The Wandering Wino Blog

Natural Wine - Q&A

    Gary Conway Art
    (Above) Art by Gary Conway  

    Early this year I had the pleasure of walking into Carmody McKnight tasting room in Paso Robles California. Upon my visit, I learned the winery is owned by Gary Conway, an actor that starred in the late 6o's TV show "Land of the Giants."

    Gary Conway

      While tasting some very nice wines, I overheard Gary behind the bar sharing about "natural" wine. He was passionate about what he was sharing and it was a very intriguing subject. After asking some questions, we had a fantastic conversation on his vineyard/wine views.

      The term "natural wine" is unheard of at the great wall of wine from the grocery store shelves and is typically discussed more amongst the wine industry. Natural wine has not technically been defined, creating greater challenges and many more perspectives. 

    Not long after meeting Gary, I wrote "What Is Natural Wine" on Mi Wine Barrel We have kept in contact and the facination of learning more had me coming back for questions on his view of natural wine.

    Q: When did you start your winery?
    A: I bought the land in the late 60s and sold half my land to Justin in the early 80s.  I only did so because he was nuts enough to want to plant grapes and start a winery way the hell out in the country, and I was crazy enough to think it was a fabulous idea to do the same.  


     Q: What is your definition of natural wine? 

    A: I would like to think of it as "wine." How wine has been made for 8,000 years until the last fifty or 100 years.  The vast majority of what is produced today should be called "unnatural" wine. I am an artist.  I create art the way it has been done for thousands of years.  The only difference is that the artists over the centuries, for the most part, were technically better than today.  But we employ the exact tools – canvas, a palette, brushes, pencils, charcoal and paints. I have few other tools.  It is really not complicated.  I don’t get cute with painting or employ machinery. 


    Q: How many other wineries do you know that are producing Natural wine? 

    A: Okay, we'll go with the "natural" wine. None as far as I know.  I would like to find one.

     Q: Do you believe there are others that claim to produce natural wine, but do not practice natural wine production? 
      A: I’m not sure how you claim such a thing.  You either are or are not. It is not an opinion.  It is science.  A natural wine must start in the vineyard.  Any winery that would claim a natural wine would       have a natural vineyard.  That must be tested.  If you go to a doctor to determine your state of health – he gives you a blood test for starters.  The vineyard must have a “blood test.”   Then we can discuss natural wine.  



Head Trained Vines

(Above Photo - Head Trained Vineyard)


Q: Any difference between the way vines are planted? Head trained, trellis, etc. Why? 

A: Absolutely. Aristotle made a “natural wine.”  He also grew the natural grape. 


In a phone conversation Gary shared how his vines are about 600 per acre and planted 7 x 11. He went on to say that anything less than 11 feet apart then the vines will shade each other and disturb photosynthesis. 



Carmony Mcknight Carmody Mcknight Vineyard 

  Q: Is the vineyard treated throughout the year any differently?                                      

A: You do not “treat” a natural vineyard.


Q: Do you mow every row/some rows to allow insects?

A It is mainly irrelevant, but allowing nature to take its course in the rows is generally a good idea.


Q: Do you plant anything additional in the vineyard to help add nitrogen etc? 

A: No.





Q: Do you take any action to prevent frost damage? Sprinklers/fans?  

• A: No. 



Hand Picking Ampelos



Q: Tell me about how you harvest? Hand picked? Machines? Does it make a difference in it being natural? 

 • A: You will never make a natural wine from natural grapes and employ modern harvest machinery.  If you are using machines to pick grapes you are far from any natural wine making. 


Q:How is the wine making differentiate?  

A: You add nothing… none of the at least 150 chemicals available. 


Q:Are there varietals that are more challenging as a natural wine producer?

Phone A: Some are not to be messed with.


Q: Is the fermentation process impacted? Longer? Lower alcohol?  

A: Higher or lower alcohol -- if it is natural -- is site and area specific.  The more photosynthesis, as in California, the more alcohol.


Q: How about yeast, what is acceptable? If the wine does not fully ferment, is it acceptable to add yeast?  

A: Only natural or native yeast – which means your winery must be a natural winery – sustainable… no unnatural cooling or heating. It must be like a cellar.


Q: Do you think the vineyard or the wine making process have a greater impact on natural wine, or are they equal?   

A: There is no “process” as one would think of it.  It the same “process” that has been around for 8,000 years.


Q: What are your thoughts about chemicals in the vineyard? How about what are often called "soft" chemicals?  

A: Chemicals for the most part have become a disaster in the vineyard and in wine, especially chemical fertilizers.  As bad, maybe worse, are the fungicides. Most of the areas of the world are using hard chemical fungicides, which are scary to our health and certainly affect the “flavor” of the wines.  This is not an opinion. This is science.


 More Q & A in a coming part II of a great conversation with Gary Conway of Carmody Mcknight, located in Paso Robles Ca. In the interim, I'll be looking forward to a session at the wine bloggers conference discussing natural wine, organic, biodynamic in depth this coming weekend.



  • John
    Posted Tuesday 21 August 2012 04:35
    OMG this is the funniest "natural" wine parody I have seen on the interwebs to date. Chapeau!
  • Tai-Ran
    Posted Wednesday 22 August 2012 03:10
    V. funny!! Is there any chance that he is pulling your leg?
  • TJ
    Posted Wednesday 05 September 2012 19:43
    The wine business in this country is indeed a sad comedy act. This blog is actually taking it seriously and presenting powerful information.
  • J. York
    Posted Wednesday 10 October 2012 06:41
    The wine business today is no joke. This is a fascinating blog and speaks the truth about what we have lost. The corporate-chemical wine manipulators will have the last laugh if we don’t wake up.

Comments are closed.