VinePair Podcast: The Problem with #RealWine
VinePair, in partnership with Rémy Martin, is presenting the Bartender Talent Academy, an exciting Cognac cocktail competition. You can showcase your most creative Sidecar cocktail recipes to compete for a chance at the grand prize, a trip to Cognac, France in October to test your bartending skills against the world’s best. All you need is a shaker and a passport. So visit www.bartendertalentacademy.com for all competition details and to enter. Hope to see you there.
This week on the “VinePair Podcast,” Adam Teeter, Zach Geballe, and Joanna Sciarrino discuss the recent emergence of the hashtag #realwine. But first, Joanna recaps her vacation, and the hosts discuss the revitalization of small-town vacation spots.
Teeter, Geballe, and Sciarrino debate whether or not #realwine is problematic, and whether or not the wine industry should negate such divisive terms and embrace inclusivity.
If you have any thoughts on #realwine, please send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or Check out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” And Joanna is back!
J: I’m back.
A: Joanna, how was your vacation?
J: My vacation was lovely. Thank you for asking.
A: What did you do?
J: My partner, Evan, and I did a nice little New England road trip. We stopped in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine. We skipped over New Hampshire, not for any reason.
A: I was going to say you might have beef with New Hampshire.
J: No, no. We actually joined two of our friends for a couple of nights at a lakeside resort just outside of Portland, Maine. It was really nice, and I drank a lot of good stuff.
A: What did you drink? What did you eat?
J: I kept a list, as promised. We went to this sweet little cocktail bar in Providence, R.I., called The Eddy. There, I had this cocktail with tequila, honeydew, lime, dry vermouth, and coconut water. It was really good. It was really savory, actually. A mouthwatering type of vibe. The spot was really nice, too. I think it was our first time actually back in a bar just for drinks.
A: That’s always fun when it’s your first. I did mine one or two weeks ago. It feels weird because you are just there for the drinks. You are not doing dinner or anything, and you’re inside. It feels special again, which is awesome.
A: I love that winemaker so much. I love those wines so much.
J: Yes, it was awesome. I only had the Rebula before, but the Sauvignon was really nice.
A: Those wines are so cool.
Z: Credit to the lodge in Maine.
J: Yeah, they were so excited that we ordered the bottle.
A: That’s so funny. This is a totally random connection to that wine. Noami and I randomly a few years ago were in Ukraine. Don’t ask why, but we were at this random restaurant and they had this bottle on the list, too, and I ordered it. The waiter said, “How do you know to order this wine?” I said that I love this wine and it’s awesome.
Z: Just confirm for me that you were not working for Rudy Giuliani.
A: No, I was not working for Rudy. This was much earlier in the years before that was all going down. Anyways, that’s always cool when you order something on the list that you can tell people got excited that you ordered. Then they come over and talk to you because they were excited. It’s always this really fun experience, I find.
J: Yeah, it was nice. Then, we also had a bunch of really great Maine beer.
Z: For me, on the other side of the country, what were the couple of breweries that you were most impressed by?
A: And did you eat lobster rolls for every meal?
Z: I saw Joanna post the picture on Instagram, and I don’t see a lot of food pics. I do recall, as you guys know, you get a lot of lobster on your roll.
A: You do. Our colleague, Mr. McKirdy, is there this weekend. Did you give him tips?
J: I did. He said he was only going to eat lobster as well.
A: He’s there starting today, I think. And that sounds great. I’m so glad you had an awesome vacation.
Z: We missed you. We are glad to have you back.
J: I caught myself up with the feed.
Z: You had to do something on that ride.
A: Right, just listen to Zach and me talk. Zach, what have you been up to?
Z: Well, I am in the process of starting a subscription wine club here in the Seattle area with a friend of mine who is a chef.
A: I don’t think you paid for the ad space to pitch that.
