“The primary nutrient in life is joy.”
This is Stefano Bellotti, winemaker at Cascina Delgi Ulivi in Chianti speaking directly from his heart—to my own.
From the moment Stefano comes on frame in Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary, Natural Resistance, I was smitten. Seriously.
It was like listening to the last six years of my own blogging on natural wines, the endless arguments with others about what it means, encapsulated into a lazy afternoon’s conversation of why he and many others do what they do.
Why I and thousands of wine lovers and bloggers are changing the world a little bit at a time by redefining what food and wine is to our lives.
I knew of Jonathon’s work slightly but didn’t know him personally nor much about the film prior.
I need to thank David Lillie and Arnaud Tronche, the co-owners of Racines and hosts for the event for the invite and encouragement to attend. This small gathering for movie and a dinner with people who not only love natural wine as writers and geeks, but are responsible as restaurant and wine shop owners, as importers and distributors, as somms, for getting the best and most interesting of these wines in front of the public.
I seriously loved this film.
With its hand-held shaky noirishness, with its quirky juxtapositions of obscure images, this movie is—yes, I need to say this—about a love of what nature has given us. About following your heart, not ideology. How the bravest amongst us invoke the very core of tradition to innovate, not to follow.
I understand Italian not at all, yet I forgot I was reading subtitles, forgot that my chair was bumping the portable projector repeatedly. I just felt like I was at home in this conversation.
I kept thinking about the folksiness’ and profundity of Whitman and Hart Crane. I kept nodding my head like a student listening to this farmer talking, creating concrete poetry out of his land and wine.
The movie, while a documentary, was so sun drenched, so lazily paced as the winemakers walked through their vineyards. So crisp when Stefano held up the lively soil of his vineyard in one hand and contrasted it to the calcified clay of his neighbors in the other. So personal as they drank wine with their friends, hugged their children, played with their pets, that you forget—these individuals are considered radicals, almost subversive, by the Italian wine industry.
Yes, revolutionaries created by the stupid rigidity of the DOC systems under which they worked.
The ‘resistance’ part of ‘natural resistance’ almost gets lost unless you know the language or the back-story. How these intelligent and exuberant people were being castigated by the Italian DOC system. Having their wines banned from supermarket shelves, and fined possibly to the point of bankruptcy because they eschew, just refuse to use, chemicals or supplements, and just make wine in their own raw, natural way.
You need to do a double take honestly that these winemaker are being made revolutionaries by the wine establishment itself. Rebels who believe that there is no social history without agriculture and that to change agriculture is to change culture and the world.
The rub is that these winemakers are not defining themselves by what they are not, not against, but for something.
They believe that the DOC should, by its definition, be helpful, but is a lie. A caretaker of something that is simply not representative of the land, the place, the taste—their lives there.
During the Q & A with Jonathon, I got the sense that he believes that the world is on the brink of ecological disaster if change doesn’t happen. Agriculture subsumed by industrialized techniques and taste that carries with it a variant of cultural suicide.
Maybe it was the inebriation of the words, the buzz of the wine I was drinking and the conversations with friends that make me take the opposite view.
Maybe this example in Italy is an extreme. Or maybe I am hopelessly naïve and optimistic.
To me, change is definitely happening.
More and more agricultural products are being made with astounding quality. More and more importers are finding them and bringing them to market. And with community and network connections, there is an economy being created that will be supportive, even if the national systems themselves are not.
And just as important, there is a rising market of people who simply do care.
I seriously recommend this film.
If you are thoughtful about the relationship of agriculture to culture. Of natural techniques in winemaking to taste. If you believe that individuals collectively impact global change.
It’s a little film with a subtle and, I think, well-placed kick. There is something special and true here.
Congrats to Jonathan Nossiter for creating such a great film and for giving us all such a fine and inspiring evening.
I felt compelled to pass it along.
Jonathan Nossiter, Eben Lillie, Chris Struck
Thanks to Chris Struck for the photos I appropriated from his Facebook page.
Today is my friend Sophie Barrett’s last day at Chambers Street Wines.
She heads off to work the harvest with Stephane Tissot in the Jura. Trades an apartment in Brooklyn for a flat in Arbois
On one hand, I’m amazingly jealous.
Tissot, Poulsard, Trousseau, Savignon, the Jura–are a larger than life tag cloud of good taste painted in delicious colors.
Super happy for her.
On another, a bit sad and thinking only of myself.
I’m one of those wine customers who stops in 4 or so times a week, spends half an hour, buys a bottle. Then does it again and again.
Add up probably a hundred of these with Sophie over the last years, and you plum the depths of where my love affair with the Jura began, the foundations of my obsession with Savoie and Bugey, with Altesse and Gringet, Mondeuse and Alpine Pinot.
