Schism in natural wine movement intensifies debate

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  • Tuesday 28 February 2012

The natural wine movement in the UK has split into two factions, both of which are putting on near-identical wine fairs over the same weekend in May.

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The Real Wine Fair, organised by Les Caves de Pyrene with six other wine merchants takes place at exactly the same time as RAW: The Artisan Wine Fair, put together by Isabelle Legeron MW and backed by La Renaissance des Appellations and other major organic and biodynamic groups.

Both have grown out of last year's sell-out Natural Wine Fair, which Legeron and Les Caves organised together, and both have attracted some 150 growers and producers of natural, organic and biodynamic wines with little crossover, the organisers say.

And while they insist two fairs are better than one, the division has intensified the already heated debate around natural wines.

Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene, one of the major stockists of natural, organic and biodynamic wines in the UK, has criticised ‘cynical bloggers and newspapers’ for their stance.

Answering Andrew Jefford’s comments in Decanter that some natural winemakers are dogmatists pursuing ‘a fundamentalist perversion of the ideals of naturalness’, Wregg said it was the other way round.

On the addition of sulphur dioxide to stabilise wines, for example, Wregg said the consensus among natural winemakers was that it should be added 'only when necessary’.

‘No winemaker would be so extreme [as to ban all additives under any circumstances]. They are painted as extremists but it’s the people who do the painting who are the extremists.’

Wregg also slammed Michel Chapoutier, a champion of organic wines, as ‘slightly hysterical’ for his suggestion, again in Decanter, that natural winemakers were ‘hippies’ defending the making of bad wines.

‘He shares a platform with [French biodynamic group] La Renaissance des Appellations. How can he be an ambassador for that and then slag off natural wines?’

On the subject of the two wine fairs, while both Wregg and Legeron insist there is little ideological difference between the two camps, both agree the situation is not ideal.

'We split because we couldn't agree on how to move forward,' Legeron said. 'I wanted to make it a pure grower event while Les Caves wanted it to be more for importers. It's not ideal to have two fairs on the same weekend but on the positive side we're creating a bigger impact with twice the amount of communication.'

Wregg said, 'Of course you never want to split, but it’s better to have 150 growers each at two London fairs rather than one with 300 growers. That would be unmanageable. The principles on which they are founded are the same, and we are both determined that it should be about the growers not the organisers. They come first.

‘If I wasn’t doing ours I’d certainly be at RAW. They will both be brilliant.’

The Real Wine Fair takes place in London 20-22 May 2012; RAW, The Artisan Wine Fair, takes place 20-21 May, also in London.

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