By Guilhaume Gerard, Partner and Co-Founder, Selection Massale
There are a few terms within the natural wine marketing world that I don't really get. The idea of "nothing added, nothing taken away" is one -- a cute, romantic idea but, no, the wine doesn't make itself. Zero zero (aka how to strip away taste and preference and replace them with a Parker-esque number) is another. The one that baffles me the most is low intervention, or whatever variance on non-interventionism is à la mode right now.
It's been around for quite some time and while I'm certainly all for less manipulation, less synthetics, less (or no) additions in the vineyards or to the wines themselves, I feel like there's a bit of a misunderstanding about the whole concept. Maybe it's just me, but when I visit a producer (the literal basic task of my job as an importer), I don't really get the feeling that many vignerons are non-interventioning all day. I've been on the road for about 11 years now. More or less three to four months a year, a visit or two a day, and with all the winemakers I visit (those I import, those I admire, even those I think are complete frauds), nobody talks about that idea. Well, actually, there is always one exception to the rule.
It was 2008. I was visiting a couple producers with friends and we spent some time with one, maybe the father of all non-interventionists: a truly, really lazy dude. My understanding is that his dad had bought him something like five hectares of vines and a big house. The house itself was quite non-interventionist too, or falling apart, whatever you want to call it. This genius zero zero intervention winemaker managed to completely ruin the whole operation within a few years. It was pruning season (if you were really, really late) when I was there, and he just couldn't get his ass out of bed. One morning while he was still asleep, drunk from the previous night, I kicked in the door of his cellar to find just about the dirtiest operation I've come across. Fruit flies copulating around every single fiberglass tank, rotten grapes from the previous harvest, leaking valves, and all that great zero zero turning into vinegar. It's still in fashion, I understand, that halfway to vinegar, and maybe I'm just being the new curmudgeon (Rest in Peace to the OG) but I still like the idea of wine tasting good.
I've also met a few vignerons that I think are actually creative and manage to deal with difficult vintages or fermentations by intervening without opening the door to yeasts, excessive amounts of sulfur, or lysozymes and all that crap. A couple of them, one in Cheverny, the other in Ontario, often use clean, fresh fermenting musts to help finish or clean a struggling fermentation. I was once told by a natty advocate that this was almost criminal and a big "no no" in their opinion and that the natty thing to do would be to let the petri dish of a wine develop fully in barrel until some newbie drinker decides that brett-infused, mousey juice is terroir and that flaws are a bourgeois concept.
So, no, I don't like non-interventionism, not in the vineyard where it takes so much more thought and work to farm organically, and not in the cellar, where non-intervention on a wine too often means letting it become vinegar. Making wine isn't about not intervening, it's about intervening at the right time, for the right reasons. It's about being smart about it, finding creative ways, making the right call, managing to avoid making plonk without using the pallet of oenological products available to you through the oenologists always advocating for more standardized, boring wine. There is a way beyond industrial plonk and vinegar: it's called good winemaking -- good natural winemaking even.