Z: I know, but I’m not going to go into more details. You guys know how to find me, but one of the cool things that have been our real emphasis is finding really interesting things that are happening in Washington, again because our focus is on the Pacific Northwest. For me, because I’ve been out of restaurants for 15 months now, one of the things that I was really excited about in launching this is really getting an opportunity to taste things again to explore more, because between not being in the restaurant and also just not traveling at all, I definitely believe there are projects that have come online in the last 15 months or that were brand new last year that I just never got to try. One of the ones that I really enjoyed was a Pét-nat, skin-contact Sémillon from a producer called Grosgrain, which is in Walla Walla. It was super tasty, and they’re really into doing a lot of interesting styles, including a few different varieties, including Lemberger, which is one of my little secret crushes in Washington. It used to be much more prevalent here, but it is an interesting wine. Then, a Gamay from Oregon from Division Wine.
A: I love Division.
Z: Yeah, so it was a blend of fruit from the Willamette Valley and then from the Umpqua Valley further south. That was really, really good. I mean, I enjoy Gamay. I wouldn’t say I’m always super into it in the way that certain somms and others are. However, this one was really beautiful. Bright fruit, just enough ripeness to be pleasant without being overbearing, and a nice herbal note. Division looks at the Loire Valley in France as their inspiration. Gamay and Beaujolais are grown there as well. This is definitely more in that style, a little brighter, and a little less funky, earthy, as opposed to the way Beaujolais can sometimes be. Those were the favorites that I had, although I will say that I definitely just got back from a local brewery. For my son’s birthday party this weekend, I definitely had a pint which is a collaboration between Fremont Brewing and a brewery in Colorado whose name I’m now forgetting. There’s only a couple in Colorado, so I’m sure I will figure it out. I was surprised because I took the dogs outside and had a beer at 11 o’clock in the morning, which is a totally normal occurrence. How about you, Adam?
A: Well, first of all, I will say Kate and Tom at Division make amazing wine. I think they do Gamay really well. I finally got to meet Thomas. I’ve never met Kate before. This was the last thing I did before the pandemic when he and I got to meet at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival. We’ve always been big fans of their wines. Are you including it in the club, or did you have this just for fun?
Z: It’s under strong consideration. We haven’t quite finalized our offering, but it was the fan favorite, so it stands a strong chance.
A: So yes, this weekend, I did this impromptu thing. Basically, Naomi and I have a car for the next month. Our really good friend is out of the country, and she said, “Do you want my car?” I really hate street parking, but I decided I would be OK with it. Now that we’re dealing with this, I am waking up on either Thursday or Friday morning to move it from Thursday to Friday or vice versa. If we’re going to go through this, we need to make sure that each weekend, we’re doing something with the car. Last weekend, we talked about going to Cold Spring or something upstate. Naomi really wanted to go to the western Catskills. One of the people that I worked with a long time ago at another media company, he and his partner bought a house in Livingston Manor 15 or 20 years ago, well before Livingston Manor was cool. We went up and hung out with them before in the western Catskills. It’s a far drive for two and a half hours but I’ll do it. First, I looked at any last-minute deals for hotel rooms. I quickly looked online, and there was a deal for this hotel at the Arnold House, which is owned by this company called Foster and Supply. They own seven hotels in this area now with Callicoon, Livingston Manor, Narrowsburg, etc. The area is definitely having a moment, which is super cool. I went up there and had some pretty delicious cocktails. We went to this one restaurant bar in Livingston Manor called The Kaatskeller, which is a pizzeria. I had a really delicious Negroni, actually. It was really, really quite tasty. Then, the Arnold House also had a pretty nice bar in the basement of the little motel they’ve renovated into a boutique hotel. Naomi had a really good Martini that was infused with a bunch of herbs that were actually from the garden of the hotel. It was really unique, interesting, and very tasty. That was my weekend experience in terms of drinks. Also, I had a beer or two from different breweries, but nothing to write home about. The best stuff I had were the cocktails. I also came to this realization of how much the craft cocktail movement has expanded to even these small vacation-y towns. There is a revitalization where the town has one tiny little grocery store, two or three restaurants, but also has a cocktail program designed by Apotheke, which I think is just so funny.
Z: Well, I think we’ve talked about this on the podcast a couple of times recently, and it’s come up with some interviews, too, where that whole realm of these getaway spots, especially in the Northeast, more people have either already moved into these spaces to operate or are seriously looking at it. It’s super cool. I think it’s fantastic that there is the opportunity to have these great cocktails and as you described, Adam, when we’re talking about returning to bars post-pandemic and being able to offer something that no person can recreate. It’s out of their garden. Sure, maybe you can find those ingredients at home. And if you really want to try to, you can. Yet, that is such a cool and unique experience that just can’t be recreated at home. It can’t even really be recreated at a bar in New York City. It is a real selling point to these destinations.
