For the senses, it’s a wonder. That liveliness in the glass. The layered acidity carrying the flavor forward. Minerality as an homage to terroir. These are the taste memories that the best natural wines trigger on my palate.
As a personal connector, there’s that easy bond with others that this open-ended and honest approach to expressing a taste of place and culture through winemaking brings.
New York has embraced this natural approach to wine hand-in-hand with support of the artisanal and the local. In green markets, rooftop gardens, restaurants, wine bars and wine shops. But, with some exceptions, most of the treasures of natural winemaking come from Europe.
I expected the usual suspects of the natural wine world, like familiar labels of favorite wines at my local wine shops. What I found was something quite different and exhilarating.
I thank everyone involved in luring me across the pond, but especially Isabelle Legeron, Master of Wine, passionate enthusiast for natural wines and the gracious visionary of RAW.
Something special was going on at RAW. Beyond the usual rancor around the definition of what natural really means and the dissonance around the qualities of excellence in wine.
To me, the fair was all about quality and diversity as a theme; discovery and conviviality as the tone.
It was a coming out party for Georgian wine and the lure of the kvevri but not as an embrace of the obscure. Far from it.
More a coming out party for hundreds of winemakers, many quite amazing, from established European wine regions like Tuscany, the Loire, Champagne, Rioja…most everywhere on the well traveled wine trail.
A festival spotlighting winemakers that are making palate stunning, intellectually stimulating and just great drinking wine everywhere…all Organic or Biodynamic in the vineyard, low or no sulfur, and varying degrees of sculpting in the cave.
The diversity of the winemakers in age and creed was striking.
My friend Fabio, the talented and unknown winemaker from Vinos Ambiz in Spain doing eye-opening things with the plebeian Airen grape. First time winemaker Daniel Piccinin from Italy on a mission to give voice to the rare Durella grape with early but tasty results.
The Loire Valley, at the nudging of Tina Gellie from Decanter, was a personal epiphany. New-to-me greats like Philippe Tessier monopolized my time. And the newbie winemaking couple, Sophie and Jerome Saurigny who will have their first New York distribution this summer.
My biggest aha was meeting Michel Grisard of Domaine Prieure Saint Christophe, the Mondeuse maven from Savoie. I’m amazed that after years of sleuthing for natural artisans, I hadn’t stumbled upon Michel’s wines. This was a gift worth the trip alone.
Should we leave natural as a term in the vineyard?
Over two days, I tasted not only with enthusiasts, but wine journalists, natural wine deniers, and friends who smile at my ‘natural’ passion.
Many who would argue with me fervently over natural as a useful consumer umbrella. I learned that these are semantic disputes over terminology and marketing, not quality. At the fair, these same individuals were dragging me this way and that, introducing me to their favorite producers, who just happened to be natural winemakers exhibiting at RAW.
We had fun. I discovered new winemakers to follow. We tasted and shared and once inside the fair, never discussed what natural meant. We simply tasted it.
But the truth remains that as a consumer, even a wine blogger, I would simply not have found these wines, nor have come to London, had Isabelle not gathered this broad community together in one place under this idea encapsulated in a word. Words are icons of thoughts and they matter.
I believe in natural wine as a category for consumer discovery.
Many don’t. Including some winemakers who eschew this terminology as a trap, not as the doorway that it truly is when handled smartly.
The wine world is amazingly filter poor.
To me, natural as a filter is a superset for an approach to discovering interesting taste and the unique in the wine world. Also a connection to a healthier lifestyle. And as a guide for discovery in a connected world where it is surprisingly difficult to separate signals of value from all the noise.
To a global community of wine lovers, natural is a great ‘way in’ (thank you London Underground!) to discover a world of diversity and nonconformity, both the wacky and the wonderful in wine.
Natural doesn’t mean it’s great wine. Neither does ‘from the Jura’ or ‘from the Canary Islands’ but it does focus the mind and prep the senses for exploration.
It got me to RAW. It gets thousands to experience the diversity of an artisanal and natural approach to wine every day.
My belief is that natural as a category is coming into its own. It’s turning a corner along with society’s understanding that interesting, unique and healthy have always been a more real goal than perfection.
Three to thank!
To Wink Lorch for graciously hosting the Jura Winemakers Dinner while I was in London. My first opportunity to meet Evelyne Clairet from Domaine de la Tournelle, a long-time favorite Jura winemaker. And a chance to reconnect with friends from all over Europe. Great fun.
To the REAL fair. Time was short. I went there to hug my friend (and amazing winemaker) Fulvio Bressan and his beautiful wife Jelena from Bressan Vineyards in Friuli. To meet Arianna Occhipinti and her uncle Giusto Occhipinti from Cos Vineyards from Etna in Sicily. To see Philippe Bornard from the Jura again.
To Simon Woolf, friend and wine blogger, who shared his home and friends and yes, introduced me to a wondrous, no truly amazing bottle of 1991 Gaston Hochar Chateau Musar. My first taste of this winemaker through this rather remarkable bottle is still lingering on my palate some two weeks later.