Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Six things that struck me at the Natural Wine Fair

I’ve spend a good part of the last two days at the Natural Wine Fair and frankly would have spent a third if I hadn’t got so much else on. It’s going to take a few days to pull together the highlights but here are a few immediate thoughts.

Natural wine is a broad church
The fair should have finally blown the myth that all natural wines are cloudy and cidery. There were wines of every description there from the utterly conventional to the wild and whacky. Something for everyone in other words. It was also fascinating to see how different the French and Italian approaches to winemaking were and how even a single winemaker could make wines in a number of different styles (the much derided Sébastien Riffault (above) comes to mind)

It arouses a lot of antipathy
Yes, still, judging by the talk by American wine writer Alice Feiring (below) and what I gather was an even edgier panel discussion on natural wine in restaurants. People get extraordinarily het up about natural wine for reasons I don’t fully understand. Does anyone get furious about the presence in shops of unpasteurised cheeses or castigate someone who likes a runny Brie or a stinky Epoisses?

Sceptics regard natural wine fans, I suspect, as bandwagon-jumpers, unable to identify a wine fault when it hits them in the face. Natural wine fans regard sceptics as blinkered and narrow-minded, expecting all wine to conform to an accepted paradigm. A gulf that shows no sign of being bridged at present.

Consumers seem to be ahead of the trade in this respect
Judging by the turnout of over 800 on the public day, the public have fewer issues with natural wine than the trade. Considering it was the first natural wine fair and not advertised in the national press I thought that was an impressive turnout. Maybe we all need to tiptoe less gingerly around natural wines and shouldn’t feel the need to ‘explain’ them.

Natural winemakers are not afraid of tannin . . .
Again, against conventional wisdom which says all reds must be rendered soft and fruity. The Italians in particular produce wines that are unabashedly tannic. Maybe because they wouldn’t dream of drinking them without food

. . . or colour
Ever seen a Pinot Grigio like this?

Or labels like these?

. . . or afraid of a little sly humour
I love the punning labels like this Boisson Rouge from Emile Heredia of Domaine de Montrieux (a pun on the French poisson rouge, the name for a goldfish). Delicious wine, actually

Natural wines are fun to drink
Maybe it was the outdoor - or partially outdoor - location and the fact that it didn’t rain but there was a really festive feel about the whole event. Just people enjoying wine and discovering new flavours. Isn’t that what wine is supposed to be about?

And just as a footnote and a sign of the times: I spotted one of Marks & Spencer's wine buyers at the fair on both days. Straw in the wind . . .


  1. While I tasted many styles yesterday, I tasted some awesome wines, some good and some which were pretty damn ugly. Either way, it was a great day(s) out and anyone who chose to ignore it are missing out on some class wines.

    All said... I am not about judge natural wines as being uniformly better than those outside the camp. That is just as stupid as labelling all natural wines rubbish. This approach would only exclude so many other good wines whose winemakers have adopted equally "ethical" and responsible practices with their wine production (but choose not to shout about it).

    What was clear is that the people at the fair are so passionate about their product, they cannot help but ooze confidence and charisma to everyone they speak to.

    The diversity of flavours and styles was brilliant and must agree that is "what wine is supposed to be about?"

  2. Spot on Gregory. I absolutely agree that natural winemakers don't have a monopoly of wisdom - or talent. There are good and bad, just as in conventional winemaking

  3. I think a lot of the antipathy that you mention is caused by the word 'natural' itself! By implication, it suggests that other wines are 'artificial' or 'un-natural'. I don't know if there's anything to be done about that - The phrase 'Natural Wine' seems to have caught on, so we're going to have to live with it!
    I think even more antipathy is caused by getting bogged down in the dictionary meaning of the word 'natural'. By this token, winemaking itself, and planting vines in rows, for example is not natural!
    If only everyone would just focus on the wines themselves and judge them in their own right - instead of talking about words, meanings and definitions!!!

  4. I agree Fabio - but what's the alternative? Have been thinking of blogging about this

  5. MI wines : Wines made with minimal intervention

  6. It's not emotionally loaded, I agree. But not exactly catchy either. And people might thing you were talking about 'meh' wines . . .

  7. Hi Fiona

    We don't know each other but finding this post was a breathe of fresh air after frankly a lot of hot air arguing about semantics and definition and branding.

    You hit it right when you say the people are ahead of the trade here. Social change happens from the ground up and while it has happened in many other industries it is just starting to happen in the wine biz.

    You might enjoy these two posts...opinion by an amateur wine lover (and blogger) but also a consultant focusing on the intersection of community and commerce.

    Thanks again. I trust these may prove interesting.

    Natural wines... a perfect storm of social change for the wine world http://t.co/4MSc4kP

    Natural winemaking…a taste revolution whose time has come http://t.co/FxN6O2A

  8. ----{I wish all pinot gris looked like that!}----