Wine: at its best an incredibly complex, evocative liquid to behold, and deliciously old news that we have celebrated for millennia.
That said, as we enter the midst of what is arguably the most excitingly progressive era for drinks of all time, the same can now confidently be said for coffee, cocktails, spirits, sodas and beer.
Yet when it comes to how these categories are communicated to the trade and consumer, wine seems determined to hang around almost exclusively at stuffy fairs and heartless exhibitions. With blinkered eyes, the wine industry continues to reside and settle with an air of outdated antiquity in these places of trade where any lack of atmosphere is more than made up for by one-upmanship between wine merchant and oenophiles, leaving these stubbornly dull wine fairs about as relevant to today’s drinking experience trends as CAMRA is to craft beer.
The latter half of these categories, however, has more than adapted to the hip millennial market. Like teenage chameleons ignoring all stereotypes of old, they’ve come at us with a revised abundance of cool; be that in full Hoxton swagger or otherwise, with accompanying street food, break beats and beards, cold pressed juices and nut milks on the side.
Yes, yes, of course this all sounds rather hipster niche doesn’t it? But hip beardy festivals aside, these categories are now progressive and growing markets in the UK. In contrast, the sluggish wine market continues its steady decline in popularity, propped up only by a newfound love for Italian fizz and remaining eminently stubborn in its course, showing few signs of any willingness to change.
Until, that is, a relatively new enfant-terrible arrived on the block, working its way into the nooks and crannies of the wine trade and causing just enough early signs of irritation to cause the crusties an itch. A newbie who, unlike its progressive counterparts, comes without the rebellious brashness of the new world hop or the grating Aussie twang of the flat white, but enough quiet determination and irreverence as one could expect from a trend that, bucking the status quo, is being lead by the French and the wine bars of Paris. Our enfant-terrible now widely known as ‘natural wine’.
As the name suggests, natural wines are produced as naturally as possible, with little to no sulfur additions, meticulous organic vineyard practices and often non-inoculated wild fermentations. Much like the craft in beer, however, the natural in wine defies any legal definition and with that comes many a loose interpretation of what natural wine can be.
Together with producing some of the most intriguingly delicious wines I’ve tasted, the category has been known to play host to a relative minefield of fermented bottled grape juice against which the most acrid of vinegars would be seemingly preferable in a 125ml glass.
Speaking to Yannick Slagter, a small importer of natural wines based in Amsterdam earlier this year, he tells me he avoids the term natural and refers to his wines as being ‘minimal intervention’, noting that while all the winemakers he works with grow grapes as organically and naturally as possible, if the balance between vinegar or bliss depends solely on the addition of very small amounts of sulphites (a chemical used openly and under strict regulation in the wine industry and largely avoided in natural wines) then the winemaker would be foolish not to add just enough, declare it and produce an enjoyable drink rather than a questionable alternative to a salad dressing for the sake of natural martyrdom.
Helping spearhead the natural wine movement across Europe, MW Isabelle Legeron’s RAW Wine Fair last week began its first ever two week resident RAW Pop-Up in the basement of Jason Atherton’s Berner’s Tavern, an underground venue in the hip London Edition Hotel, which typically plays host to club nights and private events. The RAW Pop Up is a prelude to the main RAW event, which takes place on the 15th and 16th May at London’s Truman Brewery.
Featuring over 200 natural wine producers with many available by the glass, the pop up also gives the rare opportunity to sample considerably aged natural wines from older vintages.
As the pop up has exclusively natural wines on offer, expect to also see orange and Pét-Nat wines making a considerable feature, two sub categories enjoying a moment du jour; the love children of the natural wine movement who belong belong almost exclusively in her realm.
The Kernel Brewery’s Evin O’Riordain is on board bringing a mutual appreciation of well-crafted drinks across categories, together with select DJs playing over the course of the fortnight. This is good and just the sort of event the wine industry, and most importantly us wine loving millenials, need and deserve so much more of (we do, don’t we?).
Lack of legal definitions and consistency in quality aside, natural wine has the potential be the most progressively exciting thing to happen to the global wine industry for a very long time. Unless the traditional wine trade wakes up from its current self-induced coma, natural wine – whilst perhaps never getting the lion’s share of the market – will at least have the ability to capture the imaginations of a younger, cooler crowd who, not through diagnosis or serious moral dilemma, will still selectively feast on the gluten free, vegan alternative of any lunchtime snack, and for whom music is a must.
RAW Wine Pop-Up runs at the Berner’s Tavern basement until 16th May.
By Barny Ingram