Spoofulated or Artisanal?
by Clark Smith
Reader Comments... [17]

Arthur, Founder
redwinebuzz.com, California

Again, I enjoyed your essay and found myself having much food for thought. My initial reaction is that I find myself somewhere between Alice Feiring's ideal of Natural Wine and a realization of the realities (which necessitate the use of the tools and methods she lists) faced by winemakers. I think the feasible alternative to creating a new, more wine geek-friendly wine style lies in the, yet uncharted, middle ground.

Larry Brooks, winemaker
L M Brooks Consulting, Napa, CA
In this overly verbose essay Clark has interesting and accurate complaints about the dilemma of the micro producer which I am sympathetic to as a small producer myself. But what is not addressed is that there are techniques and tools that are appropriate to $10 wines that are not ethical when applied to $30 and up wines. Alice Feiring and anyone else who is not a winemaker has no business formulating "rules". This can be done and should be done by the winemakers themselves as has been done in Germany and France, but given the independence and cussedness of American winemakers I don't see it occurring in my lifetime.

Bob Meadows, Retail Manager
Graziano Family of Wines, Hopland, Mendocino Co
While I may not be a winemaker, I'm not exactly the village idiot, either. I read your recent piece in Appellation America with great interest - and a few chuckles - but parts were incomprehensible to me ("paradigm shift" was a 'say wha?'). But most was very illuminating. My boss, Greg Graziano, fits the mold of the small, hands-on winemaker/businessman who strives to make ends meet with a very eclectic portfolio, and my sales pitch here at the tasting room often involves tastings which reflect the importance of subtle differences in vineyard location. I can taste Greg's passion through the terroir.


Bob Meadows

Mike Lynch, Partner
Big Bang Communications, San Anselmo, CA
I loved every word. Even the ones I didn't understand.

Eric Miller, winemaker
Chaddsford Winery, Southeast PA
This is an extraordinary status report on the industry at large. It applies to large and small, Wine-instein and Mother-nature's own... and most of us in between. I agonize when I hear negative comments about my wines, even from the best intended people, relying on standards from one region or another - but not where the grape was grown. I agonize when I realize I have done the same thing to wines unfamiliar to me. In a broad region, like the Atlantic Coast, where one of our signatures is our varied climate (I'd say 25 out of 26 vintages here at Chaddsford have been very different), we throw into the mix varying cultural and cellar practices. Not to mention a huge number of hobby winemakers at the helm of the majority of wineries. Add that to Mr Smith's broad and brilliant observations and I feel like we have at least mapped out the terrain so wineries can begin again to map out a strategy to seriously grow wine and sell it. Thank you for the tools and understanding.

Kenneth O'Farrell
Calistoga, CA
A provocative article -- nice read! To me, the salient point is rather simple: does a winemaker want to create wine or wine drink? Think of orange juice vs. orange drink. Both wine and wine drink can be tasty; however, there is a difference and the difference is how much manipulation the wine endures during the vinification process. For example, most barrel fermented, malo-lactically fermented Chardonnays today are wine drink. They can be tasty but the essence of what they once were shortly after harvest has been processed out of existence. One can make a fortune producing and selling wine drink. I saw it first hand while working in the wine business. If the consumers enjoy wine drink, they will buy it.

Paul Wrabec, Vintner
VinoGrad Winery, Sugar Creek, MO

Great article, and I know it would be even better in a live verbal presentation.

Michael Sarro, grapemaster
St. Martin's Grapeschool, Cleveland, OH
While your goldsmith is hammering out the "hand in the glass" medallion that will be The Medal of Honor, I will raise a glass of imperfect but soulful wine in salute to you. Canon #3 of St. Martin's Grapeschool is: Try to buy wine from countries whose main form of transportation is a donkey cart. Those people merely work on a contract with the vine as chauffeurs, hired to bring the wine from vine to bottle.

I enjoyed your article.

Scott Montgomery, Sales Director
Vincor Canada, Toronto, Canada
Hi Clark:

Generally I applaud your efforts to be open. I'm only half way through the article but will come back to it (off to a meeting). However, I had a question and a comment.

