My favorite kind of wine is natural wine. That’s literally to how they’re referred––Les Vins Naturels. These wines are typically unrefined, unfiltered, ornery, and I love them. They can taste sweet and bright, or like manure, but mostly they just taste alive. Anyway, I remember ten or so years ago when some of us in the wine trade first started referring to these wines as “Natural Wine” that many other wine professionals threw a fit, and the fit went like this: 1) Natural is too vague a term to use, and/or 2) Because wine is a product that is made by humans, it can therefore not be referred to as natural.
Argument number 1 is fair. Natural is a vague term. But we weren’t using it as an official label. We were just grouping a bunch of wines together and giving them a name in the same way we group stylish young individuals together and call them hipsters. And, perhaps like “hipster”, the word “natural” wasn’t always something producers wanted their wines to be called. It was unavoidable, though, that they would be grouped together somehow. These wines were all different, sure, but all had one unique feature in common––for hipsters, it was style, for natural wine, it was vivacity. We just wanted something to call all these wines that we so loved, and it could have been anything, but natural wine was what stuck. Argument number 2, however, that since humans produce and bottle wine it can therefore never be considered natural, has always grated on me.
Why as humans do we cling so fast to the idea that we are even remotely capable of doing anything that is not natural? We intensively cultivate crops, milk animals and keep livestock, you might argue. Well, so do many types of ants. What about the fact that we make and drink wine? Not to be a spoilsport––pun intended?––but we’ve been doing that since we lived in trees. In fact, our relatives who still live in trees, still do it––they just don’t bottle and sell the stuff (yet). How would I argue against that fact that we synthesize chemicals to kill unwanted plants? That has to be unnatural. Well, sorry, plants did it first. In fact, 99.9% of the pesticide and herbicide residue we ingest is actually made by the plants, according to THIS ridiculously interesting study. Moreover, many of the petrochemicals we do create can actually be completely dismantled by fungi––called mycoremediation––or bacteria. So, perhaps maddeningly, even the chemicals we create ourselves––which no one would really refer to as natural––are not so unnatural after all. Otherwise Nature wouldn’t have an answer for them. Also, just for fun, did you know dolphins in the wild each have their own individual names with which they introduce themselves to other dolphins? Yep. So in short, we, too, are just animals. And we are doing nothing different from what Nature does, only most other parts of Nature are better at it; most other parts do it on a more sustainable scale.
We just have to stop thinking that there is Nature, and then there’s us––it’s not healthy, and it’s definitely not correct. We are a product of Nature. From the earth we came and to the earth we shall return, right? It is easy to look around at the manmade world we’ve created and think we did it on our own––easy, but wrong. We were domesticated by plants like wheat, soybeans, corn and the grapevine––which collectively possess the vast majority of our farmland, I might point out––in the same way that the squirrel was domesticated by the oak tree, or the hummingbird by the flower, or the hipster by The Strokes. In the end, perhaps it is symbiosis we are outside of, not nature. Nature we are very much a part of, even if we suck at it.