Les Caves de Pyrene is an importer, agent,, distributor and retailer of many wines around the world. We believe in 'real wines' that express their origin. We work with winemakers who show respect for nature.
I have written about every fair since The Natural Wine Fair in 2011. Sometimes, I am still alight with the afterglow that one gets when one tastes great wines, meets engaged drinkers, and communicates animatedly with dedicated craftsmen and women. Sometimes, I experience that sense of loss one feels when the adrenalin buzz has thoroughly dissipated, and energy has dispersed (with the growers) to all parts of the globe, leaving only the wisps of fond memories as nourishment. I’ll get over it!
Nothing is 100% perfect, but the 2019 Real Wine Fair was damn near as good as it gets. The natural weather wine gods were smiling on us, and then some. Sunny with bright blue skies on both days, high pressure and a touch of freshness to lift the wines and the drinkers. Leo rising, apparently, according to biodynamic guru, James Millton. We knew that! And the enthusiasm of visitors, both trade and public, never more apparent, nor the feedback more heart-warming. Smiling faces. As Honey Spencer said: What touched me the most is how everyone smiled at each other – even attendees in the toilet queue! Very un-London but very Real Wine!! What struck me particularly this year, was the sheer diversity of the tasting audience. Here were visitors from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Croatia, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France – and many other countries. An international event with a homely feel. Importers, sommeliers and bloggers were present and correct. Also, people who worked in supermarkets; those who worked for wine merchants (some that regularly derogate the idea of natural wine); people who have never been to an artisan fair before; and people who organise their own tasting events; chefs, waiters and bar managers; retailers and wholesalers; the curious and the committed. Everyone came to engage with the wines and the growers, rather than merely socialise. In this regard, the Real Wine Fair serves a useful function. Pleasure with a purpose.
Nothing is 100% perfect, but the 2019 Real Wine Fair was damn near as good as it gets.
And what were we tasting? Hundreds of wines from around 180 growers from twenty plus countries. Organic, biodynamic, permaculture, skin contact, no sulphur, some sulphur, wines from mountains and volcanoes, from sand dunes, bush vines, old vines, limestone, granite, schist and sand, qvevri wines, egg wines, foudre and barrique, oxidative and flor wines, glouglou wines, solera wines, age-me-forever wines, eminently sane wines, slightly cuckoo wines, familiar grapes, crazy field blends, obscure autochthonous varieties, pet nats, cider and cider nats, fruit wines, mind-blowing eaux-de-vies, wines of tradition, one-off experiments, triumphs and the odd failure, real interest, real wines…
The Real Wine Fair 2019
The fair did so much to engage the appetite. There was stuffed pasta, addictive deep-fried snacks, focaccia pockets oozing with earthy fillings, banging bangers on the grill, meaty sandwiches, pork pies and sinful Scotch eggs, wholesome veggie dishes, miles of charcuterie, pastries and bread. Mercifully, there was good coffee, and cold flowing beer to reanimate growers and fair-goers alike. The four seminars and masterclasses, hosted by trade experts and producers, provided ample food for thought (see what I did there?) as well as enlightenment, and the busy-buzzy shop, so ably run by the Les Caves de P elves, saw its shelves regularly raided for vinous mementoes of the event (not to mention Real Wine t-shirts, bags and posters). A Slovenian documentary crew prowled, hunting the true nature of the colour orange; whilst on Monday BYO Podcast filmed interviews with garrulous growers.
And after? Parties galore. Rooftop jamborees, winemaker takeovers and pop-ups-a-plenty. Wine dinners hither and yon. And the Real Wine Month rolled on in over 250 restaurants, wine bars and retailers throughout the land. And then came Real Wine, Ireland, a growers’ fair in Dublin. And bravo to the fellow wine merchants for their collaboration, bringing their producers and really getting stuck into the fair, and for the widespread promotion of artisan wines throughout the month of May.
A fair is always a celebration as well as a tasting, working on multiple levels and yielding a variety of experiences for those who visit. 2019 felt like the happiest and most joyful incarnation of the Real Wine Fair to date. Roll on 2020!
Found a wine you loved at the Real Wine Fair? Contact us directly to enquire about purchasing:
A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 – no electric shocks
The juice of the carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret – anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain’t spotty,
Sitting on the potty – curing smallpox
A bit of natural wine, from the organic vine
More than good, it’s fine – it’s out of the box
Drink till you’re dotty, till you’re knocked onto your botty
But not until you’re grotty – just rocked out of your socks
Reasons to be cheerful part 3 – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (adapted)
THE WINE FAIR AT A GLANCE
Cracking natural reasons to spend a day (or two) sipping and supping
180 Galloping great growers
Something for everyone: organic wines, biodynamic wines, natural wines – from over 180 artisan producers. A roll call of the best and brightest vignerons and vigneronnes, growers and producers from 22 countries, pouring over 800 wines. English qvevri wine? Oh yes. Vermont cider fermented on grape skins? You better believe it. Crazy-assed orange wine from Oz? Indubitably.
Check out the current list of exhibitors on The Real Wine Fair website.
Georgia on our mind – again
There will be a part of Wapping that is forever Georgia (well, for a couple of days at any rate). Four of that country’s finest growers will be present and correct to show wines from the cradle of (wine) civilisation. Everything you wanted to know about qvevri but were afraid to ask will be revealed. By the time you leave you will definitely be able to distinguish your Rkatsiteli from your Chinuri. These highly original wines are not like anything you have ever tasted – unless you’ve already been to Georgia and tasted them!
Food, glorious food
Like Damon Runyan’s Nicely Nicely I am known as a character far and wide “who likes to commit eating”. So where do I begin? With the various offerings from Duck Soup, Anchor & Hope and Flying Frenchman I can flit between and mix and match Spanish, Italian and banging bangers. The Ham & Cheese Company will deliver some moreish delicious street food snacks that I can devour on the hoof. For pasta-fiends Burro e Salvia will serving small plates of freshly made pasta and those who enjoy the finer side of French brasserie cooking will head to La Cour de Remi to assay some Normandy classics.
Plates of charcuterie and cheese will be supplied by Crown & Queue Meats. WOSA Biltong and the London Cheesemongers (and you can buy to take away).
The Fair runs on adrenalin and lots of coffee. Over and Under Coffee is your port of call for those in need of a caffeine fix.
One cannot live by bread alone. Olivier’s Bakery of Borough begs to differ – as well as everything from baguettes to sourdough, they will have an array of tempting savoury and sweet pastries.
La Cour de Remi
For further details on the foodies to be found here.
Liquid refreshment, please!
Even seasoned tasters suffer from acid attack and tannin on their tusks. If you wish to treat yourself to a beer or two, call in to The Three Legs Brewing Company, who will also have an array of unfiltered brews on tap.
No verbal punch-ups, but rather stimulating and edifying masterclasses from charismatic growers and articulate ambassadors for their craft. Heidi Nam Knudsen and Jon Passmore will be probing how to become a better informed drinker; Ines Salpico & Jamie Goode will be looking at Portugal’s wine revolution with some growers; Simon Woolf will be looking at some fascinating examples of amber wines from the New World and Alex Thorp from Under The Bonnet will be leading a discussion on the natural wine scene in Germany, supported by three leading growers.
On Monday, BYO Podcast takes over the seminar room, conducting around a dozen interviews with various growers at the fair. This is open to trade visitors.
The Real Wine Shop
You’ve tried and now you want to buy? Then delve into a broad selection of organic, biodynamic and natural wines from the fair at the pop-up Real Wine Shop. Nini and Danny and their shiny-faced helpers will be delighted to assist you. There will be books, the legendary tote bags, and maybe a poster or two.
After The Fair
There will be various after-fair parties, and various restaurants will be open for dinner on Sunday 12th May. Terroirs, Charing Cross (with Norwegian natural wine bar, SÖL); Brawn; Soif in Battersea and Terroirs, East Dulwich will all be serving food (there will be growers in each venue); Leroy in Shoreditch will be hosting Bastarda and Ben Walgate of Tillingham; Vinalupa will do holding their “Unfiltered Real Wine Fair After Party”; Carousel + Kol will be serving tacos and orange wine, whilst Ottolenghi, Spitalfields will have a wine dinner with Rennersistas and The Buxton will be entertaining growers in their newly-opened restaurant.