First the question, do you have market share data to back up your 90/10 ratio of who's selling what? Globally, I don't think it would be anywhere close to this. Stats I've seen indicate the world's largest producers only account for just over 10% share globally. Of course, in certain markets your statement might be true -- that's why I ask.

My comment is about "interesting" wines. I don't agree that wines of character are hard to sell. In my experience the contrary is true and these are often the easiest to sell. The problem is that there is a limited market for them, often accompanied by limited supply. The same is true for almost any industry -- most people drive the same sorts of cars, or wear the same sort of clothes. The "unique" is limited to those that are passionate about these items and have a greater than average interest in the product. Personally, though I happily sell wines that are basic everyday fare, I love to seek out the interesting. It’s just some days are for burgers, others for venison and morels.


Conde , Writer and Educator
placeintheglass.com, Southern Oregon
Clark misses one fundamental point: just as a chef can add too much salt to certain kinds of dishes, a winemaker can get carried away with spoofulizing. It all depends on the dish, or the wine. MOX works great with Tannat (the main red and an unbelievably tannic grape grown for centuries in Madiran -- where the patent owner of the MOX machines resides -- Clark is, I think, the licensee in America for use of such Madiran-based patented technology), but not so well with Pinot Noir. Of course, a good Super Slow Food Chef (i.e. winemaker -- I like Clark's use of that analogy) will understand these distinctions, but use of these severe technologies is too easily and too often turned into abuse, which gives us spoofulization. That is why they have strict limits on chaptalization in France (it is even illegal for anyone to carry around more than a couple of kilos of sugar in one's car in France, for this very reason). We should also have limits: on the use of chips, or the use of RO, on the conditions for which MOX can be used (horror! to a licensee like Clark) and on the addition of certain fining agents or acids. In the EU, they are much more strict about these things, and their wines show it. All things good in moderation, please.

Charles Curtis, MW, Dir. Wine & Spirit Education
Moet Hennessy USA, New York, NY

Congratulations on a very interesting and well-written article. You were every bit as engaging in print as you were in person at the MW Seminar this past summer. Personally, I count myself by NO means in the Luddite camp, but neither would I automatically agree with the opposite. I believe in deciding on a case-by-case (or wine-by-wine) basis. For the record, I think yours are delicious. Probably not necessary, however, to rip on Michael Broadbent (my hero), Hugh Johnson, or Gerald Asher -- all writers whom I have enjoyed immensely over the years. I hope that this article is part of an ongoing series, since I'd love to keep hearing your thoughts.


Charles Curtis, MW

Nicolas Quille, Winemaker
Pacific Rim, Portland, OR
Dear Clark,

It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Could you learn to be more brief sometimes? Joke apart, your answers to the latest round of attacks is well written. I am, like you, guilty as charge of using newer technology, but I feel that I know where to draw the line. I draw the line where I think the wine buyer would not buy my wine were he/she to know what I did to it. This is my golden rule. A case in point is Velcorin, which I will not use, period. In my mind the conversation turns around the fact that we probably have wine buyers that have a certain image of our industry which is not reality. Some media folks probably feel that they have to point to the discrepancy. Maybe they are right? It is the job of the press in a free country to express their opinion. I think it is your job and my job to explain that we do have high ethical standards. Thank you for keeping the conversation constructive.

- Nico

Conde, Writer and Educator
placeintheglass.com, Southern Oregon
Nico --- Why no velcorin? Nasty stuff but it does dissipate quickly and it does help to avoid sterile filtration and other stripping alternatives, right?

Nicolas Quille, Winemaker
Pacific Rim, Portland, OR

I am against it because it is a very toxic chemical that has to be handled with the greatest care making it a safety hazard at the winery. I am also against it because I believe that if the consumer knew about this product they would not buy wines treated by this method. And finally, I am against it because I hate the idea of a chemical added to the wine that destroys life all together. It would be a bit like using a nuclear bomb for landscaping -- a bit overkill. Now this is where I draw the line. I am not saying that one should not use it, but please let the consumer know. Maybe the worst thing is to use Velcorin and then apply an "Unfiltered" tag on your bottle. How honest is that?