J: Yeah, I think it’s such a draw for people visiting those places. Then, also the people who have purchased homes, weekend homes, or vacation homes in those areas, like Livingston Manor, have very few new places to go to. If you’re visiting, you’re going to want to go to Kaatskeller or one of the other few spots you mentioned.
A: Yeah, it makes sense. If you have a vacation home, that doesn’t mean you’re going to want to go up there and always cook. Being able to have a few of these places that still do feel that they have some connection to the urban center that you probably live in full time is really interesting. It is definitely a movement that’s growing. Anyways, for today’s topic, a little bit of a hot-button issue. We were chatting among the three of us about this hashtag that has popped up on Instagram — a little on Twitter, but mostly on Instagram — where people take pictures of wine, and the hashtag is #realwine. We started chatting between the three of us: What the f is real wine? Because whenever you use a hashtag like that, you’re saying that there is other wine that is fake wine? My question to you is, what is real wine?
J: Let me give you my answer first. Real wine is anything that’s not the wine product that you can get at the grocery store or pharmacy in New York City.
A: I could see that, yeah.
Z: I think this is a really good point. One of the real challenges with this term is what it is implicitly saying about other wines. I was curious when we were prepping for this — and part of the reason I think this became more and more popular as a term and as a hashtag is the Real Wine Fair, which is a British-organized thing aimed at showcasing these styles of wine made with certain considerations. I have a lot of possible qualms with this and the biggest one is just that implication that other wines are unreal or less real. Like other terms that lack any real precision in their definition, it is open to exploitation, misinterpretation, and selective application. As an example, one thing that you see on the Real Wine Fair website is they have a whole seminar that is all about wines made in amphora. Most people who support hashtag #realwine would say we don’t want wines that are made in new oak. But why is a new vessel that imparts a lot of flavor to the wine unacceptable? But with amphora, which also dramatically affects the flavor of the wine, an acceptable thing. Clay isn’t more natural than wood. Is it just that new oak barrels are really expensive and associated with a certain style of wine? Well, fine, but then we’re really talking about a stylistic preference, not something that’s rooted in anything, truly. It doesn’t have to have a philosophy behind it. It has an aesthetic behind it, and fine, but then I can come back to the problem with the term.
A: Yeah, so this is what my issue is. I 100 percent support Joanna’s definition. Real wine is anything that’s not mass-produced, Mega Purple wine. Those wines have a place. I think that those are wines that totally have a place in certain parts of society. That doesn’t mean that I think Manischewitz is real wine. For holidays, it comes out, but come on. I think when it’s made in the lab according to a formula based on lots of different tasting points that they’re trying to hit in order to deliver the best flavors at a $6 price point, that’s very different. I do think, then, once you start looking at what we would call fine wine, I think once you start trying to divide fine wine into what is real and what is not, you have the same issues you have with any of these other terms where you can’t really define them. That’s why I think it comes off as being obnoxious, because these are shots being fired, not at mass-produced wines, but at other fine wines. To be fair, the people who are using this hashtag are not using it in order to call out Yellowtail. They’re not calling out Yellowtail. They’re calling out another wine of a similar price point, but of which they think doesn’t do the things correctly. And that, I think, is problematic. The piece that we ran this week on the site written by Jamie Goode was really interesting to me because I think a lot of things he said were very on point. I think that the majority of the wine community who is making really high-end wines owes a lot of positives to, let’s say, the natural wine movement, right? There are a lot more people embracing organics, biodynamics, purity of fruit, etc., in the cellar, which are all really positive things. Those are the styles of wine that I tend to gravitate towards. I like wines that showcase more of the actual fruit, less of the oak. That’s the same reason, as we discussed before, why I don’t like wines that are full of Brett and stuff like that, because then I think it’s the same flavor, just different that’s covering what should be the beautiful produce that someone took a lot of care to grow and made sure it was right to the perfect level, etc. I think some people do prefer those wines, and I don’t think that makes them any less real on either side. If you prefer wine that has a lot of Brett in it or things like that because those are the wines you’re into, those are still real wines to you — same as the person who really likes a specific style of Napa Cabernet that is big and bold and extracted and full of oak. That’s a special wine to someone else, and all of those are real. I don’t get why in wine there is this desire to have those pivot points. This doesn’t happen in other areas of alcohol. There is not #realbourbon or #realvodka. Do you guys think that this happens in wine so much because there’s no craft movement, since the art of making wine is a craft? I guess that’s my bigger question for both of you. Do you think that this happens more in wine with these hashtags that get picked up and then adopted by certain sects because wine doesn’t really have a craft movement, because the nature of winemaking is craft?