The Real Wine Month
If you like these wines, you can seek them out in restaurants, pubs, bistros, wine merchants, online retailers and wholesalers the length and breadth of the land. The Real Wine promotion will last until the end of May; restaurants will feature wines by the glass and retailers will be showcasing artisan organic and natural wines in their shops (look for the Drink Real Wine poster). There are loads of tastings, growers’ dinners and associated events. Please check the Real Wine website for further details.
Have a distinctive theme. Many wine tastings are generic and feel like tasting by numbers, others have too narrow a focus. It is clear that this is an artisan fair, where you will meet farmers, growers and wine producers and taste authentic, low-intervention wine. The important thing is that this tasting is mainly about the farmer and the wine producer, not the export manager or the brand ambassador. You know that you have established the fair in the general consciousness if you can say: “See you at Real” and people actually know what you mean. Real Wine connects people from all over the globe and we attract visitors from many countries, who value the opportunity to meet the growers in person and taste such an incredible range of wines.
Decide on the size of the event. Quality always precedes quantity, but the Real Wine Fair is also a powerful statement about the global diversity of natural winemaking. Having around 170 growers present allows us to have a decent representation from most wine-producing countries (22 in the 2019 event) and regions in the world. We are not trying to cram them into a small space. There is plenty of room and the scale of the fair is not intimidating at all. Ideally, one would like the average visitor to spend a minimum of four hours at the fair, and to be able to taste twenty or thirty growers’ wines at their leisure and also have time to attend a seminar, buy a bottle or two of wine as a memento and generally soak up the atmosphere.
Tobacco Dock, the Real Wine Fair’s “home” for two days in May (photo credit: Tobacco Dock)
Choose the best venue. This is more difficult than that glib piece makes it sound. You can hold tastings anywhere from a blimp to a crypt, or in a swanky art gallery. The peculiarity of the venue is less important than the space; it should flow (i.e. there should be no logjams), have plenty of room between the aisles, have access to natural light the better to show off the wines and also for the sanity of the growers and also have quiet spaces where you can relax. There should be room for food stalls and it should be easy to get people in and out swiftly.
If you have worked with the venue before, you can sort out the logistics well in advance, but there always need to be site meetings to sort out potential problems.
Publicise the date of the event as early as possible and get it into the trade diaries. And give the growers even longer notice as they tend plan their (limited) budget for travel abroad and events a year in advance.
There is no ideal date for a wine fair. If too early, you will find yourself in conflict with the big natural wine fairs in the Loire and South of France. In April, Vinitaly and its associated salons, occupies many dozens of the growers. Then one has to consider Easter and the various bank holidays. Tobacco Dock, meanwhile, is also on the London Marathon route. If you decide to have the fair in March or early-April, you will probably only be showing old vintages of wines, and the odd very-unready tank sample. During mid-late April, there is the potential for the last frost of the year; certain growers get very twitchy being away from the vineyard at this sensitive time. Come May, and the new season’s wines are just being bottled. Many of the growers, however, would prefer to be in their vineyards, pruning, shoot-thinning, and generally setting up the vines for the summer ahead. You also have to contend with different cycles in the southern hemisphere. Again, timing is critical, but, because there are so many unknowable factors, there is no way to ensure that everyone will be available to attend your event.
Hence, we make a very long list of invitees. The criteria for inclusion is that vignerons farm organically or biodynamically, ferment with native yeasts and make the wines without chemical additions other than a little sulphur. We contact wine importers who have been previously involved in the fair to alert them to the date, and to allocate them a provisional number of slots for their respective growers. We are contacted by individual growers throughout the year, requesting a table to show their wines at Real Wine. If we have space, we get in touch with them. In 2019, we had a waiting list of around thirty growers, which demonstrates the reputation of the event.
The Real Wine Fair 2019 poster/logo
Devise the logo for the fair with a save the date invite. There is plenty of artwork – from the logo with a range of designs for the catalogue cover, Real Wine Fair event posters, flyers, footers for e-mails, save the date invites and Drink Real Wine posters.
Over the years, we have created template forms and spreadsheets which we send to growers and suppliers with a summary of the fair’s ideals and practicalities.
The Real Wine Fair web site is “dusted off” and tidied up. The ticket goes live and we direct people to it on links in our e-mail footers and encourage people to buy in advance or to register in order to save time. A visitor who has to wait a lengthy time in a queue, invariably starts his/her experience of the tasting on the wrong foot.
As soon as we have enough confirmations, we populate the growers’ page, and, in time, all the other pages on the web site become live, when we have sufficient information to make it worthwhile to direct people to them.
Dial up the PR slowly. The PR starts in earnest with announcements on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Personalised mails are sent out to our customers, friends, asking them to spread the word. We announce the dates of the fair in mid-December, and, from early January, send out weekly press releases, mixing overviews with items of special interest. People in the trade are constantly being bombarded with information about events and promotions; there is really no substitute for talking to people directly, or inviting them to be involved in the fair in some form.
Communication, communication, communication (with the growers). The most time-consuming task for the next three months is contacting the growers and acquiring from them a definitive list of wines that they would like to show at the fair. With tank samples or new vintages being bottled, all at different times, how we get the growers to send us the wine is a complex procedure with infinite variables! Co-ordinating the efforts of, and communication with 170 growers, is a heroic undertaking. Every case is different!
Make the event truly enjoyable at every level. Meanwhile, the other fair-related activities and subsidiary events are being organised. The Real Wine Fair always has a mixture of hot and cold food stalls, catering for all tastes. We have a few regulars, but also like to involve different suppliers. Coffee fuels growers, organisers and fair-goers alike, and good beer is another prerequisite of a successful event. We always set aside a few tables at the fair, so that visitors can make a little picnic with a glass of wine and some delicious street food.
John Wurdeman and Carla Capalbo speaking at a masterclass at the Real Wine Fair 2017
Seminars and masterclass tastings are a significant feature of Real Wine Fair. It takes about a couple of months to pin down speakers, agree a theme, format and time, and a selection of wines to taste. We have no budget for this, so it is very much down to the goodwill and enthusiasm of the speaker in question. We then put a link on the web site, so that people can reserve spots. We also organise a fair photographer, and someone to do filmed interviews or video blogs, which we can then post on YouTube.
Maximise the impact of the event with a nationwide promotion. Another huge challenge is to bring as many restaurants, retailers and wholesalers on board for Real Wine Month. For us, the Real Wine Month is much more than a two-day tasting. Real Wine is everything to do with the culture of drinking and enjoying wine. We try to make the promotion as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible, in order to instil a culture of opening and pouring exciting naturally-made wines by the glass. On top of this, we liaise with various accounts, and Real Wine partners to organise pop-up events, takeovers, growers’ masterclasses, which in turn helps to increase its presence on social media. Around 250 establishments take part in Real Wine Month (300 in a good year) and we support them with preferential pricing, listing them in press releases, on the web site, in the catalogue and advertise their events on social media. A virtuous circle!
In the last six weeks, we complete the catalogue and post a pdf on the web site, so that potential visitors can plan their day (or days). We send out weekly reminders to our customers and ask the attending growers to send out invites to their agents and importers throughout Europe to come and visit them. Publicity for the Real Wine Month and its associated events is updated daily. The massive process of collating all the wine in London City Bond commences. A team from the office will go and start to label the boxes.
The Real Wine Fair 2017 pre-set
At The Fair:
A team of people from Les Caves de Pyrene arrives at Tobacco Dock, to help unload the many deliveries and start to set up the venue. This involves positioning the tables and putting cloths on them and protecting spill-proof covering paper, assembling the spittoons (oh joy), creating the pop-up shop, organising the seminar room, the front desk and cloakroom, and then receiving and distributing several pallets of wine. A well-trained crew—and Amy and Vanessa—are brilliant in co-ordinating the manifold activities and can break the back of the work in around five hours.
Many of the growers fly in on Saturday and go to Terroirs for an eve-of-fair party. Whilst, it is wonderful to see them all in one venue, relaxed and enjoying themselves, the Cavistes know that they need to be at Tobacco Dock for the final tweaks. They also know that the growers will not be arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!
