There are times when you can’t help but be really perplexed! A few weeks ago, I was laughing at the sudden (and violent) craze of Spanish professionals, and Catalans in particular, for “natural wines”. All this is a great big mess, a comical confusion where everything is mixed up, be it organic, bio-dynamics, or 'naturalness'. All of this is normal, as "natural wines" are a relatively new phenomenon...
This was the opportunity for bistro-owner Benoît Valée, the “inventor” of natural wine from across the Pyrenees, to dot the I’s, while mocking “lemmings, followers, and sometimes even parasites [...] who have nothing to say and who, when faced with their own failure and that of the country’s wine, are trying to bounce back by betting on confusion and ostentation”.
I had also talked about a fair which is soon to be held in Barcelona, BCN-VN, 'an event not to be missed', according to its organizers, as it will feature a gin and tonic demonstrator. Last week, regional newspaper La Vanguardia went even further by calling the event “Spain’s first natural wine fair”, failing to mention the fact that the aforementioned bistro-owner had organized eight of those since 2006, the year in which he opened his business. It’s true that at the time (a time that lasted up until a few weeks ago), all the great local information-minded reporters were instructed to only take interest in oak soup.
The date is nearing; I think it is being held in May. I received an invitation for the famous BCN-VN last week, printed in dialect. Yesterday, I had a look at the program of this substantial event, which is significant enough for its organizers to have rented out the old bullring of the Plaza de España, which had been perverted and transformed into a hideous mall.
The question that interested me was how the organizers were going to fill such a vast space with the three or four alternative winemakers who are found in Catalonia (seeing the dialect that was used for the invitation, it could safely be assumed that the guests will all be from around here). As I read further, I could not believe my eyes!
Actually, most of the companies represented are large regional wine factories that are as “natural” as I am a little ballet girl at the Opera (can you imagine me in a pink tutu?). There were the sparkling wines Codorníu and Gramona, the mass productions of Pinord, Pares Balta, Jean Leon and Raimat. Lost in the middle were one or two local wineries that are trying to play the game but have obviously been dragged into a hassle whose size they had underestimated. It’s a bit like if someone would organize a natural wine fair in Paris with Castel, Pernod-Ricard and La Villageoise...
Obviously, this gross subterfuge would be funny if the local newspaper brown-nosers weren’t busy spreading the word and if the authorities weren’t lending visible support. It would be funny if it didn’t feel like we were falling once more into the intellectual deficiency of Spanish wine, where, as an Andalusian winemaker told me, “only half is done and twice as much is said”.
Really, this isn’t serious, it feels fake. How can you believe them for a second when they tell you they are organic, they are this or they are that? At the end of the day, some of these companies are on the look-out for gadgets that will save them, including on a national deliquescent market.
It is quite useful to say what you do and to do what you say. There is no shame in making wines that are “not natural” (which includes a lot of dream labels from Rayas to Roulot, from Chave to Selosse), to fight with your own weapons.
What is a shame, however, and a pathetic one at that, is to distort the truth. Hiding your cards makes things smell bad, a bit like books by Genet or thrillers by Montalbán, and it reminds me of transvestites, a Barcelona specialty which the two authors have written about at length.