Review by Michael Woeste
Alice Feiring wants to make a natural wine believer out of you. The woman who might be called the mother of the movement has been making her case for natural wines for many years, and her new book, Natural Wine for the People, seeks to educate the rest of the world on the virtues of natural wine.
Thanks in part to Feiring’s tireless advocacy through her blog and four previous books, natural wine is now front-and-center in America’s wine conversation. Her latest book incorporates her expected sermons on the evils of mass wine productions, but instead of speaking to knowledgeable wine lovers, the book takes aim at the everyday wine drinker.
Feiring presents a slender guide that attempt to answer many of the questions the everyday drinker might have about natural wine: what exactly makes a wine natural; why natural wine is (in her opinion) superior in terms of taste and production to other methods in the market; and what the she might characterize as the personal cost of not embracing natural wine means for one’s overall enjoyment of the beverage.
Feiring goes back to wine making at its most basic level. The book moves quickly through a description of the winemaking process, proper tasting techniques, how to write a tasting note, recognizing faults, and comments on how she believes a wine should be made.
One of the most beneficial sections of the book includes how a consumer might find a natural wine in a store or on a wine list. She lists reliable natural wine distributors, such as Jenny & Francois or Louis/Dressner Selections, and provides examples of easier to find bottlings such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon.
The book not only contains plenty of facts, but also Feiring’s controversial stances and criticisms of the mainstream wine industry. Feiring has no problem inserting her opinions on how certain winemaking practices are sacrilege. While explaining what the role of reverse osmosis–a common practice to reduce alcohol levels in wine–Feiring notes the practice is akin to putting wine through a torture chamber because of the filtration methods used in the process.
Feiring remains true to her typically zealous form throughout, condemning those who dismiss natural wine as a passing fad or a method that sacrifices enjoyable flavors for the sake of minimal intervention. She mentions how French wine critic, Michel Bettane once called natural wine “a complete joke” and asserts her firm belief that the “mainstream wine industry is one built on having no tolerance for making a wine that varies each year.”
This fire and brimstone approach is less likely to persuade a reader who does not fully embrace natural wine, and detracts somewhat from the informative nature of the book. At some points, the book veers from education to polemic about why we should only be drinking natural wine.
Despite these evangelical notes, the book will very likely help the everyday wine enthusiast understand the world of natural wine, and why it has gained such wide popularity in today’s wine scene. Feiring has successfully created a book that will appeal to the mass market wine drinker thanks to its simplicity and the fun illustrations provided throughout the book. Fiering’s latest work may never find its way to the shelves of the learned enologist, but she has indeed produced a book that brings her passion for natural wine to a public that is taking a keener interest in the natural wine movement.
Alice FeiringNatural Wine for the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It, Ten Speed Press 2019, $13.89 (Hardcover).
Michael Woeste is a wine consultant and public relations professional based in Boston. Michael has his WSET Level 3 award in wine.