Sunday is where the trade and public mingle. The front desk has a minimum of three people to ensure the swift processing of visitors. They have become expert in this, and are unfailingly polite and efficient at the same time. The catalogue is a model of clarity with a short blurb about the artisan credentials of each of the growers, pricing where applicable and a helpful map to allow visitors to plot their tasting routes/orient themselves. A few hours into the fai and, the shop becomes incredibly busy and, as well as Nini, Danny, and Peter various reps may be drafted in to help.
One for all and all for one. For the rest of the Cavistes it is all about being aware of the needs and the enjoyment of others. Helping to pour on tables when growers go walkabout, clearing up broken glass, or seeing that dirty glasses go to the glasswasher, directing customers to tables, doing the odd stint on the front desk, ferrying coffee and food to the producers. Answering any question that any visitor may have. And so on! The secret of a successful wine tasting event is that you don’t see how much work people do to make it run smoothly.
That’s not the end of it. On Monday evening, the venue has to be broken down and everything needs to be collected. The left-over stock has to be counted and entered onto the system. Real Wine Month events continue apace. Over in Ireland their Real Wine Fair is about to begin.
Remember what it’s all about. So many people make the Real Wine Fair happen, and make it a happy and memorable event. We are always delighted with the positive feedback from goers and growers alike. The other wine importers recognise that we are in this together and, in a sense, the best wine fairs are about taking care in ensuring that people fall in love with wine all over again. The Real Wine is an unrivalled chance to get up-close-and-personal with many of the heroes of the artisan wine world and it is our privilege to host them in London, to bring them to the trade and the public (and the other way around!). And it should be fun, not pompous, or overly serious. Wine is what brings us together.
Those who make it happen: Amy Morgan (organiser-extraordinary); Vanessa Woodfine, who does the monstrous job of co-ordinating to get the wines from all the growers; Vicky Riddell, who brings the Real Wine Month together; Elliott Gemmell, who works on the web site and the press releases and Christina Pickard, who juggles the various social media so expertly. The PR team also cover each other and are the smiling faces on the front desk.
Nini, Danny, Peter and Anthony and the shop elves perform a storming service at the fair.
I sometimes seek a quality in wine that can only be described as tactility. It is that quality wherein the liquid touches taste-buds in such a way both physically and aromatically that it engenders a sense of total phenolic engagement. Which is why I love to drink skin contact/amber wines. They encourage you to roll them around the entirety of your mouth, to explore them as textural things, and to find a three-dimensional language to describe the sensations.
Tasting notes are normally a succession of adjectives piled up. As original as some word-juxtapositions may be, the resultant tasting notes are stylised, pretty-sounding sequences to fill a vacuum. A textural wine resists a glib description, it does not normally surrender its all at first sniff or gulp, and so requires patience and understanding.
They encourage you to roll them around the entirety of your mouth, to explore them as textural things, and to find a three-dimensional language to describe the sensations.
Certain visceral wine experiences result in a form of ASMR, that term coined by Jennifer Allen and standing for
Autonomous – spontaneous, self-governing, with or without control
Sensory – pertaining to the senses or sensation
Meridian – signifying a peak, climax, or point of highest development
Response – referring to an experience triggered by something external or internal
The catalysts for ASMR tend to be auditory or tactile and are often repetitive or ambient.
Much as there is pleasure in listening to the sound of the wine glug-glugging from a bottle or the susurrus of champagne hissing and fizzing in a flute, the wines that appear to possess the greatest capacity to tap into our memories via retro-nasal absorption and trigger a kind of synaesthesia, that sublime visualisation of colours or sounds or music or the simpler experience that morphs into either the visual-tactile or an auditory-tactile, have a rich textural base.
As if using all their senses to taste, rather than just their tongues, certain individuals seem to be more physiologically tuned into the tactile bandwidth of the wines. Those people may even experience a frisson, that overwhelming emotional response to stimuli, expressed in a tingling sensation.
Although, I suppose, any smell or taste sensations may take you on a synaesthetic journey or evoke a frisson, there are wines that, by virtue of their very colour or textural weave, are more likely to evoke ASMR. The wines themselves may be complex and complete, but to appreciate them you must be receptive. In ASMR, sensations tend to be triggered by sounds; with wine appreciation, if we are in the mood, we can allow all our senses to play off each other simultaneously to bring us to the peak of pleasurable satisfaction.
Orange, for example, combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow.
Amber/orange wines have textural subtlety and complexity. The best of these wines, when we feel them in our mouth, give us the impression that we are touching them with many other parts of our body at the same time. With these wines, however, you must start with their evocative colour, which resonates on so many levels. Orange, for example, combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine and heat. It also represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.
Wine-tasting notes are based on clear distinctions and precise evaluative terminology – of oppositions between white versus red, the clean skin versus maceration, and the relative body of the wine in question. You can call a wine unfiltered or cloudy, but that doesn’t come close to describing the quality of its colour. When we have a wine which has a colour that seems to shift according to the light, that possesses a special energy of its own, aromatics that are more than primary, and a texture that is multi-layered, then this is a wine that by its very nature, has the wherewithal to bathe our senses in ambient pleasure and evoke ASMR.
If amber wines were music, they would be as live performances, fuzzy, rough-edged and unpredictable.
If amber wines were music, they would be as live performances, fuzzy, rough-edged and unpredictable. Their tactility means that you can touch them at the same time as they touch you. And like the best live music, they may give one a peculiar frisson.
A wine may be rare because it is made in tiny quantities. Or because it is a one-off cuvee, perhaps one necessitated by the nature of a vintage. Or an experiment that succeeded. Or, an experiment that went wrong, and yet perversely succeeded because its oddness became noteworthy.
Then there are wines that are rare by virtue of their locality. Grape varieties found only in one particular region, such as Zelen in the Vipava Valley or Gringet in the Haute-Savoie.
Dominique Belluard’s wines have become familiar in that you will find them in the best restaurants in France, Japan, New York, London. Gringet, Gringet everywhere. Yet, the variety, in its non-sparkling incarnation, is practically a monopoly of this single domaine.
The village of Ayze is a little commune in the Haute–Savoie, situated in the heart of the valley of the Arve, between Geneva and Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Vineyards have been established here since the 13th century. The vines are at 450m on exposed south-facing slopes where the soil is composed of glacial sediments, moraines (continuous linear deposits of rock and gravel). The Alpine climate ensures a big temperature difference between day and night, ensuring both physiological maturity in the grapes as well as good acidity. Dominique Belluard makes use of the virtually unique ancient grape Gringet (he also has a little Roussette de Savoie and a tiny amount of Mondeuse). One theory was that it was related to the Savagnin grape of Jura (this turned out to be incorrect), other research suggests that it was brought back by monks, returning from Cyprus in the 13th century. Gringet appears to be unique to this part of Savoie.
Wilful obscurantism apart this is a wine that expresses a lungful of mountain air, heck, it’s as glacial as a Hitchcock heroine, with exuberant acidity that skates across the tongue and performs a triple salchow on your gums. Despite malolactic fermentation the fruit is beacon-bright, crystalline and the acidity sings as the flavour builds and builds. Aromas of white flowers and jasmine, citrus-edged with a hint of white peach, violet and a twist of aniseed to finish. The brilliance of the acidity provides a profound palatal expergefaction (you heard it here first).
These are wines sans maquillage. In 2001 the vineyards started undergoing a total conversion to biodynamic viticulture. Now the wines are natural. Belluard have run through the gamut of fermentation vessels. Now all wines are fermented and aged in cement ovoid betons, the liquid inside in biodynamic suspension. Le Feu is from late maturing old vine Gringet grapes on steep (40%) slopes – the “hot spot” of the vineyard with roots plunged into red clay rich in iron oxide. White peaches, wild mint, minerals… The wine’s opulence is balanced by lightness of alcohol and incredibly relaxed leesy spiciness.
At Les Caves we believe in Unicorns! Other Unicorns include:
There are always amazing discoveries to be made at the Real Wine Fair. The 2019 Fair features some wines from Portugal that are definitely worth the detour.
Herdade do Cebolal is nestled on Alentejo coast at the south edge of Setubal wine region, although it can hardly be defined by broad geographical references. It’s all about micro-context: a unique position close to the ocean, Atlantic wines enhanced by experimentation with seaweed fertilisers, while the IMERSO bottles are matured submerged in the sea. The exact nature of the soils- clays with strong schist and lime stone components are demonstrated with the Parcelas wine. Tradition meets experimentation, elegance and subtlety.
