Nature vs Nurture?

I was lucky enough to be given two books on wine for Christmas. At first glance you would think they come at things from totally opposite points of the spectrum. The first was Isabelle Legeron’s Natural Wine. This book gives a great introduction to wines that are created principally by nature. Here grape growers and winemakers choose to concentrate solely on creating the conditions where the processes that create wine can take place in the way nature dictates, rather than being made to bend to the knee of man. The second book was Jamie Goode’s Wine Science. Jamie documents the recent advances in our understanding of the processes of wine production. He makes the topic accessible in the way PhD-level authors rarely achieve, and gives some great insight into what is happening in the vineyard, the winery and even in the consumer’s life, and what therefore the wine industry can do to “nurture” wine.

I am a scientist, and my natural (pun intended) inclination is to look for the scientific explanation behind everything in the belief that with knowledge will come control. However, I am a physicist, and although the physical world is complicated, in the end it does come down to the application of some fairly simple rules. As I have grown older, it has become obvious to me that biological systems are almost infinitely more complicated, and our level of understanding much less developed.

So are the two approaches compatible? Well to give Jamie Goode credit, he addresses the question head on in paragraph 5 of the book, and dedicates whole sections to approaches such as biodynamic viticulture. The point that is often made in Wine Science, which also matches my personal experience, is that many great wines are produced with organic, biodynamic or natural wine philosophies. If scientists don’t like the “anti-science” feel of some of the explanations provided by natural wine advocates, then it is science’s job to explain why the results are often so good.

Perhaps the way to view these two books is this:- Natural Wine sets out the evidence for great winemaking under the benign control of Mother Nature, and Wine Science starts to lay the foundations to understanding what conditions Mother Nature needs to do her best work. In my view both books are worth a read, and are by no means incompatible approaches.

Who is Andy McLeod

I'm a grape grower and wine maker in both the UK and Spain, a profession I fell into because of my love of wine and a desire to understand how I could produce a drink that was both good and different.