Joe helped me broaden my vocabulary, like when I learned on this blog post what spoofulation meant, a word which happens to describe correctly what is going on with many of our modern wines that you find on the shelves. Joe Dressner could have chosen the easy way of importing designer sake and cheap Chile wine but he was like all these vignerons whom he ended up working with, he liked foremost dealing with real things that make people both happy and healthy.
Joe also opened my mind and taste on Muscadets, wines which he knew and appreciated like few if any other people in the world.
I'm packing and have no time for this blogging nonsense....
Except someone just sent me Eric Asimov's latest New York Times Blog, a wonderful little essay on what Mr. Asimov calls Live Wines.
Eric uses Radikon's 2002 Oslavje Bianco (a wine we import and which I have consumed in large quantities) and a 2005 Lazy Creek Vineyards Riesling (which I know nothing about) as examples of Live Wines, wines which have an aliveness. He writes:
"Clumsy term? I know. But that’s what these wines are: alive. They don’t sit in the glass waiting to be swallowed. They practically come to you and pull you in, like the scent curling up from one of those cartoon pies cooling on the window sill, reaching out and causing Bugs Bunny problems.
This sense of a wine as living comes, I think, from having a captivating texture. You feel the wine coating the tongue and the inside of your mouth, and it feels so good that you are compelled to repeat the exercise. It’s not just white wines, either. Great Champagnes have this texture. So do wonderful Burgundies, but it’s not a question of profundity. Great Beaujolais has it, too. I find it in the Barolos of Giacomo Conterno and Bartolo Mascarello, and in the Brunellos of Biondi Santi and Case Bese di Soldera."
I think Eric is on to something. I've been thinking lately about how limiting natural wines, real wines, hand-crafted wines, blah-blah wines are as descriptive terms. I started using the term real wine but that also has the problem of emphasizing the process more than the final outcome.
The best I have been able to come up with is Vins Gouleyant, but that's a descriptor in another language which also has its limitations..
But Live Wines is exactly what I mean to say. I have tried natural wines which are as dead as industrial wines -- simply being viticulturally correct doesn't make the wine pop out of the bottle. There is something magic when it all comes together and has that edge and aliveness. I would argue you have to work naturally in your fields and your cellar to get that quality, but the goal of that work is to get something living and vibrant into the bottle, something which amazes, baffles and seduces us because it is so alive and has so much to say.
Of course, there is also the corollary category -- Dead Wines.
But enough for now, I have to turn off the computer, put it into the computer sleeve, and get going.
Here is another piece on the natural-wine issue which he wrote in 2007 :
There are all sorts of wine buzzwords running around these days. Some are only buzzwords and some, though seemingly vague, correspond to actual movements populated by actual wine producers.
While the term Natural Wine means organic production to an American, in France there is an actual Natural Wine movement with many wonderful producers. The distinction between organic producers, biodynamic producers and terroir-driven producers is often vague and often the same producers overlap into several categories. There are lots of small vigneron grouplets out there and there will be more in the near future. Many of the grouplets, seemingly natural allies, speak badly of their colleagues in other grouplets and there is plenty of animosity between these movements in France. The same splintering between grouplets is now going on in Italy!
The natural wine movement is actually kind of organized, has a web site, has leaders and has several shows around France during the year. Sometimes they are referred to as the sans soufristes, since many of them vinify without using sulphur and some bottle without using any sulphur whatsoever. They also tend to be people who like to laugh, drink, argue, and sometimes brawl, with a little less personal seriousness than the Nicolas Joly contingent in the biodynamic crowd, although many of the natural wine growers are actually in biodynamie. Many of the growers in the Natural Wine Movement seem to know each other, at least in the core group, and much of the association seems to be one of spirit and friendship and good times, rather that a formal codification. This ambiance suits me well, because I'm always wary of organizations with too many codes, too many pretensions, too many rules and too many secret handshakes.
As an importer, I don't want to get involved in the personality and sectarian disputes between these various movements.But though our company works with growers across all these movements, we do have a large concentration in the French Natural Wine grouping. They include (in random order):
Dard et Ribo
Thierry et Jean-Marie Puzelat
Clos Roche Blanche
Les Vins Contés
Mouthes le Bihan
Château Moulin Pey-Labrie
Domaine le Briseau
Agnès et René Mosse
Bera, Vittorio & Figli
There are numerous other growers in the Natural Wine Movement we don't work with because they already work with another American importer. Nevertheless, we admire the work of Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Olivier De Moor, Bernard Plageoles, Yvon Metras, the Villemades and Jo Landron to name a few.
