A liberation theology for wine?

The natural wine movement, with its potted philosophy of “Nothing added, nothing taken away”, is in full cry.

To underline its ascendancy, one of its most committed acolytes, Anton Von Klopper, has just topped The Adelaide Review’s Hot 100 South Australian Wines 2012 with his multi-variety red wine, the Domaine Lucci Noir de Florette. With natural wines the target of more than a little scepticism from winemaking’s mainstream, Von Klopper could be the man to change minds. He is not a puritanical zealot – advocate and enthusiast, yes, but humourless hardliner, no. In common with the followers of the biodynamic and organic movements (and there is considerable overlap in the principles as well as the personnel involved), the naturalists can be seen as a reaction to the deference afforded to science in Australian winemaking. Von Klopper and a group of like-minded mates believe that the “cleaning up” of Australian wines that began in the 1980s went too far. The result, Von Klopper says, has been wines made to a formula and “a loss of ingenuity”, not to mention a rapid decline in international appeal. “Suddenly our wines weren’t wanted anywhere,” he said. An honours graduate of the Waite oenology course, Von Klopper is no out-and-out Luddite, but he does believe that the standard approach to winemaking is, in essence, back-to-front: science in its proper role, he says, is kept in reserve to fix problems, not used “pre-emptively” to determine the style of a wine. Natural winemakers are conscientious objectors to the dominant model of pristine hygiene and immaculate “balance”. Techniques such as fining, filtering and the addition of acid or tannin are all dirty words in their lexicon, although most, like Von Klopper, are willing to unbend as far as using minimal sulphur to stop their wines going off. He has no use, though, for stainless steel in his winemaking, nor is he a fan of the screwcap. In somewhat grumpy mode, English Decanter editor Robert Joseph recently opined that as long as natural wine has no legal definition, the term is meaningless. Certainly it has been invoked as the inspiration – or as an excuse – for a multitude of eccentric and sometimes peculiar wines. Von Klopper isn’t too concerned by the niceties of definition; he agrees that there is a variety of practice, product and quality that falls under the banner, but that, he says, is part of the point. He is also no fan of the modern fashion for varietal purity. He finds his inspiration in generic wine styles; the Noir de Florette, as a case in point, is his Basket Range tribute to the style of the Gamay-based wines of Burgundy. Von Klopper said that the popular and official suspicion that greeted the advent of natural wines is gradually abating. And now that the homogenised, monolithic branding of Australian wine has come seriously unstuck and the new flag of regional variety has been hastily hoisted, it has dawned on national marketers Wine Australia that in their frantic search for exponents of terroir, natural wines may be worth promoting after all. Anton Von Klopper has no expectation of, or ambition for, natural winemaking to take over the industry, and he respects the role of the big companies. “The industry needs many faces,” he says. But, he says, the scientific practices learned at wine school and among the tank farms shouldn’t be treated as a be-all and end-all: rather they are “a pathway to freedom”. One can’t help enjoying the attitude of a man who unselfconsciously uses words like “wildness”, “dreaming” and “beauty” to describe the basis of his own winemaking approach. So crack a magnum of Noir de Florette – it’s been put in a big bottle to help it go further at the table – and see what you think.