- Nico

Ron Saikowski, Wine Columnist
The Courier, The Woodlands, TX
Now I understand how the French had five "wines of the Century" in the last ten years. If you have to state that wine contains sulfites, then you should also state if the wine contains beet sugar. Our society is more interested in truth in advertising. Wines ten years from now will list all ingredients and be sold in recyclable boxes thanks to the attorneys looking to "make a buck." Look out for the law suits on truth in manufacturing! Honesty has always been the best policy, even it makes some people mad.

Steve Lanum
San Francisco, CA
Thanks -- that's a superb article. I have come across Clark's comments before (on Eric Asimov's NY Times blog) and always found him an eloquent spokesman.

While I often appreciate Alice Feiring's perspective, I don't share her desire to taste the heat in a hot vintage or the rain in a wet one. (I'm not sure I believe her, either.) I consider such wines flawed and avoid them.

Setting aside personalities, though, some people are too wrapped up in the whole issue. It's just grape juice, and there is frankly a plentiful supply of styles to suit all tastes currently on the market. My mother and sister like wine that tastes too oaky for me. That doesn't make them evil or dumb or anything else. Different people appreciate different levels of salt in their food, too.

One thing that the "natural" side (and that's my side) of this debate is reluctant to admit is that they just feel better believing that a wine was made "traditionally." In France, one of the most respected, no, make that adored, styles of cooking is called "la cuisine grandmere," cooking like grandma used to make. Even people whose grandmothers couldn't boil water have an affection for this style of cooking. It's nostalgic; the idea of it appeals -- who isn't attracted by the ideal of a simpler, purer time. But as Clark points out, many of the most "natural" wines are made with 20th century conveniences and technology.

On the other hand, there is definitely a growing number of people who do NOT accept the necessity of Chaptalization or acidification, or even sulphur addition. So the backlash against such methods may run a bit deeper than Clark acknowledges.

I couldn't help but reflect upon my own experiences as I read this article. I long since passed the point where even I, a rank amateur, noticed an overwhelming sameness in many California wines, for example. Rombauer Chardonnay tasted like Grgich Hills Chardonnay tasted like Sanford Chardonnay, etc. For me, too much oak. Same thing in reds. (On the Decanter website right now is a short article quoting Michael Broadbent and Oz Clarke, two longtime wine journalists, as decrying sameness in the wines of Bordeaux. I'm not a Bordeaux expert but even I stopped buying them when I, too, began to notice that many of them had the same characteristics, including oakiness and jamminess.) That doesn't mean that other people should stop liking these wines. For purely selfish reasons alone, I would not want everyone to like the same wines I do -- I'd no longer be able to afford them.

I sure would like to try some of Clark's wine and will make it a point to do so. I also know that, for my tastes, wines billed as "natural" often -- not always -- appeal to me on their own merits. They are usually less alcoholic, less jammy, and less oaky. Their "old fashionedness" appeals to me, which I admit is purely mental.

Having said all that, there is one element here where I'm inclined to draw the line. The natural wines I'm attracted to are the product of organic viticulture. No chemical herbicides or pesticides. I like my fresh produce that way, too, and while organic grapes do not necessarily make great wine, I am not willing to support people who think it's OK to dump poisons on their land.

I look forward to hearing more from Clark.

Alex Saliby, wine nut
Leavenworth, WA

Let's be clear & honest: all wine, with the possible exception of that made by the birds when they peck the grape and cause the juice to contact yeasts on the skin, is manipulated and has been for centuries, even the so called "old world" wines. The difference is that we know so much more today than winemakers did in 1610, or 1855, that we can bring to the process techniques that not only reduce blunders in the vat, but also remove blunders after the fact. And I favor that process if for no other reason than the manipulation properly done decreases my chances of having to drink the winemaker's errors. I have drunk some horrid wine vinted and bottled by folks who truly misunderstand all that can go wrong in the process of making wine. These folks were pleased with their swill and took great pride in their non-intervention style. Unfortunately, they also failed to smell and taste the errors that remained in the wine... acids, microbial foes, and horrid chemical blunders that could have been either prevented or removed had they manipulated their cuvee. Thanks for a well written article; I look forward to drinking some of your wines.

~ Alex