“As long as we eat crap, we are crap,” says farmer and winemaker, Stefano Bellotti in Natural Resistance, a new documentary about the natural wine movement in Italy. Bellotti is one of a handful of winemakers interviewed in the film who argue that the way they make wine is nothing short of radical.
Natural wines are made without using pesticides or herbicides in the vineyard, and without intensive interventions and lab-derived yeasts in the cellar. The concept goes so far beyond the notion of being organic, that very few winemakers who produce natural wines bother with certification. The subjects in Natural Resistance argue that the modern wine market as well as European agriculture ministers, demand a uniform product from year to year that robs each vintage of unique character. They also claim that the use of chemicals in agriculture results in grapes that are less expressive and less flavorful, forcing winemakers to resort to a variety of intensive winemaking processes that strip away unique character and end up with wines that are industrial, rather than agricultural, products.
That all may sound like serious first world problems, but throughout, each winemaker convincingly notes, as really, only an Italian could, that food in general, and wine in particular, is a huge part of the joy of being alive–control the food, control the people, the argument goes. Bellotti goes so far as to suggest that modern agriculture deprives plants of vitality and solar energy, which in turns deprives the people who eat those plants of vitality, making them more easily manipulated.
To be honest, Natural Resistance is a little bit of a mess. Throughout, director Jonathan Nossiter mingles footage from classic Italian and American films with interviews with winemakers, in an attempt to make an argument about tradition, history and the value of understanding and being in conversation with the past. Perhaps it works better for a viewer with a deep understanding of Italian film history, but it mostly falls flat, especially since listening to the winemakers themselves talk about growing grapes and making wine is just so delightful.
Nossiter uses archival footage of Mussolini addressing a huge crowd to draw a line between modern, chemically assisted agriculture and historical fascism in Europe. That point is much more convincingly made by Bellotti when he says, “There’s nobody in a society freer than a true farmer, and so by definition they’re extremely dangerous.”
Natural Resistance may leave viewers who are new to the concept of natural wine with more questions than answers, but listening to the winemakers themselves as they stroll through green-gold vineyards and linger over long lunches eaten at rustic outdoor tables, nestled under ancient trees, is like being at a great dinner party. It certainly inspires further research in the form of a glass or three.
Natural Resistance will be playing on the SundanceNow Doc Club starting Oct. 27.