Earth Day came and went on April 22 with many of us having to celebrate its 50th anniversary indoors. To me, the pandemic seems like Mother Nature’s way of grounding us, with everyone sent to their rooms to think about their actions. “Nature is sending us a message,” declared Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program.
I think the message is: “Remember that you are part of nature.” So many of us have forgotten to slow down, breathe and enjoy the mysteries of life. So many of us have spent our days working and commuting, separating ourselves from nature so much that we forgot about its power over our lives—and ours over it.
With people around the world hunkered down at home, global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop a record 8 percent this year—erasing the past decade’s rise in fossil-fuel use. In regions infamous for air pollution, the skies have cleared; much has been made of how residents of India's Punjab state are now enjoying spectacular views of the Himalayas’ snowy peaks. Rare animal sightings are making the rounds on social media.
With all that in mind, now more than ever, I have been trying to buy environmentally friendly, organically or biodynamically farmed wines—including those that fall under the umbrella of “natural wine.”
Natural wine has been a controversial category. The very term “natural” makes other wines sound like they are unnatural. In practice, no wine is fully natural, because the natural product of fermenting grape juice, without human intervention, is vinegar. But the way I see natural wine is as a reaction, not to all other wines, but mainly to wines and food that involve heavy processing, exposure to synthetic sprays and additives, and the use of technology that harms our surroundings. As an ideal, they are a return to when wine was first and foremost an agricultural product, to an earlier point in our wine culture before winemaking became so controlled. Obviously, farming, food and what people drink must continue to evolve, but we need to recognize which “advances” improve quality and which negatively affect nature.
The wines that fall under the “natural” category can be cloudy, high in volatile acidity or marked by the influence of brettanomyces. The worst of them can be “mousy”—a flaw described as a peculiar, savory character evoking the aromas of a mouse cage. However, there are natural wines that are simply beautiful as well.
This Earth Day, I picked one such example of natural wine to mark the occasion: Martin Nittnaus Grüner Veltliner Austria Manila 2016 ($20), which received 91 points in one of my blind tastings. From a young producer in Neusiedlersee in the Burgenland region, this is a skin-contact white made without the addition of sulfites. The 15-year-old vines grow in soils of clay over limestone, giving this wine a beautiful texture. While the wine is well-structured and complex, it bears no resemblance to a classic Grüner from the Wachau region.
“The idea is to free Grüner Veltliner from the stereotype in Austria, namely, to be a peppery, fruity, light wine, which is not at all true in my area,” says Martin Nittnaus. “It has thick skins, which is ideal for skin fermentation and, although this is like an empty statement stamped by wine marketing, it reflects its soil. I mean really! It also carries this mysterious reductive note that shows flint, popcorn, but never rotten eggs.”
To complete the experience, I put on the record Exodus by Bob Marley and the Wailers and remembered Marley’s famous words: “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.”
Have your own wine story or moment of philosophizing from recent weeks? Whether it’s pulling a special bottle from the cellar or enjoying a glass of a great value that you stockpiled, whether you shared it with close friends and family or savored it on your own, we want to hear from you. Share what you're drinking with us on our social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.