, in essence, atheists can't make great Pinot Noir. Spare me. Wine is beautiful and wonderful and worth a lifetime of contemplation, but can we just leave the spiritual crap out of it? It's annoying and arrogant and wrongheaded--a lot like Matt Kramer.

Honestly, I've been hearing this my entire wine career. There's an elitism and snobbery about it that's off-putting. I think you and I would agree on what great wines smell and taste like, but does that mean they have "soul?" Truly, it almost makes the word "soul" meaningless. I have a soul, and so does the Chidaine Vouvray I'm drinking? Maybe I shouldn't kill it. I'd go straight to Hell. Which, apparently, being a blogger, I have.

I know you're just using words to express your love and fascination with wine. And, yes, wines made with more care can be more interesting, but let's not get sloppy and connect the two. That's not an absolute. If I'm part of the problem, I'd like to know what the problem is. Is the average wine lover supposed to research every wine he buys at Total Wine to make sure the wine is made by some spiritual and natural standard? Please. I admire your idealism, Gabe. But wineries lie, and winemakers lie, and marketing people lie. All the time, and every damned day. The wine doesn't lie. It's wonderful, it's stupid, or it's plonk. You buy it again, or you don't. All the rest is hooey, the sort peddled by fantasists and self-proclaimed experts.

I love wine. But the human need to make their passions somehow sacred and unknowable to heathens is pathetic. Make great wine, and the world will beat a path to your door. Make crap and all the talk in the world won't help you in the long run. The secret isn't in the how, the secret is in the result. Preaching and proselytizing are but empty gestures, aimed at the lost and the lonely.

gabe said...

I hate to beat a dead horse, but I simply don't agree. I don't think its just wine, I think organic vegetables and home cooking and well made wine all have soul. Can you pick somebody's grandmother's matzo ball soup out of a blind tasting lineup? Probably not. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have a deeper significance than the soup d'jour at some schmantzy downtown restaurant.

I respect your opinions, and I understand your perspective. I wouldn't still be talking about this with you if I didn't. I'm not saying every schmo to buy a bottle of wine needs to know the name of the winemakers dog. I sure don't hesitate to buy a $7 california merlot or nero d'avola from trader joe's to drink on a tuesday night. But as a wine lover, there are a small handful of wineries that I truly love. And I don't only buy their wines because they taste good, although that is certainly part of it. I buy wines that taste good from wineries that are run by people I like that are made in a way that I respect. I'm not saying everyone has to experience wine the sanme way I do, but for me that stuff matters.

I live in wine country (as do you), so I meet these people, I go to these wineries. The marketing department may be telling lies, but I know what I see with my own eyes. If I care about who is making my wine and how they are making it, it's not because I am a sap buying a marketing story, it's because I have a different set of priorities than somebody buying grand cru burgundies from total wine.

I think we agree on more than we disagree. We both think that the taste is the most important thing. We both think people make up stories to sell wine. And we both think wine can sometimes be the greatest thing in the world. We only disagree on the journey (yes, i used that word on purpose to drive you crazy) people should take to finding a wine they enjoy.

I guess the reason this blog entry left a bad taste in my mouth was because it seemed to say that any winery that tries to make wine without fancy enzymes and tons of sulfur will ultimately make wine that doesn't taste very good. That is a common myth that is being purported by wine writers, and it is as false as the opposite opinion (which states that any wine made with any sulfur is the spawn of satan). My main point is that making wine "natural" and making it taste good is indeed possible, and is a ton of extra work, and I think those winemakers deserve a little respect.

Regardless, I like reading and commenting on blogs because it allows me to nerd out on specific wine topics in a way that makes my wife roll her eyes. Thanks for indulging me Ron. You're awesome

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gabe,
I write satire. Or, rather, purported satire. It's meant to make people laugh, but it's also meant to stir the pot. I say this over and over, but the HoseMaster is a Voice, one I've written in for many years, and the HoseMaster is meant to polarize and rabble rouse and, I hope, tell some truths. His views are only partly my own. And I don't like him much either. That the post left a bad taste in your mouth is part of its truth. So all that's good.

I feel emotionally connected, as you do, to many wineries and winemakers. I admire their dedication and hard work and sense of joy. If you want to translate that into "soul" in the wine, so be it, I won't argue that kind of attachment. But that's your impression and not a fact. Your soulful wine is another person's dreck, or, more likely, a wine they like but aren't that passionate about. You give the "soul" to the wine by your definition and your emotional involvement. It ain't there otherwise. But, since you're always you, so what?

The way our brains are designed, as you know, smell and memory are deeply intertwined. I always counsel people to cellar wines not because they received 96 points, but because they feel an emotional connection to them. That connection will live the twenty years you cellar it--a score will mean nothing twenty years later. So when someone tells me they are serving me their favorite wine, I don't automatically expect it to be great, but I know, to them, it brings back memories and good times and, always, always, always, a story. Is that wine's value? Yup. Our brains were, unknowingly, or by some higher power, hardwired for wine to speak to us on a deep, emotional level. "Natural" wine, or not.

So, of course, if you're inclined to that sort of thing, "natural" wines have "soul." If you don't care, maybe Duckhorn Cabernet has "soul" for you. Who are we to say?

But in judging and tasting wine, one has to look past that emotional connection to a deeper understanding of a wine. Our hearts can trick us into anything if we let it. I think the fun is judging each wine on its own merits and not bogged down with labels. I usually end up loving wines with pedigree and beauty and character and restraint, but not because of who or what made them. And then there are the wines you speak of, I have those too, wines made by friends and fanatics and eccentrics. Those touch me differently. Perhaps I grant them "soul." Perhaps I just treasure my memories.

Anyhow, thank you for the discussion, Gabe. I'm glad you're a regular here. And you scared off that Gregutt guy, so bonus points for you...

gabe said...

Lol. Actually, ever since that experience, I've been seeing Paul's writing all over the place. Turns out that guy is a pretty big deal. I'm like a little winemaking flea that he flicked off his ear.

I have often been accused of being "anthropomorphic", because I love giving living qualities to non-living things. Maybe thats what makes me such a sucker for wines. I fully agree with your assesment that somebody's favorite wine is not always the best technical wine. And I honestly have more respect for those associations than somebody loving a wine because of it's pedigree, or score, or technical wine quality. I like wines with context, I like wines with a meaning. And yes, maybe I am projecting a soul into those wines, just like I am convinced my dog loves me because we are friends and not just because I feed him and pick up his poop.

Unlike the most ardent natural winemaking fanatics, I am not convinced my relationship with wine is the best relationship with wine. But I am very much convinced that it is not a bad relationship with wine either. For me context matters, and it always will. For some people, blind tasting for quality is the most imprortant thing, and that is okay, but I think those people also have to admit that their way is not necessarily the best way to appreciate wine. To each their own.

This really has been a great conversation...I love talking to people who don't think like me. I need to have my pot stirred every once in a while, and you are great at that. So thank you

gabe said...

one last thing - i am writing all these comments during breaks from working on lab reports for my Wine Clarification & Stabilization class. I think making a quality product that can speak for itself is an important part of making good wine. i just think all the woo-woo stuff matters too :-)

Cris Whetstone said...

This was brilliant. Some of your best work yet. Love the comment about drowning in your horse and buggy to see Frank in Sicily. That about sums the whole space surrounding the natural wine movement up itself.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Cris. As often happens, this piece didn't go where I intended when I sat down to write it. My twisted HoseMaster other took it where it needed to go. That's the fun of writing.