J: Yeah, I do think that’s part of it. I’m trying to not say natural wine here.
Z: It’s OK, it’s not Voldemort.
J: It was like the natural wine movement was claiming to be the “craft movement” of wine.
A: Right? I think that that’s true.
Z: Yeah. And I want to add a thought here, but I also want to ask a question first. As Adam mentioned, I think it’s a good point that you don’t have real bourbon or whatever. Is there #realfood? Would food get more tied together than wine and other beverage alcohol?
J: Yes. I don’t know about the hashtag, but I’m sure there’s a #realfood hashtag. I would say that there’s a similar movement of organic food without additives as that exists in opposition to everything else. However, I think it was meant to be in opposition to junk food originally. They both have this judgment attached to it, which I think is really problematic.
Z: To go back to Adam’s point about #realbourbon or #realvodka, I think part of the difference might be that we accept or people internalize to some extent that all vodka, all bourbon, is part of a process. You look at a kernel of corn or a grain of wheat or a potato, and you don’t think that’s basically just vodka or bourbon. We understand that there’s a long process between the raw inputs and the final product. I think wine both has intentionally sold the idea even long before #realwine or natural wine or any of that has sold the idea that from grape to glass is basically one small step that we don’t even really need to talk about. In reality, all wine is a very unnatural product. Wine does not occur naturally. Vinegar is a natural product. Rotten fermented grapes are a natural product. Wine requires human intervention to exist, and the extent of that intervention can vary. Pretending that there is any such thing as no-intervention or even really, honestly low-intervention wine is a rhetorical trick that people use because it sounds good, but it’s not really honest. To me, I think the reason why these things take hold is that, again, the concept of wine, as we think about it and as most people think about it, we don’t recognize the human hand in wine. Yes, there is a difference between the human hand holding a vial of Mega Purple and the human hand crushing grapes or stirring lees because those are not necessarily the same thing. I don’t want to claim that they are, but I do think it’s best to be honest on how we can’t really talk about wine without human intervention because it just doesn’t exist.
A: Then it becomes this connection to this fear of technology amongst certain people potentially who are using the hashtag, where they say, “If we’re not doing stuff the way it was done hundreds of years ago, then we’re not actually making wine.”
Z: Yeah, the whole amphora thing is just about fetishizing ancient technology.
A: I’m going to give an example here. You guys just bear with me. Just go with it. OK, so this morning or recently, The New York Times published an article about whether or not natural deodorant was better for you. I don’t know if you guys saw this article.
Z: I did not.
A: Well, for the last five years at least, there’s been a fervent call that we should all be using natural deodorants and regular deodorant is unnatural, plus it has all these side effects, etc. The New York Times decided to do a piece on it and actually figure it out. Let’s talk to dermatologists, scientists, etc. What they found is that the claim is bullshit. There’s no scientific data that links antiperspirant to any issues. Actually, the idea that it was linked to certain kinds of cancer all stems from a ’90s chain email that went viral. Basically, people started forwarding initial emails on why you shouldn’t use antiperspirants. There have been multiple scientific studies, and they cannot find the connection. Actually, in a lot of the natural deodorants, there is more likelihood that people will have allergic reactions, skin rashes, etc., because the type of oils that are being used in them in order to mask the smell are being derived from pure sources such as pure lemon extract that actually can be really irritating to certain people. That idea of, “OK, this is better” actually was proven wrong. It could be better for some people. Some people may prefer it was the idea, but it is not 100 percent easily better. To connect deodorant back to wine, in the same regard, there is no research at all that proves these wines are better for you, that are real. There’s no research that proves that they are better expressions of terroir or a place that is real, but there are some people that prefer them.