Sophie is also the person who made me understand bubbly as a wine.
I nudged her to write and blog early on.
Her posts on Sophie’s Glass have become musings of a unique type, steeped in geekiness, lightened by her personality and rhymed to her counter intuitive and surprising turns. Read her piece on Pet Nat as a case in point. She obviously loves words and language as she does wine.
Sophie and I are friends.
We connect around wine. I love to buy it, she to sell it. We make a great team in this exchange.
During those fun encounters of banter and decisions, we’ve gotten to know each other. Talking about love of our cats. Our lives. Losses of parents and and cycles of work and life. She collaborates with my son and yearly participates in choosing my birthday presents. None predictable I might add.
And back in the theLocalSip day, she was a huge supporter of the project.
So Sophie—have a great trip!
I trust you’ll stay part of my wine world.
Maybe back at the shop. Maybe opening your own. Maybe a unique importer under your own name or lucky someone elses, who gets to hire you.
Who knows. As a wine friend certainly.
Safe travels and have a great harvest Sophie.
And PLEASE, make certain that before you leave, that someone who loves the Jura and Savoie as we both do, will grab me and say‘ You must try this’ when I wander in the shop.
I learned to love wine in the early 90s, tasting in the kitchen of Art and Bunny Finklestein in their then tiny, hand-built Judd’s Hill Winery in Napa.
We would hang out at the table in the morning, wine, bread and cheese spread about. I knew immediately that I had found a connector through wine to passionate people who loved the land, the process, the grape and the perpetual reflection that making and loving wine brings to a community of people.
I was smitten.
Roll the clock way way forward. We are in Racines in TribeCa pre-opening Stephane Tissot dinner on Chambers Street, not down some windy dirt road east of Napa.
Seven or so years after pursuing wine as a passion through my travels and blog, theLocalSip project and a dedication towards a natural approach to wine, and to the environment and food in general.
This post is a hug to David Lillie, a friend, the co-owner of Chambers Street Wines (with Jamie Woolf), and Racines NYC (with Arnaud Tronche) which will open in a week.
It’s a heartfelt thank you for arriving at the pre-opening dinner to find a menu with my name on it, a seat waiting, and a sense of belonging to the beginning of something new.
It’s a sharing of my long affair with the Jura, a deep respect for Stephane Tissot and a thrill at finally meeting him.
I’ve blogged on Stephane’s wines numerous times.
Every year I take a bottle of either a Poulsard or Trousseau to Tulum, Mexico on vacation, take a picture of me drinking it in a hammock and post it. We bonded over this at the first handshake of the evening.
It’s a sense of real pleasure to see my good friend Wink Lorch have her book on Jura Wine out, highlighted at the event, and her stature as an expert in this area truly appreciated. And some satisfaction of my own little role in helping to get her Kickstarter campaign going and introducing her to my NY wine community. You can buy the book here.
And it’s a celebration of New York, of natural wine, of a community of people—many that I know and respect like Pascaline Lepeltier, Camille Riviere, Sev Perru, Chris Struck who were at the event and to co-owner Arnaud Tronche, and Frederic Duca, the chef, whom I trust will become friends..
Tribeca needed a place like this. Not a wine bar, but a restaurant with a core sense of wine as prime. I’m betting that Racines will be it.
I haven’t tasted the menu yet—I know it will be as crisp and natural and delicious as the wines will be.
I haven’t seen the wine list, but that is a slam dunk with David as the curator and a promise on the best selection of wines without sulfur added.
I don’t have a sense of the place although the attention to detail in the design is perfect, down to acoustical absorbing ceiling tiles. But when people like Pascaline from Rouge Tomate are working for the joy of it at the party, the community is already there.
It just feels right.
And to gloat a bit about the wine at the dinner!
The 1990 Vin Jaune was just amazing—nuts, and ginger, and a balance between acidity and fruit that time really enabled. The Trousseau in Amphora—never been tasted before in the states—was an unstressed, as naturally flavorful, as easy on the palate and alert on the senses as any Trousseau I’ve drunk.
And—a nudge to David and Arnaud—that no matter how popular Racines becomes, I’m hopeful that there is always a bar stool open for me at the corner. I’ve already moved a handful of meetings in May there before I know the schedule.
See many of you there.
David Lillie, c0-0wner Racines
Sev Perru, Stephane Tissot, Camille Riviere
Arnaud Tronche, co-owner Racines
Camille, Stephane, Sev, ‘The Book!’
Pascaline Lepeltier from Rouge Tomate
Chris Struck & Arnaud Tronche
Frederic Duca, Chef at Racines
Camille Riviere, Riviere Wine Selections
Geekiness has become a mainstream meme.
