On the Nature of Wine And the Cultural Contradictions of Artisanal Capitalism

Ted Nordhaus in The Breakthrough:

Nordhaus_CoverThe winemaking facilities at Paolo Bea are not what you might expect.

Giampaolo Bea’s family has made wine in the region for almost 500 years. He is one of the founders of Italy’s natural wine movement and evangelizes his craft, claiming to make wines that represent as pure an expression as possible of the fruit of the vine, with as little human intervention as possible. No synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used in the vineyard. No chemicals are added during fermentation. He makes wines of exceptional freshness, and his wines have garnered a cult following among natural wine lovers around the world.

But a primitive operation Paolo Bea is not. Bea’s son Giampiero, an architect by training, designed the state-of-the-art winemaking facility. Clad in handsome white stone, the building could easily be mistaken for a modern art museum. Passively heated and cooled, the facility houses four stories, with two floors bunkered into the clay soils to keep the wines cool. Gravity moves the wine from the warm upper floors, where the grapes are crushed and the fermentation is started, through a series of troughs, pipes, and tanks to the lower floors, where the sediments are allowed to settle and the wines finish their fermentation and are aged in oak barrels for up to four years.

Bea may forgo the commercial yeasts that produce a more predictable fermentation and use minimal sulfur dioxide, the preservative that winemakers use to stabilize wines for shipment and sale. But it would be a mistake to assume that Bea’s methods are not technological. If anything, making natural wines that are consistently palatable requires greater precision and control than conventional winemaking.

More here.