Herdade produce a sea wine called IMERSO (see above photo). This has been an experiment that has been ongoing for a few years in collaboration with a professional diver, who knows the Alentejo coast intimately and is responsible for finding the spots on the ocean floor and then placing – and monitoring – the wines there. The wines are then matured in bottles that are placed into cages. The bottles and corks have been chosen for their ability to withstand the pressure and sheer forces in the ocean. Currently, bottles and corks are fully exposed to the elements in the sea. Previously they tried up to 10m in depth, and the most recent batch went down to 18m. The overall impact on wine is faster maturation. At greater depths, there seems to be some salt content variation, presumably via osmosis through cork. Each time, the twin of the submerged wine is kept on land in the cellar for normal maturation in the bottle, so a direct comparison is possible.
Quinta do Montalto is an organic farm in the principality of Ourém. Tended by the Gomes Pereira family for 5 generations it includes vineyards, orchards and forests. Certified organic for over 20 years, no synthetic chemicals have touched the land since the last century. The soils are chalk and clay with excellent solar exposure.
UNCONDEMNED is a project between Montalto and their import company, Portuguese Story. This involves looking for very old vineyards in the area that typically have tiny production, are not commercialised or have been forgotten about. Andre, owner of Quinta do Montalto, approaches the landowners offering to work with them. The resultant wines are either vinified on their own or blended into Montalto estate wines – all with minimal intervention. Portuguese Story then find a home for the wines in the UK and in other countries with their importer partners.
A few of the wines are from truly venerable vineyards – one around 100 years old (the 83-year-old woman has looked after it as long as she can remember), whilst another is believed to be 120-140 years old, again farmed by a woman in her eighties. Beautiful wines with amazing concentration, unfiltered and rustic, full of natural flavour and vibrancy. This is a unique opportunity to taste wines from such places, as in all likelihood these vineyards would disappear as soon as their owners passed away.
And if you would like to know even more about the burgeoning Portuguese wine scene then sign up for the seminar on Sunday 12th May, hosted by Ines Salpico and Dr Jamie Goode: “An Exploration of Portugal’s Wine Revolution.”
Every year, I am kindly invited by Heather and Simon of Solent Cellarto do a tasting masterclass at their cosy wine shop in Lymington in conjunction with Real Wine Month. This year I wanted to nail a particular theme and the idea of demonstrating the potential of so-called unloved varieties sprang to mind, the varieties that most effectively release their potential through hands-on farming and natural winemaking.
I was thumbing through an old battered copy of Jancis Robinson’s Vines, Grapes and Wines the other day. It was my earliest reference book, and I used to riffle through its learned pages to learn about the characteristics and qualities of the major (and minor) varieties. An aristocratic piece of work where certain grape varieties appeared to be entitled to noble status: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Nebbiolo… at the back of the book, a lengthy list of minor grapes was featured, with the occasional dismissive barb concerning their potential quality. As a lover of recondite things, and an invariable supporter of underdogs, I was intrigued by the shrugging off of the lesser known. At the time, I accepted such grape hierarchies, now I love that humble varieties can be nurtured to beautiful outcomes.
Over the years, Les Caves has championed the autochthone, the indigenous and often unfashionable varieties, that have all but disappeared as more fashionable international grapes have been installed in their place. More recently, historical/traditional varieties have come back into vogue; they are, after all, a convincing assertion of regional identity. Our list features no fewer than 280 grapes, either singly or in blends, which sounds quite a lot, but is barely 3% of the extant varieties.
Over the years, Les Caves has championed the autochthone, the indigenous and often unfashionable varieties, that have all but disappeared as more fashionable international grapes have been installed in their place.
My contention, however, has always been that it is not the grape variety per se that is the main determinant of quality, but the unique combination of terroir, farming and attention to detail in winemaking that elevates any grape variety – or blend – into a wine worthy of being called noble.
So, what’s in an unfashionable grape? Deirdre and Caleb (La Garagista Farm and Winery in Vermont) work with hybrids developed by the University of Minnesota to resist the extreme alpine conditions in the north east region of the US. Lineage may not be noble, but Deirdre and Caleb’s approach shows the value of biodynamics when it is practised with intuitive understanding. They have a sense of the vineyard as a whole, and a sense of the vines in particular. With their busy schedules and given the distances they need to travel the vineyards need to have healthy eco-systems and build up resistance to disease and their canny adaptation of the biodynamic remedies helps them to achieve this objective. At present, the vines produce give pitifully small yields, but the quality is sublime, and when you taste the wines from say, La Crescent and Frontenac Gris, you may start to question the traditional hierarchy of noble grapes. The parents of these varieties are Muscat d’Ambourg and Aramon, amongst others. So what? Isn’t quality really the result of responsive farming and interesting terroir? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.
It is not the grape variety per se that is the main determinant of quality, but the unique combination of terroir, farming and attention to detail in winemaking that elevates any grape variety – or blend – into a wine worthy of being called noble.
Several regions throughout the world have spawned their own local grape archivists. In Gaillac, for example, celebrated vigneron Robert Plageoles notably grubbed up his Sauvignon Blanc vines a few years ago, replanting with various types of Mauzac (vert, rose & noir) as well as the indigenous Prunelart, Ondenc, Muscadelle, Duras and Braucol. The wines made from these varieties were (and are) not necessarily commercial, but then that was hardly his overriding concern. Plageoles was reacting to the fact that a region, rich in vinicultural heritage, that has been growing grapes since Roman times, had been virtually colonised by a single variety. Each grape variety that puts down roots restores the natural diversity.
Thierry Navarre, meanwhile, has resurrected the forgotten Oeillades and the equally henstoothsome Ribeyrenc (also known as Aspiran) in his beautiful, organically-farmed vineyards in Roquebrun in southern France. He describes these as les cepages oublies. Over in the forests of the Sologne, arch-terroirist and rule-flouter extraordinaire Claude Courtois works with historic Gascon, Romorantin and Menu Pineau, but also composes secret field blends in his cuvées called Racines and Nacarat. If you ask which outlawed varieties might feature in these particular wines you will be met with the deadest of dead bats, for grape patrimony is not always about teasing out and isolating the individual varieties but using them in conjunction with others to express a certain inalienable truth about the terroir.
Melon de Bourgogne is better known as Muscadet and is the dominant grape of the area around Nantes on the coast of Brittany, where the Loire meets the Atlantic Ocean. Muscadet has such a bracing sea tang, and such an affinity for the shellfish of the Breton coast – especially the superlative Belon oysters of the region – that it may come as a surprise that the Melon de Bourgogne is a relatively recent arrival, and its dominance in the region was the result of one terrible winter.
The Melon has a long history but not all in one place. As the name would imply, the variety originated in Burgundy but was removed from the vineyards there in the 16th century, as other varieties proved more successful in that climate. However, the ability of the vines to withstand frost made it attractive to winemakers in Anjou, where it was also eventually edged out by other varieties.
At the same time, it caught the attention of Dutch distillers further downstream, who needed large quantities of wine with which to make brandy. The Dutch started planting Melon in vineyards near Nantes, the most convenient port from which to ship the wine to Holland, in the 17th century. At the time the area was planted primarily with red grapes but when the worst winter in recorded history devastated the vineyards in 1709, causing barrels to burst in the cellars and even freezing the coastal waters, the Melon was one of two varieties to survive and it has dominated the region ever since.
Although it was originally a rather neutral wine, Muscadet producers have refined their techniques in order to make wines with their own distinctive attributes. In particular, the wine can be designated as Muscadet Sur Lie, indicating that it has been left on the lees for the winter between fermentation in autumn and bottling in spring. This allows the wine to develop a fuller flavour and a slight prickliness that gives the wine additional freshness.
We have a melange of Melons. Pierre Luneau specialises in quality Melon that is a far cry from la lavasse served up in many bars. The domaine ages some of its cuvees like reservas to show the potential of the variety.
Today, we were tasting a wine from Marc Pesnot called Domaine de la Senechalière Miss Terre.
Marc’s domaine comprises approximately 13 hectares of vines, mostly Melon de Bourgogne in Saint-Julien-de-Concelles (where beurre blanc was supposedly invented). Soils are schistous, and many of the vines well over 50 years of age; for Miss Terre the vines are up to 80 years old.