Across connected cultures everywhere.
In general, people are more random in their interests, more richly versed in the details and backstories around what they believe in and consume.
This is true for life; true for work.
Truly front and center around what we eat and drink.
We live at a time where we are inspired by categories of affinity—be they local or organic, raw or gluten free, artisanal, natural, indigenous or simply obscure.
We live at an exceptional time where we don’t eat things because they are organic, but we often refuse to eat them if they aren’t.
Equally, we live in a world that is backlashing after two decades of pushing everything up on the web and away from human touch. We are harnessing the web today not as a place but as a connector to people on the streets.
This has transfixed the behaviors of the consumer and redefined how we look at context and communications. This is very much evident in the wine world.
I’m not thinking about the top of the wine market that buys on brand and scarcity or the very bottom that buys solely on price. Neither the very fat middle where everyone from down-brand big names, the Club Ws, the flash sale sites, and even the US version of Naked Wines battle it out.
I’m thinking about the artisanal enthusiast segment. Loosely the top ten percent and growing chunk of a $41B US wine market.
The dynamics of this segment are a bit crazy.
Hundreds, maybe a few thousand producers, delivering wine and spirits through mostly small boutique distributors to vast number of shops, restaurants and bars. Alongside a growing direct to consumer, club and winery channel.
How all of these small producers find a channel for their products is a puzzle. How shops aggregate these dispersed communities of consumers into coherent businesses belies standard logic.
It’s happening though in the most counterintuitive and interesting way.
Not online at scale for the most part. But in small, real-world events with extended communities online and a network of micro brands that bubble up considerably larger than the sum of the parts.
There are two pieces meeting at the market middle:
A common language as consumer currency
This is the unbundling of information access. Geekish curiosity gobbling up details and domain expertise, creating a common vernacular for communications.
Of the hundreds of wine posts in my Instagram community, there are damn few (thankfully) sharing tasting notes. But there’s an infinite number of descriptors, check marks on how the fruit is grown, talks about sulfur, rambles about indigenous yeasts, pictures of rocks and soils, maps, the names of the winds from the South that impact fermentation in Marsala.
A layering in of terms about how, where and why wines are being made as the texture behind the story of winemaker and the place. As the means to express something beyond that we like it or we don’t.
It is the normalization of the obscure as a common language.
This is the natural context for communications and fodder for storytelling. Forging a language that is smart and interesting, dynamic and shared. It’s entertainment that teaches and fun that informs.
A decentralized marketplace without a common platform
This is the community and market side of the equation. A decentralized world with no one place, community or really a dominant network.
A loose confederation of bloggers, winemakers, exceptional shops, boutique importers. With a growing number of influential somms and in-shop experts, teaching and pouring the previously obscure and wonderful to an insatiably thirsty public.
It’s happening from the ground up.
Where I live in NY, at the best wine shops with deep communities of customers and strong neighborhood roots.
With winemaker dinners every week, partnering the producer, importer, retailer, restaurant with influencers, and through them, the broader market. A dinner with Frank Cornelissen for 40 driving a community of thousands on just how good his current vintage is.
There are endless informal, often impromptu tastings driven by street side signs and tweets. And a redefinition of educational events from restaurant/bar/schools like CorkBuzz, consumer festivals like SherryFest and the Natural Wine Week.
In Europe as well, where people like my buddy Andre Ribeirinho has created a family of Adegga Wine Markets. Celebrations that blend the curious, the enthusiast and the expert, food and wine, face-to-face human touch with seamless digital followup. And the rambling and quite wonderful, #winelovers community, created by my friend Luiz Alberto that spiderwebs across every wine region with enormous good will.
This is the golden age of wine for both the small producer and the enthusiast consumer. A time when geekiness is not nerdiness but simply the new normal to the interested and inspired. A time when on the ground connections are the very best way to create extended and online communities.
This is also a marketers and brand builders dream. Be they organizations, the merchants or in many cases the producer themselves.
It is not about hype or social buzz. Not about manufactured context.
This world is community driven, connected, common grounded with enormous potential to bring value to every piece of the commercial chain. To inspire, share knowledge and drive business in really simple and effective ways.
Few markets come together as perfectly and as palatably as this.
Lucky for us, this one is about wine.
Most people head to Mexico and drink Mojitas.
We mixed up a few, but for our annual family Spring Break in Tulum, it’s about wine and the natural best at that.
Tulum is all about being in the zone. Wonderful, refreshing and not-your-standard fare is the rule.
Hot and humid to the max. Hammocks under the palms. Fish and more fish on the grill. Tacos of every sort. Cerviche and guacamole every day.
