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Intervention

Intervention
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.

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Some Thoughts From Tim (Selection Massale GM) While Hiding Out In The Catskills

Some Thoughts From Tim (Selection Massale GM) While Hiding Out In The Catskills

If it wasn’t painfully obvious already, let’s just say that the importer life is not all that Instagram has shown it to be.

I don’t think anyone can say they’ve truly made it until they've shared dirty futons on the floor in the Loire or quite literally survived off Daunat sandwich triangles from highway rest stops all over France. Grandée all day, that’s our motto. I started my “career” in wine just like so many of us did: we fell into it one way or another. For me it was a restaurant gig at the long-shuttered Mercat in Noho. I was in college, had no real plans - nothing even remotely resembling a vision of the future - and yet something about serving wine to interesting people was the only thing getting me through my shifts. Well, that and the near-certain promise of some sort of raging party afterwards. I wasn’t long for the restaurant world and a slew of menial jobs followed. But somehow I knew I’d have to come back to wine. Fast forward some years later, I’m wrapping up my last few shifts at Chambers Street Wines before starting my new high-powered, glamorous, executive role with Selection Massale. 

For me, the highway sandwiches and dirty futons are what has made my job all the more gratifying. It's why I'm willing to jump headfirst into the uncharted territory of spreadsheets, government red tape, and traveling so much that I forget what my girlfriend and dog look like. Because it connects me directly to the backbreaking work it takes to produce these beverages we love.

Right now, the sun is setting over the mountains in the distance and I finally just had my first taste of takeout pizza since this whole thing started. A slice that normally would have been a six out of ten almost made me cry on this who knows what day of being locked down. We've moved out of Brooklyn into a house in the Catskills. It's a pastoral escape planned long in advance turned into a seemingly last ditch effort to get out of Dodge before it all went to hell. I, like everyone I know, am finding out just how uncharted this new territory is. I love this industry dearly. I hope it endures in one form or another, familiar to us now or not. I believe it will thrive once again. Well, until the global ecosystem collapses because of climate change (but that’s for another day that will be fueled by exponentially many more daiquiris). 

In the end it will always come back to the things we love to drink and the people we love drinking them with, whether you're in a damp cave in the Loire or still stuck on your living room floor. The glasses emptied around the world and the people emptying them are the glue that holds this whole mess together. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find an industry as tight knit and focused on people as the booze business. For now all we can do is try to stay well, drink some good booze, and love each other. I can’t wait to see you all again.

-Tim Gagnon, General Manager at Selection Massale

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