"Debate" generally requires two sides. At the European Wine Bloggers' Conference in Izmir, Turkey, the scheduled discussion about natural wine presented the opposition side of the argument forcefully, at length. If only a full-on natural-wine advocate had been there to defend the concept.
Dr. Jamie Goode, the British blogger who opened the presentation as a purported defender of natural wine, said: "Even so-called industrial wine is still a pretty natural wine."
Reflecting on the idea of natural wine, he added: "It's process-focused, not focused on what's in the glass. Go too far and you've lost that expression of the vineyards that you've tried so hard to achieve."
After the next three speakers – all of whom derided the concept of natural wine – audience members such as American Alder Yarrow, publisher of the Vinography blog, stood up to try to present what they believed natural-wine advocates might have said had they been there.
French winemaker Virgile Joly told the audience that wine is natural even if it contains added sugar or acid or commercial yeast. He showed a slide that said natural wine is expensive and difficult to transport and protect. "My bank manager doesn't like them," Joly declared.
Dr. Maurizio Ugliano, oenological research manager for the North Carolina-based synthetic wine-closures company Nomacorc, said that even if commercial yeast is cross-bred in a laboratory, it's still natural. "It's what happens in nature but it happens in the laboratory. We can do it faster." He did say that genetically modified yeast is "a bit less natural."
While bitingly funny wine writer Robert Joseph mocked the idea of natural wine, the moderator, Austria-based writer Julia Sevenich, even came into the audience and wrote in my notebook, "Influence on future: Ingredient labeling." But that point never reached a microphone.
Joseph prepared a hilarious slide show to browbeat an opponent who never showed up. He compared natural wine to free jazz, which he also doesn't like, and said only 80 people on Twitter had mentioned "free jazz" and "natural wine" the previous day, evidence to him that few people care about either. He also said, "Natural wine, along with the tooth fairy, does not exist."
Contacted by email, American natural-wine advocate Alice Feiring said of the panel, "The trouble is, you have everyone up there scrambling to make a living. Robert has a wine to sell. Nomacorc? I'm not sure who owns them but that professor ... is a scientist. 'Nuff said. Virgile is trying to sell his wine and doesn't want to hear his wine is not natural."
Feiring added: "It would have been terrific, even essential, to have either someone like me or, more importantly, a winemaker who works naturally, or a sommelier who believes in them and champions them."
Without their presence, Feiring said, "You get a group of people jumping into the sandbox and beating up on the kid in absentia."