Marc works organically, labouring the soil and opting for natural solutions, essential oils, herbal teas and copper treatments over synthetic products. Manual harvest with very low yields to ensure best quality grapes. These methods are already unusual for the region where conventional farming and mechanical harvesting (with high yields) are the norm.
Our list features no fewer than 280 grapes, either singly or in blends, which sounds quite a lot, but is barely 3% of the extant varieties.
Such hands-on organic farming is the precursor for natural work in the winery. The ferment is with indigenous yeasts (again very unusual for Muscadet) in fibreglass lined tanks and takes a very long time. The wine is left in contact with its lees until the spring. Almost uniquely the malolactic is not blocked by sulphur addition and completes (this is not allowed in appellation so the wine must be vin de France). No finings, no chaptalisation, no acidification and only a very small amount sulphur added before bottling. As a consequenc,e the has lower acidity than one might expect from Melon, as indicated on the label where Marc has written “Ce vin est sec, mais pas acide”.
Scents of pear and citrus pith, alongside elements of white pepper and also a very faint seam of bright, perfumed almond. The palate is quite exhilarating, with a deep texture, sherbetty minerality and a rich, flavoursome substance. If you are looking for aromatic and cold ferment ripe citrus, you came to the wrong Melon.
Marc sells the large majority of his production to Japan, where they know a thing or two about natural wine.
A stirring tale of the lees. And Muscadet (not Muscadet) meets Saint Malo(lactic).
Another Burgundian mal-aimé is the ever-so-‘umble Aligoté.
I am greatly obliged, and I should like it of all things, I assure you; but I am far too umble. There are people enough to tread upon me in my lowly state, without my doing outrage to their feelings by possessing learning. Learning ain’t for me. A person like myself had better not aspire. If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly.
I don’t see Aligoté as a passive aggressive grape variety demanding of our attention or approval, but rather as yet another example of how any variety that is carefully farmed and planted on interesting terroir has the capacity to produce very good and occasionally sublime wines. Of course, to begin, one has to unpick a few preconceptions and throw a bucket of cold Chardonnay over the patrician critical judgement that asseverates that Aligoté is a lowly grape, born on the wrong side of the tracks.
Here is how Wiki damns the variety with a variety of the faintest of…damns:
Aligoté (which according to DNA fingerprinting is a crossing of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc) is used to produce a varietal white wine, and is sometimes included in the blend of Burgundian sparkling wine known as Cremant de Bourgogne. Traditionally, the cocktail kir (also known as vin blanc cassis in French) is made by adding cassis to an Aligoté wine. Aligoté adds acidity and structure to other varieties when blended. The grape is often blended with Sacy to complement its acidity.
Oh yes, we’re only here for the kir – sub royale.
This caricature of an acidic grape is more to do the propensity of a majority of wine growers to farm chemically, pick too early and harvest mechanically with resulting high yields (and diluted flavours). The same criticism might be levied at any other grape from a vineyard that has been maltreated (one thinks of lean, green and mean Sauvignon and under-ripe Chardonnay).
Take the Goisots. They are perfectionists and this shows in their wine-making. They believe in the primacy of terroir and harvest as late as possible to maximise the potential of the grapes. The domaine has existed since the 15th century and Jean-Hugues started working on the wines at the age of sixteen. The Goisots firmly believe that great wine begins in the vineyard and have worked in organic viticulture since 1993 to protect the soil and nourish the vines. No fertilisers, insecticides or weed-killers are used; wild or natural yeasts are encouraged. The Goisot estate is now worked biodynamically and is certified by Demeter. For the last few years they have decided to increase their plantation density in order to decrease the vigour of the vines and to promote competition between the plants.
Akin to Chablis, the vineyards of this part of Auxerre possess many types of calcareous clay soils including Jurassic, Portlandian and Cretaceous.
The Goisots harvest their Bourgogne-Aligoté at the end of September into early October and fully destem the grapes before a slow pneumatic pressing. The fermentation is long with a temperature of 25° for the first part to preserve the expression of the terroir. There is a full malolactic conversion and the wine is matured in tank on its fine lees. The Aligoté has a fresh, candied bouquet with freshly sliced pear and mint aromas that are well defined. The palate is fresh and crisp with a slightly waxy texture on the finish and a dab of shaved ginger.
Sylvaner is an ancient variety that has long been grown in Central Europe and originated probably in Transylvania. Sylvaner – Transylvania – surely not? In Germany, it is best known as a component of Liebfraumilch and production boomed in the 1970s to the detriment of quality, but it has long enjoyed a better reputation in Franconia than in other German wine regions. DNA fingerprinting has revealed it to be a cross between Traminer and the variety Österreichisch-Weiß (meaning “Austrian White”).
A lot of Sylvaner was planted in Germany and Alsace after the Second World War, reaching 30% and 25% respectively of total vineyard area in the 1960s – 1970s. It was Germany’s most grown variety until it was overtaken by Muller-Thurgau around 1970. Much of the German crop was blended into Liebfraumilch but overproduction ruined its reputation, and changing tastes led to many vines being grubbed up. However, in Franconia, where Liebfraumilch may not be produced and which primarily stuck to dry white wines in the decades when most other German regions produced semi-sweet wines, Silvaner has kept its popularity.
More recently there has been a revival in Alsace based on low yields from good vineyard sites, with formal recognition in 2006 as Zotzenburg Sylvaner became the first to be designated an Alsace Grand Cru. There was a time that André Ostertag’s Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes was on virtually every significant wine list in London. In fact, it was to wine lists what Frampton Comes Alive was to record collections in the late 70s.
Domaine Pierre Frick has been handed down throughout the family for twelve generations and now covers 12 ha of vineyards. It is managed by Jean-Pierre and Chantal Frick, and their son Thomas Frick.
At the forefront of the biodynamic movement Jean-Pierre Frick makes wines that are scrupulously natural. Frick converted in 1981 after having already turned to organics in 1970. Altogether he farms 12 hectares of vineyards, in several plots, a third of which is rented. Wines are fermented solely with indigenous yeasts and there is no acidification or chaptalisation. Each year, a few of the cuvées are made without any sulphur dioxide additions.
From promoting biodiversity in the vineyard to hand harvesting all the grapes to using little and even no sulphur during the winemaking to ageing in large old oak casks, Jean-Pierre aspires to capture the essence of the grape and also the flavour of the terroir.
Various biodynamic preparations are applied according to the cosmic rhythms of the Maria Thun calendar (this is the guide that most biodynamic growers use to help them do things at the right time, from vineyard work to racking to bottling). 10–15 tons/hectare of compost are spread every five years or so to maintain soil fertility.
Harvest is manual with whole-bunch pressing and the juice is left to settle overnight. Fermentation is slow and ambient with indigenous yeasts after which the wine is matured in oak barrels for 9 months. Since 1998 there has been no chaptalisation. No filtration; no fining and minimal addition of sulphur complete the picture.
The wine itself is extraordinary. Made oxidatively, it shows a rich nutty quality surrounding the spicy-pulpy autumnal fruit flavours. There’s an earthy-vegetal quality too, churned spiced butter from the lees-contact, sweetness (some residual sugar and dry botrytis notes). For all this, Jean-Pierre would prefer that we assess the wine intuitively, feel where it is coming from, describe its “shape” and sensation rather than deconstruct it by means of analytical tasting notes or compartmentalise by comparing it to a paradigm of wine correctness.
Zorjan is located in the hilly Tinjska Gora area of Slovenian Styria – this guy is virtually off the google search map, which, when one considers the quality and originality of the wines, is very surprising. Božidar Zorjan’s philosophy is that there is a sacred connection between land, animals, man and nature. He does not use any chemicals, his sheep have names and come running when he calls, and their only job is to fertilise the vineyard. He believes that animals belong on the land rather than in the stables– they are as free-roaming physicians, mapping and monitoring the rhythms of nature.
The farm itself lies on the southern slopes of Pohorje, where there is a strong bond with Ži?e monastery. Ži?e monastery is an important part of European culture and history and is intimately connected with the place and people. More than a thousand years old history of the Carthusians ended in 1782, when Emperor Joseph II, in the spirit of enlightenment reforms in Europe, ordained to close down leading Carthusian monasteries which had large estates. Thus, vineyards spread out over Pohorje region from Slovenske Konjice to Maribor, where they also had stocked cellars for storing wine and residing. After the closure of the monastery, the clergy sold its land and buildings. Zorjan’s ancestors bought a little land and a small cellar for wine storage, an original part of which is still preserved. The rich tradition of viticulture binds this family to continue production of natural wines with a spirit, body and soul.
