Natural Jazz, Natural Wine

I do not wish to wade into “natural” waters per se, but I will say that I understand why the term both is and isn’t important; when it comes to wine, or anything else.

There is, of course, the argument that if you take things to their logical extreme, there is nothing that is not natural. Human beings are a product of nature, anything we create is human, thus, it is all natural.

This line of thinking, though, would seem to do a bit of a disservice to the intentionality of term use; meaning, if one is at least sympathetic to the reasons WHY one might use the term “Natural” (if not to the term itself), then one must, I think, somewhat forgive semantics in favor of concept.

Put another way, what I think may drive interest in naming something “Natural” is the need to classify contents and products along the lines of some sort of value system; a system in which the comparatively minimally “manipulated” is valued higher.

Manipulation itself is of course a tricky thing to define; by the logic of that first argument, at what point does something leave “Natural” and become “manipulated?” And what separates manipulation from necessary process?

To try to approach this question, consider The Jazz.


Defining what The Jazz is, is about as problematic as defining what Natural Wine is, or Natural anything, for that matter.

Just look at Miles Davis’ career. Is Kind of Blue The Jazz? How about Sketches of Spain? Bitches’ Brew? How about Aura?

To name something Jazz is, I think, an act not unlike the naming of something as Natural; we are seeking to classify something, and to give it value accordingly.

For me, can I define The Jazz?

Of course not.

But I can certainly try to tell you what I consider to be the canonical foundations of jazz, the archetype of jazz, the gold standard of jazz, the epitome of jazz; for me, The Jazz is instrumental music that derives the bulk of its sonic aesthetic from the product of acoustic (or minimally amplified/electrified) instruments, which relies heavily on collective improvisation for the spontaneous generation of melodic and harmonic content, and which rhythmically swings. This, for me, is the equivalent of “natural” in Jazz.

And what, then, is for me “Natural” wine?

To be honest, I am not actually much interested in the values the term implies, but what I am interested in, is an essential equivalent of the above definition. I am interested in pursuing what I consider to be the canonical foundations of wine, the archetype of wine, the gold standard of wine, the epitome of wine; for me, fine wine is wine that derives the bulk of its sensorial aesthetic from the product of minimally manipulated fruit, which relies heavily on sub-micro-climatic nuance that is unique to specific vineyards for its flavor profile, and which tastes balanced, elegant, and delicious.

If there is a red flag in the text above, I imagine it is the term “minimally manipulated.”

What is minimal manipulation, and at what point does something become negatively and/or excessively manipulated?

For me, it’s a matter of degrees. To understand the distinction, consider Charlie Christian and Eddie Van Halen.

Charlie Christian was a guitar player, Eddie Van Halen is a guitar player. Each’s music, born of a guitar. Charlie Christian played, not an acoustic guitar, but an electric one. So does Eddie Van Halen. Charlie Christian was a genius of a player whose influence changed the world of music. The same can be said of Eddie Van Halen. Charlie Christian’s sound relied on basic amplification, and his guitar was a straightforward one: wooden body, wooden neck, a small amount of metal hardware; i.e. an electric pick-up that allowed his sound to be louder, via connecting the guitar to an amplified speaker. Eddie Van Halen’s sound relies on multiple and massive amplifiers, pervasive and thorough processing and distortion, tremolo bar, and more. Which is “natural?”

Neither, of course.

But I prefer Charlie Christian; the wood, the metal, the player, the performance.

Nothing more than the minimum required to be audible, to create harmony and melody, and to swing.

A quote from Paul Draper:

We believe that for anyone attempting to make fine wine, modern additives and invasive processing limit true quality and do not allow the distinctive character of a fine vineyard to determine the character of the wine.

Substitute a few terms, and here you have:

I believe that for anyone attempting to make fine music, modern additives and invasive processing limit true quality and do not allow the distinctive character of a fine musician to determine the character of the music.

Natural Wine, Natural Jazz.


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Categories: Ingredient Labeling, Paul Draper, Vineyards, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine & Art, Wine & Music, Wine & Philosophy, Wine and Jazz

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Really Thoughtful.

    You could have used any number of artistic categories to explore the meaning of definition and natural wine. But I like the use of Jazz.

    The interesting thing is the value proposition. Put the label “natural” on wine and you supply a negative value on that which does not carry the “natural” label. Put the label “jazz” on music and you don’t supply a negative value to that music that does not carry the label.

    This is an important distinction.

    • Tom, thanks so much for your kind words, and your comment! You raise a great point about the value proposition, though with all due respect, I’m not entirely sure I agree with the distinction you propose. For example, consider the critical response to what eventually became known as “The New Thing” in Jazz; the music of latter-era Coltrane w/ Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, and eventually, the work of players like Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler; critics went so far as to call this music “Anti-Jazz,” which is, I think, a fairly clear example of the value proposition at work in jazz; meaning, per those critics, to be called Jazz, the music had to have certain value(s); if it didn’t, then it was not properly jazz; rather, it was, to them, in fact “anti-jazz.”

      So, anti-natural wine???

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