Simon J Woolf, who embarked on a passionate journey through the world of Orange wines in 2018 with his book 'Amber Revolution', laments the success of so-called natural wines in his latest article in Noble Rot magazine. We asked him why...
WINE+PARTNERS: Simon, like many wine producers who have been involved with natural wines from an early stage, you distance yourself from current developments in your article. Might one say: "The revolution eats its children"?
Simon J Woolf (laughs): "I am still a great supporter of wines that are made authentically and honestly. The only problem I find is that many consumers are looking exclusively for cloudy and yeasty-smelling wines – there is a misunderstanding about what this category actually means."
Was this hype not to be expected? Were you surprised by the success of this category?
"For some time now, I have observed that the idea of purist, natural wines has experienced a certain popularisation. The international natural wine movement has definitely become fashionable when these wines are even available in my local bakery or art gallery. But it bothers me that 'natural' is associated with a certain style."
Is the trend more a matter of taste or a generational issue?
"Young people don't want to drink the same as their parents. Today's generation of under-30s found heavy, oaked red wines boring and they initially turned away from wine until they discovered: Hey, there's something else too! In this respect, it is the natural counter-reaction of a generation to the habits of its predecessors. At the same time, our society is currently looking for lightness and freshness. That's where naturally matured wines come in just at the right time."
One has the impression that young winemakers are again mainly talking about what they do in the cellar, how much or how little sulphur they use, how long the wines were on the skins. Aren't these the narratives that we thought were well behind us because we wanted to communicate much more about vineyards and soils?
"It is indeed regrettable that so many producers talk about technical details and thus do not do justice to the wines. But it's probably because they don't know what other content would be exciting. As a journalist, I can tell you that it is hard work to get a winemaker to tell something really interesting. That's because the recipe for winemaking is not."
You complain that in Amsterdam natural wines are practically the only wines served. Do you think we have reached the peak and there will be a new wine fashion soon?
"The natural wine movement continues to grow, but we see a division. On the one hand, there are producers, bars and shops that simply do business with it. On the other hand, there are those who genuinely care about authentic wines without any additives. These wines are becoming more purist, cleaner, less noisy. It is a another development in a good direction. A lot of people have been awakened, no one in the world is untouched by this evolution."
What advice do you have for a younger or less experienced person on what to look for if you don't want to fall for trivial fashions?
"It's very difficult because wine is a complex subject, whether it's 'natural' or 'conventional'. You can't just stick to an easily recognisable look – that a wine is cloudy, for example. There are many factors at play. And above all, it takes practice and comparison. My advice is to buy a cheap wine in the supermarket, put a small, artisanal wine next to it and taste it consciously. Not just for superficial fragrance but length, complexity, liveliness. It's not so easy at first to tell things apart and get a feel for the soul of a wine. It takes time and experience – and as you learn, your own taste will change."
"After all, you can’t drink ideology, but you can drink cloudy."
About Simon J Woolf
Simon J Woolf is a multi-award-winning wine author and journalist, who writes regularly for Decanter and Meininger Wine Business International, among other publications. He is considered one of the most important international experts on orange and natural wines. He dedicated the book 'Amber Revolution' (2018) to this topic and thus presented the world's first comprehensive standard work about orange wines. His second book, 'Foot Trodden', together with Ryan Opaz, was published in 2021. Since 2011, Simon J Woolf has run The Morning Claret website, where you can read his article about the trivialisation of natural wines, which was originally published in Noble Rot magazine.