We had a chance to sit down and chat with Tony Coturri, custodian of Coturri Winery, who made clear one thing – he doesn’t consider himself a winemaker. Huh? We’ve all been trained to think that those who create wine are indeed winemakers, but Tony, a pioneer of the natural wine movement, explained, “It’s impossible to make wine, it’s an agricultural process!” This got us thinking. And taking another sip of wine while thinking.
What is natural wine, anyway? It’s wine made organically or biodynamically without chemicals, additives and very minimal intervention. Tony produces wines that are made from just grapes using a completely natural process without any manipulation or additions – not even sulfur dioxide! His winery has had this philosophy for more than 30 years, long before “natural wine” was part of the mainstream vocabulary.
We were eager to learn more about Tony’s process and how it all began.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN WINEMAKING? I started with my dad in 1963. It was simple, making wine at home with the idea that it was going to be part of our diet, so chemicals wouldn’t be added.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF WINEMAKING? I love to go to the vineyard and work with the families who are taking care of the grapes and then continue the process at home to translate the grapes into wine. Again, it’s impossible to “make wine;” it’s an agricultural process. Instead, I see myself as the steward or custodian or shepherd of the grapes.
WHAT MAKES YOUR WINES DIFFERENT? The wine is an expression of the environment. If there’s an issue or a problem, I wait and see what happens, as it’s all part of a normal progression. I allow the wine to be, to essentially grow on itself.
THE TERM “NATURAL WINE” HAS BECOME MORE POPULAR AND TRENDY! WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO YOU? It’s such a broad category – there are so many options: natural yeast, biodynamic, a little sulfur, etc. There’s absolutely nothing added to our cuvées. You know a wine is natural from a certain quality in the nose from the natural yeast. The ultimate goal is to get away from the term natural and talk about the regional varieties, traditional methods and philosophy.
TONY GOES ON TO COMPARE WINE TO PERFUME AND TO READING A BOOK:
Perfume: While each individual scent might not be appealing, it’s all the scents together that make the fragrance. Wine is the same.
A book: Sometimes you don’t really get a book that you’ve been reading until the last page – then you understand how everything came together. When you take a sip of wine, that’s when the parts connect, then you can understand how everything came together. Stepping back to see the total composition can lead to a pleasurable beverage.
Ready to try one of Tony’s intense, earthy wines? If you've never tasted a natural wine before, well, it might take some getting used to, but we think if you embrace the funkiness, the bold flavor will win you over!
YOUNG CARIGNAN RED WINE: This young wine is earthy, ripe and jammy, like drinking straight grape juice. (After all, it is just grapes.) Only 50 cases were made in 2015, so get some while you can!
CARIGNANE RED WINE 2010: This is a big wine. There's beautiful fruit up front, but then a just-right sweetness balanced by noticeable tannins and a nice, tart finish. Enjoy a bottle and pair it with an aged, grilled steak.
SANGIOVESE SONOMA 2009: This Sangiovese has a huge personality (huuuuuuuge). It's intense, earthy and somewhat funky – totally different from Chiantis. We love the way its sweetness is balanced by rougher flavors of leather and a bit of barnyard mustiness (yes, we mean that in a good way!). We're sure it's like no other Sangiovese you've tasted.
Note: We recommend decanting these bottles shortly before serving, as the contact with oxygen will open up the flavor and soften the wine. Don’t have a decanter? No problem! You can use a vase, mason jar or any empty container you have around the house.