Why I’m Supporting The Feiring Line

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 08-28-2012

Alice Feiring

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  (herehere, 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!


Comments (4)

  1. I feel that I disagree with Ms. Feiring as much as I agree with her, but her passion and dedication to educating people about “natural” wine is worthy of support. My only hope is that she works hard to avoid the elitist, snobbish tone that sometimes crops up in her articles. I look forward to the first newsletter.

  2. Alice is a fine writer, and the point of view of the persona she established when her first book was released was a strong one. Everyone should recall the title of the book (“The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization”) when they weigh RP’s criticisms.

    In my reading of her blog and comments it seems clear to me that her actual position on wines she likes is broader, softer, and more evolutionary than her most ardent “supporters” would wish. It seems to me that she has been boxed in by their expectations.

    And it is the divisiveness caused by those expectations that I take exception to. Alice would probably like to be able to say: “The less-is-more approach to farming and winemaking is a laudable goal in its own right, and within those parameters a restrained amount of craft – in other words, additions – are just fine so long as the wine trips my personal pleasure triggers.”

    But, as a lightning rod figure, she is not allowed to say this (or not listened to when she does). And so long as there are ideologues out there – inspired by Alice – who insist that wine production must hew to their idea of pure political expression, I cannot support her (or them).

    But I wish her luck in the start-up, and if she is successful I will subscribe just for the pure pleasure of reading her.

  3. i think it is important to mention that ‘natural winemaking’ does not mean ‘no intervention’. there are lots of ways to fix a problem wine that don’t involve dumping chemicals into your barrels.

    simple solutions like blending a barrel with a high pH and a barrel with a low pH will prevent adding acid to wines.

    warming up your wine, or simply being patient, will allow a process to happen without adding any chemicals to speed things up.

    and while you can add chemicals to your wine to alter the flavors, my experience has been that fixing one problem flavor often introduces another.

    my only complaint about ms. ferring is that she has created her own definition of what a ‘natural wine’ should be, while i know many winemakers that practice a very organic and natural style of winemaking that don’t fit into her specific definition. otherwise, i think it is great that she has gotten people into thinking about how their wine is made, and not just how many points it got from a critic

  4. p.s. please excuse my grammer. it’s the wine talking