J: It’s a matter of taste.
A: It’s a matter of taste, right. I personally do not like sweating, and I wear antiperspirant. That is my personal decision. If you choose to wear natural deodorant, I may not stand next to you in the subway in the summer. That is still your decision, and I respect it. I just don’t want to be near you. In the same regard, if you choose to drink one wine or the other, that’s your personal preference and your personal choice. I think it’s so silly that we try to have these ridiculous camps when I think at the end of the day, the whole idea is let’s bring as many people into this world as possible. Let’s make it as open and inclusive as possible. Let’s not start drawing all these phony lines in the sand and saying, “Well, we want you to be part of the community, but only if you drink wines like this.” That, to me, is just so stupid, and I just don’t get it. So when I see hashtags like this on Instagram especially, what are we doing here for people? We’re not doing the work. We’re not actually helping people understand wine or making them feel comfortable. We’re literally telling them there is a right and a wrong beverage in this space, and it’s just so dumb. Rant over.
Z: To come back a little bit to the point Joanna was making earlier about real food and all that. To the point you were making about this issue where these wines are competing against other fine wines. With this term, they’re trying to differentiate themselves. It’s not $6 grocery store wine so much. Again, it’s so hard to disentangle this notion that large-production, corporate-scale wine is, in a lot of cases, especially at the lower price point, pretty manipulated. There’s no denying that. It’s just the reality of those wines is that for the most part, to get them on store shelves at that price, the winemaking involves a lot of technology, a lot of science, additives, things like that. Again, there is a place for those wines. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist, but to connect that and to say that wines that are made that may not be fully organic, may not be biodynamic, may not be low-intervention in the way that we typically define them is not true. I don’t think under any real definition other than very precise and purposely drawn ones is it really fair to say that those two categories have much in common with one another. These days, as you mentioned and as Jamie mentioned, because of the influence of natural wine and other low-intervention movements focused on organic and sustainable viticulture, there just isn’t that big a difference. Sure, some of them might add nutrients to their yeast, some might water back or might add acid or sugar depending on where they are to help with fermentation. But by and large, those are the same things that people have been doing in wine for a really long time. The true technological marvels that allow for $4 or $5 bottles of wine don’t come near most of these things that we’re talking about.
A: Yeah, that makes sense.
Z: I don’t know if that was a rant exactly, but that’s what I got on this because it’s so unnecessarily divisive. I can’t imagine someone saying to my face and me not laughing at them, “Oh, well this is a real wine and that isn’t.” Get the f*ck out of here with that.
J: Yeah, I think there’s just this part of it being exclusive and you can be a part of this more exclusive community by saying you drink real wine, and it just feels so senseless. As you said, Adam, we’re not fostering an inclusive wine- drinking community. And why wouldn’t we want to do that?
A: Right. The biggest thing we can learn from the last year and a half or so is that there have been some major issues that we need to correct, and inclusivity is one of them. Why would we keep trying to create barriers? Again, why do we create anything where we can pick at it? You can take your definition either way, right? Is real wine only made by people who received degrees in winemaking? There’s a lot of people I know who use #realwine as a hashtag who are, for sure, self-taught winemakers. Is real wine when you only use amphora and neutral oak barrels? Again, it’s so ridiculous that it just doesn’t really seem to make sense. Why don’t we just have #Ilovewine?
Z: I’m going to start adding that to all my posts. Because it’s true.
A: Yeah, and that just makes more sense to me. Anyways, I think we’re all on the same page. I’d love to hear what listeners think. If you agree or disagree with us, shoot us an email, email@example.com or @VinePair on Instagram and let us know your thoughts about this because again, it’s becoming a hashtag I’m seeing more and more and more. Let’s put a stop to it together. Only you can prevent #realwine.
Z: Smokey the Bear. That’s great.
A: I know. Well, Joanna, Zach, this was another great conversation. I’ll see you both next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, then please give us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and in Seattle, Wash., by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all this possible and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team who is instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.