For many in the wine industry, Alice Feiring is a lightning rod.
Her most ardent supporters happily (and sometimes obnoxiously) promote her “nothing added, nothing taken away” mantra. Tom Wark has done an excellent job in cataloging (here, here, and here) some of the statements made by natural wine’s most nauseating proponents.
Some of her critics, meanwhile, pretend Feiring is “some kind of crazed Amazon of the unadulterated grape,” as Remy Charest wrote in Palate Press last year. In an interview in Sommelier Journal, for example, Robert Parker leveled some incredibly harsh criticism at Feiring, saying, “When we talk about all these catchphrases like ‘natural wine,’ I can tell you that people like Alice Feiring are charlatans — I think they are no better than the snake-oil salesmen of yesterday.”
Such rhetoric is silly, of course. Feiring is far more thoughtful and nuanced than her critics suggest — and than her loudest fans realize.
I, for one, am in Eric Asimov’s camp when it comes to this division. As Asimov explained to W. Blake Gray earlier this month, “Parker and Alice Feiring would find very little overlap in a Venn diagram these days, but there’s probably a lot that was important to Bob that led to somebody like Alice.”
Translation? Without Parker’s pioneering use of a Consumer Reports approach to wine criticism, a much higher percentage of bottles would be flawed, undrinkable, and terribly inconsistent. (Inconsistent meaning one vintage is drinkable and the next is not.) And Feiring might have never started writing about wine in the first place.
Further, the “natural wine” movement, even though it lacks a definition, is worthy of support. For my palate, the most compelling wines are those that best express terroir — and over and over again, I have found that those are the wines that are made with minimal intervention.
That said, I recognize that winemakers who ignore the extensive arsenal of tools they could employ run the risk of going under — literally. Losing an entire vintage to something that’s easily fixed is a very real risk for those who refuse to intervene in the winery. Further, many of the practices that Feiring and her supporters detest (chaptalization, acidification, oak chips, and even additives like MegaPurple) are critical in the production of affordable, consistent, commercial wine. And wine enthusiasts should cheer the advancement of more regular wine drinking in America — even if that wine is produced by Barefoot. Everyone starts somewhere. Today’s Barefoot drinkers are tomorrow’s wine geeks.
Point is, the wine industry needs writers like Alice Feiring and Robert Parker. That’s why I’m happily supporting Alice’s efforts to launch a natural wine newsletter. Check out her video below — and be sure to pledge a few dollars over on Kickstarter!