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The Culture of Nature vs. Nurture in Wine

Nature versus nurture isn’t just the province of parenthood debates or baseball statistics.  No, it rears its head in winemaking, too – and, increasingly with rancorous vigor.

Most well attuned wine lovers aren’t surprised by this; it’s been going on for years.  It’s just, well, scarcely talked about with any level of specificity, akin to the secret list of baseball players circa 2003 who tested positive for steroids.

The list of wineries that use technology to manipulate wine by de-alcoholization or micro-oxygenation or other methods of perfecting the product, or at the least, balancing out what Mother Nature gave them, have sworn their vendors to top secrecy using the veil of confidentiality, a mano y mano equivalent to Major League Baseball and their player’s union deep throating the positive steroid test list.


Companies like Winesecrets for example, a poor name choice if ever there was one, the new bogeyman, took the mantle from Clark Smith when he sold the services operation of Vinovation a year ago today.

Clark Smith may be out of the business of being the recipient of chiding from the natural wine bully pulpit, but that’s not to say he still doesn’t have opinions.

Perhaps the most quoted man in the wine business, aside from premiere wine reviewers, Clark is quoted in the June issue of Wines & Vines magazine with a very relevant passage after having been posed the question, “Why do you think so few winemakers are willing to talk about the technologies that they’re using in their winemaking?”

Clark Smith (answer in full from Winemaker interview in Wines & Vines):

In the 70’s, there used to be a clear, open channel of communication with the press and with wine buffs in general, but winemakers got insular.  There are now 50 times as many wines on the market as there were 30 years ago, and the resulting heated competition has shut down the sharing of knowledge.  Instead, today you scrape for every advantage.  Winemakers thus tap into technological innovations from, say, the biomedical field or NASA.  These have come so fast that it is difficult for even seasoned pros to keep track, let alone school the public and the romantic press corps.  Amidst all this change, there is a growing realization that the modern principles we learned in school aren’t adequate to the task of making great wine, and this has added confusion to deciding just what the post-modern path should be.

So winemakers are really confused, just when a revolution in social media is demanding clear, honest answers.

More than ever, consumers have become inspired to love wine as the “one pure thing” unaltered by 20th century fiddling.

The lack of straight talk from winemakers has spawned a whole generation of Internet piranhas who make a living devouring ill-prepared winemakers, the poor saps.  These predators have learned they can trade on the public’s growing fears of technology in winemaking’s sacred ground.  While wine lovers may not agree at all with these sensationalists, they can’t help being drawn to their rhetoric.

The public needs to create an entrée for honesty before most winemakers will come clean.  That’s beginning to happen with real journalists like Jamie Goode and Eric Asimov writing without an ax to grind.  So heroes like Randy Dunn and Michael Havens are now willing to speak openly.

It’s an interesting quote for sure with enough stuffing to be a stand-alone piece, too.  It’s unfortunate the Wines & Vines article regrettably went the straight Q&A interview route because there is much more ground to be covered in follow-up questions.

One thing becomes crystal clear as result of studying this issue, similar to the steroids issue in baseball – until someone can come up with a list of wines from California that are manipulated, those wines can be studied against their natural counterparts and quality deductions can be made, the natural wine movement is whistling in the wind to a public who doesn’t have enough context to really understand and make up their own mind against a tidal wave of swirling information.


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (5) |


On 07/07, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

You’ll get no argument here. In fact, I just wrote about this issue on

On 07/07, Jeff wrote:

Great minds, Thomas ... now instead of just me being unoriginal in excerpting from a trade magazine, it’s both of us.


On 07/07, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Hah. Lifting from a trade magazine has to be lower than unoriginal…wait a minute: I write for trade magazines!

On 07/07, Dylan wrote:

Jeff, you raise an interesting point, or at least the article you brought to light does. Do you think the industry would benefit from a more open line of communication? At the sacrifice of competitive edge would winemakers find value in the pursuit of better wine through shared techniques?

On 09/25, Baseball bats wrote:

Evolving from older bat-and-ball games, an early form of baseball was being played in England by the mid-eighteenth century. This game and the related rounders were brought by British and Irish immigrants to North America, where the modern version of baseball developed.


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