Eating/Drinking

Hardcore Orange

Is the future of wine inspired by the past? About Eatery hosts Bangkok’s first natural wine festival, featuring wines from retrograde vineyards focused on flavor.

May 01, 2017
They only have fax.

I am not surprised. I’m attending a natural wine workshop, and learning that the guy who made the wine we're drinking can only be contacted via fax should have been expected. Stereotypical to say the least. Some guy is making amazing wine in the (gorgeous) middle of nowhere in Italy and his only link to the outside world is a machine you'd think had gone extinct by now. So Ronnavish Chulajata from Estella Wine got himself a fax machine. He claims—and I'm inclined to agree—that it was worth it.

Although creating natural wine is a rejection of modern technology, it's more a rejection of modern winemaking technology than a loathsome attitude towards smartphones and the Internet. Plenty of producers in the natural wine scene are connected, some of them through beautifully designed websites.

I’m at About Eatery, where Ronnavish is hosting a workshop on orange wine for Bangkok’s first natural wine festival. As Ronnavish talks passionately about his wine and his adventures, he pours us one of his favorites: it's called Radikon.

The wine has an orange hue, a couple of shades lighter than brandy with a hint of cloudiness. The first sniffs and sips are acidic uppercuts. The idea that this is vinegar starts creeping up, but then the wine opens up and yields an immensely complex yet distinctive aroma and flavor.

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This is nothing like supermarket sludge or a highly prized vintage. This orange wine is hardcore stuff. Most would associate the word “hardcore” with leather clad activities, not winemaking. Yet the methods used in natural winemaking are, in a way, radical or extreme because they reject the current status quo in commercial winemaking.

Allow me to explain. Most people think of wine as a delicate and handcrafted product: a beverage made by experts. Vineyards, fruit, oak barrels, and dusty, old cellars, it has little of the factory about it. Yet most wine is as much a mass product as a Big Mac. It is tinkered with until it fits a certain formula. It isn't made at the château but in a lab.

There are two reasons for this. One important factor in the development of modern winemaking technology has been the rise of wine critics. Halfway through the previous century, critics gained more influence. A few big names decided that a good wine looks feels and tastes a certain way. So winemakers started making wine to appease these critics. This led to the creation of an industry standard that caused many producers to alter their wines to achieve certain characteristics, narrowing their range of expression in the process.

Another major factor in the commercialization of wine is that it has become a hugely popular product over the last fifty years. Yet wine is a volatile product. It doesn't travel well, it doesn't preserve well, and grapes from one year can yield a completely different wine compared to the next year's grapes. In order to deliver a consistent and appealing product, many producers use a large number of chemicals or other methods to stabilize their wines and give them consistent character.
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So is non-natural wine an unhealthy product? Not more unhealthy than a Heineken or any other commercialized alcoholic product. And most non-natural wine tastes nice too. It's nice, inoffensive, but lacking in originality and character.

So some producers started saying they don’t roll like that. Some of them, by the way, have never rolled like that. They believe that the land, the climate, the grape, the age of the vines, and all of those other tiny details that make a wine unique should do the talking.

So, in short, natural winemaking is about giving some control back to nature: reverting to more traditional methods in order to create a wine with balls.

If you want to try natural wine in Bangkok, About Eatery carries a wide selection of natural wines.