Božidar Zorjan focuses on reanimating the fertility of the soils each year, by ensuring that there is a range of biodynamic preparations, which are used to create composts and sprays. The cycle of continual decomposition and restoring of life is observed and encouraged. The location of the farm is exceptional, the soils rich in minerals, such as tonalite rock, which retains moisture throughout the year, the unique green marble ?izlakit, white marble, which was already used by the Romans in this area, as well as traces of gold and other elements that all contribute to the character of the wines. Today Bozidar cultivates 4 hectares of vineyard in addition to 3 hectares of high stem orchards. The circuit is completed with mini sheep, which live all year-round in the vineyards. The carefully harvested grapes are always macerated, according to biodynamic principles, so life continues.
A former police inspector, and as far removed from the woolly jumper brigade as you can imagine, Božidar speaks at great length and with great erudition about the philosophies underpinning biodynamics. He reminded us that Steiner himself was a scientist rather than a farmer, although he was to invoke and then codify age-old farming practices based on observations of natural phenomena. Biodynamics, I suppose, looks all around by looking down (at the soil, at the farm an organism, at the human being at the apex of the farming activity, as it were, and at nature – and the earth – in a universal holding pattern. At the local organic level, there can be no synthetic chemicals or mechanical irrigation, anything which diminishes, dilutes or disrupts the natural order. A true biodynamic farm must also grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, and there should be animals, either domestic or wild, to keep this miniature ecosystem in check A biodynamic farmer is one who listens and learns, takes his or her cue from the surroundings, ritually observes and works with rhythms of nature.
We are taken into a room dedicated to biodynamic preps sans phones. Yarrow, chamomile, valerian, dandelion blossoms and are being dried on wooden trays alongside beans, other plants, extracts (oak bark powder, for example) and dried vegetables are suspended from beams and racks. Nothing is wasted;..
Rosé pet nat on riddling racks at Tillingham Wines (Photo: Ben Walgate)
A Pet Nat (short for pétillant naturel) is a sparkling wine from a single vintage that undergoes a single fermentation. The wine ferments with its own yeast in tank or barrel and is transferred to bottle before the process is completed (with latent sugar). The fermentation continues without addition of yeasts, enzymes or sugar until it finishes. The wine is then usually disgorged off its solids and topped up with the same wine. There is no dosage, no other filtration, no sulphur addition.
This is the time when the last grams of sugar have been duly converted and the first Pet Nats begin to buzz out of the wineries.
This method is also known as the ancestral method. It differs from methode champenoise in that the latter undergoes a secondary fermentation with the addition of a liqueur and normally requires a lengthy period of ageing on the lees.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the moment anyone even mentions the words “summer” and “rosé” in the same sentence then the heavens inevitably open and decant merrily on this hubris.
Ne’ertheless. This is the time when the last grams of sugar have been duly converted and the first Pet Nats begin to buzz out of the wineries. Tis the season to be petty.
One of the reasons we love to drink these wines is because they are made with good ripe fruit rather than relying on the autolytic converter of time to make them palatable. Almost invariably from organically farmed, hand-harvested fruit the wines are not too fizzy either, being more on the frizzante with little pearls of sparkle. No dosage – so none of that champenois style sweet-sour aftertaste. Often light in alcohol. Low or zero-added sulphur so more portable the next day. Fun – cute labels and crown caps. We love ‘em.
For those seeking the bubble reputation even in the canon’s mouth (the canon being a wine glass in this case we can give you bubbly aspirants a rundown of what’s popping in our fizzical pipeline.
Maupertuis Pink Bulles
This Auvergnat (pun intended) hails from the bullseye of France, where the Loire bubbles up, so to speak. All grapes lead to Gamay here, and this is a pale, pert frothsome pink with nice freshness and a touch of residual sugar. We fondly recall the 09 version of this wine which triple fermented in the winery. It had extreme vulcanicity.
Moussamoussettes, Domaine Mosse
On joue with this particular party-popper liquid space-dusty Anjou. Composed of Grolleau Gris, Gamay and Cabernet Franc – really crackling with frivolous freshness, fun from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Drink with extreme prejudice. Arriving shortly.
Another grower who sports a “nat” in his name! It is unusual that a vigneron will only make sparkling wines but Camillo Donati crafts gloriously vinous natural wines (ancestral method) from his steeply sloped biodynamic vineyards in Emilia Romagna. The wines are cloudy and wholesome with plenty of structure. We love the aromatic Malvasia secco and the Malvasia Rosa too, whilst the Lambrusco is a foodie wine as is the Trebbiano, one which elevates that maligned grape to a whole other level.
La Garagista Grace and Favour Pet Nat
La Garagista is a tiny Alpine farm in Vermont where Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber make wines from hybrids – in this case the La Crescent variety. The name Grace & Favour is inspired by Hampton Court. (La Crescent is descendent from Muscat d’Ambourg, also known as Black Hambourg”. Deirdre writes: “The Great Vine at Hampton Court is Black Hambourg. “Caleb and I made a pilgrimage to pay our respects to the Vine and whilst there read some of the history of Hampton Court. After Richelieu took over the palace from Henry the 8th, the apartments in the palace were given to ladies in waiting and chevaliers in “grace and favour”. We thought this was a perfect nod to La Crescent’s parentage”.
The wine has a beautiful golden yellow colour and enchanting aromas of pollen, clover, red apples and grapes with naturally mouth-cleansing acidity.
Fuchs und Hase
“Fox and Hare” is a label devoted exclusively to Pet Nat and is a joint enterprise between young Kamptal growers Martin Arndorfer and Alwin Jurtschitch. The wines are fermented on their skins, invariably unfiltered and thus turbid and quite spicy in the mouth. The Fuchs und Hase pets are labelled Vol 1 to 5 and are blends of Gruner with various local grapes. The greater the volume, the bigger the mouthfeel of the wine -natch!
Chateau Tour des Gendres’
Pet Nat is a Sauvignon/Chenin blend, crackling energetically with apple, pear and ripe citrus. These two grapes complement each other beautifully in this wine.
Testalonga I Wish I Was A Ninja Pet Nat
Colombard from granitic soils, hand-harvested then fermented in stainless steel at a temperature of 8 degrees. It was racked 6 times during fermentation to remove the sediment. At a sugar of 52g/l it was bottled under crown cap where it was left to finish fermentation and build up a natural pressure of carbon dioxide. After 10 months the bottles were riddled and disgorged and topped with the same wine (from other decanted bottles) and crown capped again. No SO2 was ever added to the wine and neither was any settling or fining agent. Low abv, low ph, high acid and 26 g/l- perfectly-balanced pet nat.
Kindeli La Lechuza Pet Nat
With a maceration of twelve hours on skins Alex Craighead’s natty fizzy Riesling has exotic tropical notes with almond and faint honey scents. Bright and frothy on the palate with zingy acidity and Granny Smith apple juice flavours with a light honey drizzle to round off.
Loxarel A Pel Pet Nat
Who’s for skin contact, amphora-fermented pet nat? We are! This is a belter, being organically-farmed Xarel.lo. Lemon-yellow, with golden tones and fine and well-integrated bubbles. The nose has aromas of white flowers, almonds and quince skins. After a few minutes, notes of fennel and tangerine skin develop. The palate is silky, broad and harmonious, with a hint of salinity and flavours of white fruits such as pear and green apple. Yum!
Pet Nat Naturalist, Cambridge Road
The blend changes every year. In 2018 the combo is 46% Riesling, 22% Pinot Gris, 15% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier from various vineyards, mostly in Martinborough. Stone-fruit and citrus flavours with a generous mouthfeel and modest fizz which will grow as the wine continues to slowly ferment. A fun summer wine growing a touch more serious with time.
Interested in finding more about the wines mentioned? Contact us directly:
Mauricio (far right) with fellow Asociación de Productores de Vino Campesino de Chile members.