At the same time, I would not want Louis/Dressner Selections to become the American branch of the French Natural Wine Movement. I try to avoid using the term natural wine because everyone thinks I'm only talking organic and you can be organic and machine harvest, you can be organic and overcrop, you can be organic and use innoculated yeasts and enzymes. You can also be organic, natural, biodynamic or terroir-driven and make just bad wine. All these visions are simply too limited. Instead, I use the phrase "real wine" which is perhaps meaningless, but which I think is closer to the spirit of the type of unspoofulated (another vague term) wines I like.
Perhaps you can argue that we don't need another cliché. True enough. But go explain Marc Ollivier and the Domaine de la Pépière in the Muscadet. These are thrilling dry white wines that come uniquely from seléctions massales vines -- no clones here. Everything is picked by hand, done at low yields, vinified without spoof and the vines are old, expressive and complex. That's right the vines!
Ollivier is a modest guy who is not part of any movement. He is in a transition to organic certification and is now plowing his vineyards. Others in the AOC have done this work for years, but to me Marc makes the greatest wines of the Muscadet. Maybe it is because he only has massale, maybe it is because his vineyards are in granite rather than the predominant schist and gneiss of the region or maybe it is the age of the vines. There are many things going on here and even though he has not been lauded or stamped by any of the French natural, organic, biodynamique, terroirist movements, I'm proud and delighted that our firm imports his wines.
To me, Marc Ollivier is one of the heroes of Natural Wine and he is virtually unknown in France and is certainly unrecognized by the leaders of the Natural Wine Movement. We work with another thirty or so growers who do incredible work bringing their vineyards alive and into your glass. Their wines have a purity and definition that industrial techniques simply cannot replicate. Some of those thirty are members of movements, some are not not, but at Louis/Dressner, we are never going to limit ourself to an authorized list of what is good and correct. We go out, see the vineyards, see the cellar, get to know the grower and taste comprehensively. We make judgments and take risks rather than market a branded concept.
I'm skeptical of movements, slogans and catch-all phrases which try to make simple what is actually terribly complex. Our firm has avoided selling wine on the basis that it doesn't have sulphur, is organic, is this or that. Finally, all these ways of working in the vineyards and in the cellar have the goal of making great wine. We do not look for producers who are making natural products or biodynamique products or organic products -- we are looking for producers who make great wines from great terroirs. Eighteen years importing wine has taught us that working naturally is the only way to do make great wines, but what interests us is the goal of great wine, not the slogan or cliché.
This might make me eccentric, but as a veteran of the late 60s, who remains sentimentally both left-wing and left-wine, I've learned to distrust movements. Talk to Chaussard, Mosse, Puzelat and many veterans of the sans-soufre movement and they will tell you that there were too many excesses in the name of san-soufre. Perhaps these extremes moved everyone to rethinking the use of sulphur and moved the level of winemaking forward. But there have been too many examples, and new ones pop up all the time, of new estates whose goal is simply making sans-souffre.
Doing a quick cold carbonic maceration without sulphur and popping reduced wine in autolyse into the bottle is not my idea of natural winemaking. But that telltale reductive odor is almost a desired effect by a whole range of neophyte producers as are white wines which quickly referment in bottle. It is viewed as the guarantee of "natural" winemaking, but finally it is the triumph of method winemaking over terroir. It is a Michel Rolland of another sort....formulaic winemaking which makes different terroir from all over France taste the same. To my mind, great wine still requires intelligent and careful élevage and Jules Chauvet turns in his grave when his name is used in the name of flawed winemaking.
So what's the simple answer to guide the trade and consumers? Unfortunately, there is none. Everything is a tentative judgment based on too many variables and wine remains confounding and difficult
Go buy a sample case of wine, like Eric Asimov suggests, and have some fun. Navigating through the thicket of producers, AOCs, grape varieties, vintages, critics, bloggers, importers, frauds and visionaries is all part of the fun.
Read Eric Asimov's article about Joe Dressner in the New York Times.
Read Decanter about Joe Dressner.
Below is an excerpt of his casual writing, where he recounts his arrival in Poil Rouge (in the Maconnais, Burgundy).He and his wife Denyse had a country house there where they'd spend several months every year.