Buyer Beware

natural wine 3It was inevitable but it isn’t all to the good. Natural wine is going mainstream according to Jordan Michelman writing in Bon Appétit

Restaurants and bars of all sorts—in Kansas, in Vermont, in New York—have natural wine lists, with similar bottles. So what happens when something originally avant-garde goes so mainstream?

Well, several things will happen. People will talk about it even when they don’t have a clue what it’s about.

“Natural wines are, like, better for the environment,” they say, glancing up from their iPhone, beneath the clanging din of the Bluetooth stereo. “It means the wine is good for you,” they add, before recommending an orange wine from Meinklang.

Is that really why these wines are on the menu? For my health?

And the wine itself will become less important

But today it looks more and more like an aesthetic drinking trend driven by the pictures on the labels, with Instagram likes in place of traditional point scores.

The sense of adventure, of drinking something rare and unusual, will diminish.

There’s an increasingly ubiquitous representation of the same 20 or so bottles from a handful of producers on every wine list and bottle shop shelf. You’re likely to find an Austrian producer called Meinklang, whose labels feature a cartoon cow, or perhaps Field Recordings, a California producer whose labels resemble a subway advertising poster.

Producers will start to call their wine “natural” even when it’s full of additives and produced with industrial production methods

There is no International Natural Wine Council, or global quorum of agreed-upon norms that a winemaker must follow to be considered “natural.”

And most importantly, corners will be cut. The goal of making money will replace the rebel ethos that has characterized the movement up to now. People will enter the market who care nothing about quality. Quality will decline.

“There is a tremendous flattening happening right now in natural wine,” says the podcaster McCarroll. He sees this moment of same-ification as driven by economic forces and an increasingly cynical approach to how wine is bought, sold, and consumed in the United States.

Hopefully, the importers, small distributers, wine buyers, writers and sommeliers who have been in the forefront of this movement since the beginning will keep their eye on the ball and insist on high standards, which in the natural wine world means different, interesting, and unpredictable bottlings. When natural wine becomes predictable it will lose its reason to exist.

Going forward, to find the good stuff you will have to know where to look.

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