Mauricio Gonzalez Carraro is part of the Asociación de Productores de Vino Campesino de Chile, organized by natural wine advocate and sommelier Macarena Lladser. Their group of four all practise within the wine regions inside of the Secano Interior. They dry farm their organic land and mostly old ungrafted vines. Devoted to low intervention winemaking they are committed to revitalizing the local heritage of the pipeño, a refreshing wine, low in alcohol, made from the grape país, raised in pipas – barrels made from the local wood raulí.
Mauricio has 4 hectares of land to work, just himself, and his wife. Two hectares are planted to Pais, 1.5 to Malbec and .5 to Carignan. The Malbec and Carignan are grafted to Pais rootstock. He has a good amount of volcanic soil, and very few of the pine and eucalyptus trees that the growers in this region disdain. The trees steal exorbitant amounts of well-needed water, they encourage fires, and they are not indigenous to the region…in other words they are intrusive. The soils are manually tilled, and fertilised with natural compost.
Mauricio’s harvests are manual, the wine ferments in a large traditional lagar…open top. He does not use sulphur, except to clean…and no chemicals or modern technique of any kind to ‘correct’ the wine. The wine is aged in old pipas and tinajas (barrels and amphorae), and the result is pure and fresh.
(Thanks to T Edwards Wines for the helpful insight on Mauricio.)
The PipeñoTinto is Pais planted on volcanic sand, is from 200-year-old gnarly bush vines. Grapes are destemmed and naturally fermented. No sulphur is added at all. The wine is matured in beech wood barrels of varying size and bottled without fining or filtration. Light and refreshing, the nose has earthy tones and a lot of fresh red fruit, and a sharp and vertical texture.
The Moscatel is naturally fermented in tinajas (300-900 l) on skins and aged on skins also. Orange in colour with aromas of white flowers and citrus fruits. Vibrant and intense acidity and a great structure in mouth. Although the wine undergoes a full malolactic, is unfiltered, it is wonderfully zesty and packed with mineral energy.
Old vines, a relatively cool microclimate, plenty of rainfall in winter, traditional organic farming and a gentle touch in the winemaking yield wines that are delightful and delicious.
2018 Moscatel Tinaja
2018 Pipeño Pais Tinto
Interested in finding more about the wines of Mauricio Gonzalez Carraro? Contact us directly:
The Natural Wine Fair, 2011 (photo credit: www.beyondthewinepress.com)
Continued from Part One:
2011 was a watershed for natural wine in the UK. This was the time when people in the trade seemed to want to decide which side of the natural wine argumentative fence they were on.
Natural Wine Controversies
In retrospect, it seems daft now that such artificial oppositions were constructed. Those who disliked the phenomenon of natural wine viewed (and caricatured) it as a movement composed of ideological and self-delusional fundamentalists, hipsters with no taste who were jumping on a bandwagon, and vignerons who were content to peddle vinegar as part of a massive con on the public.
As an idea, natural wine challenges orthodoxy. The “movement” if we must use that assimilative term, is able to yoke together, on the one hand, the forensic standards of one Jules Chauvet, and, on the other, a jazz-punk irreverent sensibility and a nose-thumbing attitude towards bureaucratic authority. Not for nothing are the ferments called wild! It is easy to understand why people are attracted to the bohemian mixture of seriousness-and-faux-seriousness. The growers possess passion and energy; they put their life into the wine and an occasional crazy two-fingers-to-you label on the bottle. Drinkers are given something to root for.
Natural wine became – unintentionally – akin to a new artistic movement, a pot of paint thrown in the face of those who believe in precious hierarchies. If the conventional hierarchy purports to be wine reason, then natural wine was a critique of wine reason. Or the espousal of topsyturvydom. Whites are amber/orange in colour? Oxidative winemaking is noble? Wines do not always fall apart if no sulphur dioxide in used? Ladies and gentlemen – we’re through the looking glass here.
The growers possess passion and energy; they put their life into the wine and an occasional crazy two-fingers-to-you label on the bottle. Drinkers are given something to root for.
When I studied English literature at school, we were inculcated to believe in the great English tradition, an inevitable noble lineage of writers whose works could be aesthetically linked down the generations. Such certainties! In the wine world greatness has always been aligned to various cru classification systems. The world turns and opinions change. At university I soon discovered textual analysis, structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism and various other critical approaches, and my views on art and literature began to change. I began to question what was considered right or reasonable and to interrogate the very structures of literature and art criticism.
“If you can’t count on history what can you count on?”
–Fleishmann, Northern Exposure
Tempting as it is to define natural wine as a movement it does not serve our argument for it is made of individuals who have their own ideas and free will. Much as we may conveniently label them as impressionists, fauvists, modernists, constructivists etc, for example, no two artists from a movement paint in exactly the same way. You wouldn’t confuse a Dufy with a Matisse, or a Kandinsky with a Klee. Marko Rothko would have hated to be thought of as part of a movement. The romantic poets, for example, were a completely amorphous bunch; even those who were the closest buddies and co-authored aesthetic manifestoes such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, wrote very differently. What binds people in artistic endeavour are common aspirations and energies, the intrinsic desire for change or the need to push personal boundaries.
A headline in the Daily Telegraph on the eve of The Natural Wine Fair read “Beware of natural wines at The Natural Wine Fair”. What else would there be at a natural wine fair, you might ask, but, aside from that, this kind of pre-emptive judgement served to undermine the authority of those who purported to be writing about the subject in a considerate manner. At no other fair might you expect a journalist to warn: “Watch out, there might be some bad wines here!” It’s akin to reviewing a play before you’ve seen it. Besides, even if you entertained a soupçon of suspicion about the quality of wines on show at an event, you should never tar all the wines and all the growers with the same brush. The point about an artisan tasting is that it is not generic.
The Natural Wine Fair 2011 (photo credit: jimsloire.blogspot.com)
The three days of the fair passed in a blur. I remember standing in for the lovely Michèle Aubery of Domaine Gramenon, whilst she sloped off to the National Gallery (Michèle herself is a very talented painter), ostensibly for an hour, in reality for most of one of the days. When you taste her wines, you appreciate that she is an artisan/artist and these are natural canvases. It’s worth quoting her thoughts on painting, which bleed into natural winemaking – and vice versa.
Don’t say I am a self-taught painter.
Since I was young, I have been taught to appreciate beautiful works of art and gorgeous monuments. One of my best memories as a young child is that while sitting on my mother’s knees, she would open and show me an art book to allow me discover marvellous works.
It is true I have been keen on arts for a long time. Painting has always been part of my life.
My first art exhibition took place when I was 8, with the girls of my art workshop, in the shop window at the local paint seller’s store.
It is true that I am an amateur painter and I probably keep to myself.
My real passion is both to observe as much as I can, then to let myself carried away by what comes from the subject and the energy it gives out.
The feeling to get into material.
My motivation is to get into a feeling, an emotion, a sensation.
Wipe out ego and power and let come to me shapes and colors to often tell and tell again.
Then, as wine tasting could offer, emotion and sharing are sometimes possible… Sometimes.
I recall clutching onto some wine glasses when a gust of wind threatened to pluck them from a table. Watching the queues build up each day. Tasting a 1991 Bourgogne Rouge from Julien Guillot. And cutting the atmosphere with a special atmosphere-cutting knife that I used to have about my person.
We see now more than ever if you do not challenge misconceptions in every walk of life, you devalue truth.
It was not all sweetness and natural light. During one of the masterclasses, the uncut atmosphere became increasingly tetchy when a certain MW damned the majority of wines being shown at the fair. Out there – she waved airily in the direction of Borough Market – I tasted so many oxidised, out-of-condition wines. Her tone was shot through with puzzlement as if she couldn’t conceive that hundreds of other tasters were literally lapping up the same wines. The naivety of youth who couldn’t smell the pig-in-the-poke even when their noses were rammed in the glass! In those days I didn’t suck up criticism easily, and so gave a tart rejoinder. I’ve never felt that disliking some wines was a reason to argue. One person’s taste is their own affair, after all. To disrespect the growers, the taste of other people, and not to provide evidence for an assumption, struck me as intellectually dishonest, however.
We see now more than ever if you do not challenge misconceptions in every walk of life, you devalue truth. That truth may be relative, but at least a light can be shined upon it and rational discourse entertained.
I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.
