Finance Bros, Mortality Salience, and The Natural Wine Trend


In The Years Annie Ernaux writes: They searched for new models of existence in space and time, in the exotic or the peasantry, India or the Cévennes. There was an aspiration to purity. Though she is reflecting specifically on the early 1970’s in France, I find this statement to capture something of an ever-reoccurring phenomenon. One which strikes me as deeply relevant to the philosophy and trend of “Natural Wine” as it currently reigns. Was it this last fall that Bon Appétit published its four page spread on natural wine? Long-time enthusiasts everywhere shook their heads in quiet dismay while the masses began showing up to their haunts tittering about orange wine. Suddenly, words like funky and glou glou had shifted into the mainstream lexicon with a painful force and repetition. Certainly, no single article or Vice episode is entirely to blame, but one could feel a sense of wary inevitability with every passing blip of information that situated a glass of the stuff as yet another prop in what seemed to be the next new vision of a life.

Do you have any natural wines?  The girls in white linen pants and gold hoops began to ask in every restaurant everywhere. They captioned Instagram photos of their manicured hands hovering over short Spanish glasses, saying: reaching for that natural wine. My favorite natural wine is contadino. So it was born (or actually born again), in all the metropolitan hubs of North America. Natural wine—hand in hand with farm-to-table dining, ethical clothing production, holistic medicine, a bucolic-crafting renaissance etc. etc.—had struck the youth. Myself, included.

It is easy to start to resent anything the moment it hits the big-time. As humans, we seem to like to exist under a delusion of exclusivity. We like to be unique. A friend of mine, who more or less introduced me to natural wine just a touch before it completely boomed, suddenly started to buy bottles of white burgundy with a subversive glint in his eye. He would literally smirk, sitting on my rooftop in Bed Stuy, swirling some stylistically classic Aligoté in his glass with the kind of relish accomplished only by those who derive a lot of pleasure from being contrary. The thing is, he isn’t alone. It isn’t a surprising reaction.

So it’s not that big of a deal. It’s a beverage after all. There are certainly bigger issues in our world today. In our world forever. But why does it feel so tragic when our tastes filter into popularity? And why does it happen? What is it that predicts these waves of trend? This tug-o-war between hyper-modernization, and like, grass-roots idealism? As well as the complicated way, especially with wine, each side is defined.

I personally think it’s this very polarization that sets the tone of most of our entire lives. What’s as exciting as hurdling at full speed towards the next new discovery? The fastest, most efficient, highest tech, hyper-developed blah blah blah. Some semi-conscious Jetsons-esque imaginary is instilled into most of us by a very early age. A man on the moon, if you will. That said, is there also anything more terrifying? While constantly being fed this bright narrative of the future, we are simultaneously being primed with a doomsday cautionary tale. Cut your plastic soda can ties, they kill the wales. Computers might take over the world. Acid rain, smog, the ice caps. We’re fucked, try to compost, so you can at least sleep at night. And so and so forth until it is actually the end of time.

The Natural Wine Movement has always possessed an air of the déviant. Particularly in places like France where tradition is deep (not to mention meticulously regulated). These makers, who first eschewed the techniques of greater intervention in favor of a more back-to-the-land approach, were often, and often still are not, celebrated by a big fraction of the powers that be. It’s not an easy business. Despite even, the recent appearance of a sudden and swift desirability. Cool, unfortunately, does not always translate to big money. Not to mention the fact that it’s a career fundamentally subjected to the whims of nature. It is also, I believe, worth noting that the sudden obsession with “nattiness” that has emerged in North American culture is very different than the European equivalent that precedes it.

We are of a of culture deeply entrenched in our own ambivalence. Progress vs. Tradition. Our timeless identity crisis. Of course, it all pans out to the same thing, and when a harried New Yorker sips a glass of wine tonight, whether it be with additions of sulphur or not, they will be participating in a concept regardless. The idea of natural wine, in all its elevated romance (we humans love to feel natural!), merely underlines this internal conflict. What defines “progress” and “tradition” is too subjective to pin down. However this oscillation, in all its forms, is essential to our self-narrative.

In Psychology there is a term “Mortality Salience”, basically one’s self-awareness of their own eventual death. I believe that trends, in all their iterations, are a coping mechanism for that. We try to save ourselves with technological and medical advancements, things that will make you live longer and better and more conveniently. Then we get scared that we’ve overdone it, and go forage some ramps upstate while drinking a glass of low-intervention beaujolais.

The former-investment banker who devotedly watched “Fuck, That’s Delicious” and now plans to open a wine bar annoys the shit out of me too. But, I’m starting to forgive him. I’m starting to forgive him because while I think some impulses are carried out with more grace and intelligence than others, they still all come from very similar places. Huffing and puffing about the hip-masses absorbing whatever thing you loved first, will get you nowhere.

As a young person interested in wine, as young people interested in “natural” wine I think the best we can do is attempt to honor the fact that it is simply not just ours. To listen more closely to the many people whose work far outlives our first taste of skin-contact muscat. To accept the trend (and our complicit-ness in it), and rather than try and set ourselves apart, rolling our eyes at the pretensions of our peers—do a bit better by participating more humbly and continuing to learn.

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