There are no two ways about it: in the last 15 years, the wine industry in Australia has had a cataclysmic paradigm shift. With the emergence of the Natural Wine movement that began in the late naughts and hit its prime in the early to mid 2010’s, the average wine consumers focus has shifted from reliable and established brands towards small and independent micro producers. Names like Ochota Barrels and Gentle Folk are becoming as hotly requested as larger producers that have loomed over the Australian Wine market for decades. The Big Kids finally have some competition nipping at their heels. Wine Buyers along with producers more focused on sustainability in the vineyard and in the winery than any time in recent memory. It has been one of the most exciting and revolutionary times in wine in recent memory. But at the close of a decade, the keen curios and wine minds can wonder what can possibly come next.
The Natural Wine movement has surely re-imagined what wine can be, but from my perspective it seems to be cooling off. Huge advocates for the renaissance have entered almost a period of hibernation, focusing more on the novel aspects of life. Families and their own future, rather than changing the game – an incredibly admiral and important part of life, but there has been no proverbial passing of the torch to the next generation of paradigm shifters.
Their mantras are still heralded as gospel though, and rightly so. The hard work is in the vineyard. The winemakers job is as a Shepard, not an architect – their job is to respect the vineyard, over winemaking artifice. With that said, certain dogmatic aspects have led to some of the greatest wines to ever be produced from Australia. Lucy Margaux’s best vintages are worthy of the echelon they have been put in. Ochota Barrel’s ‘Fugazi’ re-imagined what McLaren Vale Grenache could look like. Mac Forbes’ consistency and quality has been looked upon with eye-watering envy and admiration for damn near a decade. But with that stated, there have been wines released with questionable quality and longevity. The natural wine movement has created some of the greatest wines ever, but also some of the worst.
But their dogma has been to challenge conventional wine, and all kudos to that dogma. Conventional Wine in contrast has also produced some of the worst wines ever, not just for consumers, but the planet. Highly irrigated, Pesticide, Fungicide and Herbicide ridden vineyards are not sustainable just to keep a consistent product. 16% Alcohol wines are rarely enjoyable in the Australian climate, and again, don’t respect the vineyard and reek of choices made by the winemaker.
So the question must be asked: Is there a middle ground? Of course there is – it’s what I and many would love to see called craft wine. Wine made with a consideration in the vineyard and in the winery to best showcase the vintage and the selected site – that’s the dogma, and there has been a wide raft of producers doing this forever. By Farr in Geelong, Pooley in Tasmania, Frankland Estate in Frankland River, Best’s in the Grampians, Spinifex in the Barossa – it’s a big list. These are massively respected producers, and for damned good reason: their wines are delicious, consistent and speak of time and place.
That mantra now needs to be passed on and it seemingly has, in small rumblings. Producers like Camwell in McLaren Vale and LS Merchants over in Great Southern, Western Australia. Producers that don’t scream about “natural wine” and their dogma, that put their head down and solely focus on making really, really tasty wine for their consumers and their fans, that doesn’t cost the earth. That’s what needs to be the next movement, what we as wine consumers should be advocating and screaming about. A movement that is about being inclusive rather than exclusivity and scarcity. Affordable, sustainable and delicious wine. In my belief, that’s what we all yearn for.