For all that a master-class is meant to make people think and to challenge cherished beliefs, the fair itself was intended – through the charisma of the vignerons and the wines themselves – to discover areas of accord. The sheer diversity of styles (albeit all within the low-intervention idiom) in the tasting demonstrated that there is (or should be) something for everyone in natural wine. If the wilder extremes of zero-sulphur wine were not your bag of funk, then there were beautifully eloquent and pure examples of fruit-and-terroir-expression to enjoy. I have said before that wine is liquid pride (the pride of the land and of the vine, the pride of the grower, the pride of the winemaker) and this should always come before the prejudice of the taster. Every wine, particularly natural wine, needs to be tasted and evaluated on the basis of what it is, not what we think it should be.
Digression: From Loathing to Love – Seven Types of Unambiguous Reaction to Natural Wines
There are various classes of people who emerge from the wormy woodwork when the subject of natural wine is broached to venture their tuppence ha’penorth. Sometimes the debate is generous, healthy and provocative in the best sense, sometimes it is just a bunch of egos basting themselves with their own self-perceived cleverness. Those wranglers can be divided into the following categories:
Les Bigotes– the arrogance of those who take undue offence at something that threatens their cosy view of the world and whose faces and voices are frozen in perpetual contumely. This is called the principle of contempt prior to investigation. They write things like “the public is being hoodwinked” and use overwrought terms like “fascism” willy-nilly as if natural wine were a political movement practising mind-control on unsuspecting old Bordeaux drinkers.
The Manichean Street Preachers – who propose a duality of epicurean truth and believe that supporters of natural wine are profoundly in the darkness.
The Devil’s Advocates – who like to construct theories or build reputations for the hell of it and then knock them down creating zeroes to heroes then sending them back to zeroes. This doublethink allows them to switch horses in mid-stream and never take a position that they have to defend in earnest.
Quaggling quaddler – an inveterate grumbling critic who literally quivers with asperity when the words “natural” and “wine” are juxtaposed in a single sentence.
The Pseudo-scientists – who will use science as an alibi for making dangerously unscientific assertions. They believe that because something has not been proved, it must, ipso facto, be false. Pseudo-scientists create “straw man” arguments, misrepresenting the viewpoints or intentions of those they disagree with, thinking that a one-sided argument is per se a rational argument and, so doing, are inevitably hoist on their own petar’.
The Scientists – who reduce everything to a test-tube, a petri dish and a justifying absolutism.
The Recanters – former advocates of one position they repenteth profoundly and become archbishops of the opposite point of view. In natural wine debate we have seen how some row back from the extreme edge, but also how conventional winemakers can move in the other direction.
Gentle Snidies – who write a seemingly balanced article on a subject but leave you with no doubt (reading between the lines) that they harbour negative feelings towards natural wines.
The Wibbly-Wobblies – these are exanimate people whose opinions change according to whim and the breeze of critical opinion.
The Supporters – drink and enjoy natural wine, go the festivals and caves –a –vins, but are not blind to faulty wines. Most of the people on the other side of the debate still think they are mildly/very (delete as appropriate) unhinged.
The Smell-no-evils – a rare breed who, when they are tasting, implicitly believe that all is for the best in the best possible worlds, and that no-sulphur wines are always the best in any circumstance. Even when the mouse is undoubtedly in the house.
As George Bernard Shaw said, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.”
Here Socrates again interposed. “Well, gentlemen,” said he, “so far as drinking is concerned, you have my hearty approval; for wine does of a truth ‘moisten the soul’ and lull our griefs to sleep just as the mandragora does with men, at the same time awakening kindly feelings as oil quickens a flame”.
–Symposium 2 by Xenophon
The Next Chapter
Despite the perceived success of the event and the positive feedback from growers and fair-goers alike, there was to be a schism in our small group, the eventual result of which was that two new events – The Real Wine Fair (a predominantly importer natural fair) and RAW (an event independent of importer involvement) were born. Both fairs underwent their maiden voyage in 2012, with Real Wine eventually being held two out of three years, whereas RAW was to become an annual fixture and has since given birth to several successful international versions of itself.
Our first independent foray was interesting – in a surreal way. In 2012, Real Wine was sequestered in the brutalist Victoria House in Holborn, a venue that screamed concrete bunker and tumbleweed at the same time. Its lack of natural light sent many of our French vignerons (and ourselves) spiralling into a deep depression. The line-up was huge – some 180 growers – and we packed the little rooms with masterclasses and seminars. We had fifteen hours of Mondovino playing in one particular cubbyhole with director, Jonathan Nossiter popping in to change the discs and address the empty room. Alice Feiring, meanwhile, presented two masterclasses, and Monty Waldin did something completely different entitled “Monty Waldin and The Meaning of Biodynamic Life.” Max Allen brought his banjo to his particular seminar called “The Real Wine Songlines – A New Direction for Australia.”
The Real Wine Fair consistently hosts around 170 growers from twenty countries, showing around 750 wines.
The fair ended with a dinner prepared by Ed Wilson and a cohort of restaurant mercenaries for three hundred people. Wanting some sort of musical entertainment, I had hired a strange-looking French busker who wandered the streets of central London and looked like a smaller version of Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die. I’m not sure what I expected, perhaps a new form of Voodoo-Brechtian cabaret; instead we were treated to a succession of cliché cover songs – with added distortion.
The Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock
The Real Wine Fair relocated subsequently to Tobacco Dock in 2013, raising its profile to another level, and has been held there on four occasions thus far. The space, a former Victorian tobacco warehouse with long concourses, high beams, natural light, big airy halls and small side rooms, is fantastic, arguably the most suitable in London for such a fluid and wide-ranging tasting festival. For a couple of years (before a leaky roof closed it down) it even had a dedicated pub/restaurant, in which we could install our pop-up resto – manned by Ed Wilson and his team – felicitously-called “The Unfiltered Dog”. It was here, over dinner, that I overheard a group of French and Italian vignerons scoffing at the blandness of English food as they surveyed Ed’s homage-to-the-East-End menu. As they ladled on innocuous English mustard and horseradish sauce to accompany the salt beef, my sense of anticipatory glee increased. Steam issued from every vigneron orifice. To put it politely.
The Real Wine Fair consistently hosts around 170 growers from twenty countries, showing around 750 wines. The intro to the catalogue reads:
The Real Wine Fair is an independent festival of natural growers and winemakers, comprising those who work organically and/or biodynamically and with few or zero interventions in the winery. That said, real wine is relative rather than an absolute or precise term and embodies a certain spirit of endeavour in the vineyard and the winery. We understand that each grower has a highly specific approach; we should celebrate those differences.
Real wines tend to be made in small quantities by artisan or independent producers who work without chemicals (which means no fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides) in low yielding vineyards and then vinify without artificial yeasts or enzymes, or recourse to acidification or other adjustments. Many are made with only tiny amounts of added sulphur and some with none at all. ‘Nowt taken out and nowt put in’, as the saying goes. The motivation is to rediscover the true flavour of wine by capturing the sense of place (terroir) and the very nature of the vintage.
These wines are individual, hand-crafted, thrilling and unpredictable. They remind us that wine can be a living thing rather than a denatured product and that less intervention means more real flavour.
Each year we endeavour to find new angles without changing a winning format, and also try to refresh and improve the experience of tasting for both the visitor and the grower alike.
Despite its changing nature, Real Wine fixtures include the annual eve-of-fair growers’ parties and the Georgian supras (banquets) with their endless array of dishes washed down by amber wine, heartfelt toasts and polyphonic singing.
John Wurdeman and Carla Capalbo speaking at a masterclass at the Real Wine Fair 2017
Without wishing to sound sanctimonious, one of the principles of the Real Wine Fair was for Les Caves de P to put something back into the trade, to contribute to the greater good. It was never intended to be profit-making, or even financially self-sustaining. By doing everything in-house from the communication with the growers to the pr, to the setting-up and breaking down of the venue (Les Caves de Spittoons), we reduced costs and put our personal stamp on the event, thereby creating the friendliest tasting, one where you would not only encounter growers and try wines that were interesting and tasty, but would have the opportunity to buy wines you tasted, eat delicious food from a variety of restaurants, and attend seminars and masterclasses to learn from the experts.
We have kept the name of Les Caves de Pyrène at a semi-remove from The Real Wine Fair. We have a separate address for pr, a web site and social media accounts. It is not our trade tasting, it is..