Basically anything you can wrap in a banana leave and put in grilled flatbread.
Interesting is the rule. Delicious is the grade.
This year we nailed it. The most diverse and varied, the most economical and the most natural.
Best twelve beach pack ever.
I’ll recap with an eye towards choices over time. They are all winners.
–>Three choices from the Jura
Evelyne and Pascal Clairet from Domaine de la Tournelle in Arbois stole the show with their 2010 Terre de Gryphées Chardonnay ($27). Those who say that the Jura is an acquired taste are just plain wrong.
This chard is as unique and terroir-expressive as it is delicious. Wine geek or no, this is a head nodder with undeniable satisfaction.
Second year running on the Poulsard side was Ludwig Bindernagel’s 2010 Les Chais du Vieux Bourg ($34). This German newcomer to the Jura just nails it. Light with a rich body, layered and lovely, a larger than life bouquet for such a delicate wine.
Puffeney made the cut this trip. His 2011 Les Berangeres Trousseau ($35) was the third Jura bottle. The family loved it. I found it a bit austere with a hard edge but quaffable nonetheless.
–>A touch of Sicily and anfora with Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Pithos
COS makes the trek yearly. The 2012 COS Pithos IGT ($31) Cerrasuolo Frappato/Nero D’Avola blend was as expected–delicious and unassuming.
Lightly chilled, delicate and satisfying are its hallmarks. Giusto is the first winemaker I ever tasted that fermented in Anfora and a personal hero and friend. This wine nails it in just about every category
–>Gruner from Nikolaihof is as good as it gets
I love this vineyard. Natural. Bio-D. Ancient. As crisp and unique a Gruner Veltliner as you can find. This year (the third appearance of Nikolaihof) we switched to the 2012 Hefeabzug Gruner Veltliner ($25). A winner.
–>More bubbles make the cut
Bubbles are an occasion in their own right. Two bottles made the trip with us.
The first Cava to cross the border was the 2011 Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rose Brut Conca Del Riu Anoia ($22). Elegant, smokey citrus from the Monastrell grape. We had it with a breakfast/brunch on the first morning. Yum!
The Filaine NV Brut ler Cru Damery Cuvee Speciale ($49) was the priciest of the bottles and a special treat. Creamy and classical. A Pinot Noir/ Chardonnay/ Pinot Meunier blend of 2009 and 2010 grapes was oh so ripe and finely moused and bubbly crisp. This was brought for a birthday and it crushed expectations.
–>A bit of Alpine Savoie at the Mexican seaside
I’ve fallen hard to this region, the producers and varietals. I could have brought a half case of just these whites.
I tasted with Gonon recently and his 2012 Vin de France Chasselas Vieilles Vignes ($25) is well—a dream. Subtle and herbal with smacks of fruit. I so love this bottle. So did everyone.
I’m a long-term Belluard fan. His 2012 Grandes Jorasses Altesse ($34) is fresh, mineral, crips, light and delicious. I had sent this bottle as presents earlier in the year. It’s a family tradition already.
Next to the Jura–in fact Savoie is Jura adjacent–this is fast becoming my favorite region.
–>New world naturalists make the trip
A first for this vacations–an Oregon Pinot Noir and a California Grenache/Mourvedre blend.
I tasted the 2009 Montebruno Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir ($25) with the winemaker Joe Pedicini earlier in the year. Bio-D, a light effervescence and deep flavor are its traits. Served lightly chilled in water glasses on the terrace overlooking the sea was a crowd pleaser.
Hank Beckmyer from La Clarine Farms is a favorite of mine for the brilliance and ease of his wines. A Grenache and Morvedre blend at km 9.2 in Tulum? I say, hell yes!
The 2012 Sierra Josephine & Mariposa ($25) is a beautifully balanced and structured, tannin-laden bottle. I did chill it slightly and with some home made Quesadillas and Cerviche, it was a killer.
Not a hint of sulfur added in these. Not a touch of funk. Freaking lovely natural wines!
–>Wrapping up with a Cotes de Provence Rose
From the selections of my friend David Lillie was a Les Fouques 2012 Aubigue Rose ($13!).
This blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, is almost pale white, shot with pepper, light on the palate, dreamy on the nose and perfect on the hammock.
Small producers all.
These wines are very small productions and go in and out of stock. Some are available at Chambers Street Wines and online through other small specialty shops. Shop the producer if not the vintage.
I will wager a free bottle on me for long-term readers that these will delight.
A thank you to my friends Sophie Barrett and Ariana Rolich of Chambers Street Wines for making the process of choosing almost equal to the drinking.
Some photos to capture the joy of this place along with the wine.
Playtime in between resting and sipping.
Hammock is up and to the right.