Sometimes, your day starts with a 9am hangover and the search for an ATM in the middle of nowhere Bushwick, BK because the natural wine fair you are attending is obviously deep as fuck and obviously only takes cash; on these days, it’s hard to know which way it’s all gonna go. The uncertainty is exponentially complicated when walking into a warehouse with an empty glass and a sea of some of the nerdiest wines in the world. I had been looking forward to the RAW WINE Fair in New York City for months and I figured, what better way to cure a hangover than drinking? And so, I put one foot in front of the other and embarked on one of the craziest tasting sprees of my life.
PRO: Bushwick will make you feel cool
CON: Where the hell am I?
The fair, founded by Master of Wine and industry veteran, Isabelle Legeron, feels a bit like what I imagine the Met Gala to be. The event was full of inexplicably attractive people of all ages and the exhibitors were a “who’s who” of the natural wine world. Mind you, this market is so niche that the notion of celebrity is dubious; one might describe the entire natural wine world as a hippy/ster cult… the selfie I took in front of the Emidio Pepe booth doesn’t really impress the masses.
PRO: Emidio Pepes booth got set up late, I didn’t have to wait.
CON: I was distracted by attractive people.
Still, it was hard not to look around and see a world that may be inching towards a more mainstream notion of “hip”. (Yeah, I saw all your #RossTest instagram posts Marissa Ross and have you seen the shirts from Allocated Apparel?!). As the official website states: “RAW WINE is a totally independent wine fair….It celebrates wines with emotion. Wines that have a humanlike, or living, presence. They are also wines that are an authentic expression of a place.” I mean, aren’t the words independent and authentic anthropological definitions of “hip”? To be honest, RAW Wines; ‘independent’ looks a little different than the punk shows of my youth, but the ideals and goals are probably a natural evolution of my own interests. Take note: independence doesn’t equate good – I used to talk shit [objectively] about bands all the time; now, the critique continues, but there’s a bottle where the record use to be).
PRO: I got to taste wine from growers that have virtually no funding and they were delicious.
CON: There wasn’t a mosh-pit.
WINE is championing an idea much larger than the image that seems to have grown around it. Under its anti-hero ethos, there is a deeper conversation; championing values of sustainability and conscious action; choice through transparency. “Most wine today is not what one might expect it to be nor indeed is it what marketing would have you believe that it is. This isn’t about hoodwinked consumers or subliminal messaging. This is not about a big wine scam,” their website explains. “It is simply the way that winemaking has evolved thanks to technological advances and greater human control.” Although this is all delivered with a great deal of sincerity, the party line should be taken with a grain of salt. We are all victims of the media and choice is suspect; a lot of people spend a lot of money selling lifestyles; so don’t think that this is any different. Natty wine is an auxiliary industry that in many ways markets itself as an anti-industry. As such, I hold tight to my cynicism about how informed many of these acolytes actually are. But, if the goal is to create standards that facilitate informed choices, then who cares about the vehicles through which that information is disseminated? It is not a secret that most wine has for a long time been filled with foreign shit, and anyone trying to right that wrong is pretty OK in my book. So, yeah, I will keep watching Action Bronson smoke weed and drink Cornelissen on Vice.
PRO: I didn’t run into Action Bronson.
CON: I accidently followed two bros around all the day that were starting an import/export business.
Information is probably the main weapon in the arsenal of the natural wine world during this revolution. Along with transparency, information is what dictates RAW WINES comprehensive list of rules and standards. There are rules that are pretty obvious for a natural wine fair. For example, one mandate states, “The entirety of the domaine from which the grapes are issued must be certified organic and/or biodynamic.” Another rule declares, “No winemaking additives (ie. yeasts,enzymes etc).” But the regulations that seem to look past the wine world often reference labeling and these requirements may provide the most lasting effects. “If fining is applied, the type of fining agent will be listed and a note included if the wine is not suitable for vegetarians and/or vegans.” RAW’s goals call for transparency in the world of wine; for consumers to know what they are drinking. The goal is noble considering wine has forever been a product that is laconic in its labeling, so much so that one could argue that the ambiguous labels are an affront to the consumer. Wine has escaped the clutches of institutions like the FDA because in their stead exists DOC’s, AVAs, DOs, DOCG’s and a ton of other bullshit acronyms that supposedly imply quality. However, these are antiquated notions of a discriminatory institution resting on its laurels. The wines I had the pleasure of drinking, many of which forgo designations, are more concerned with (to invoke that buzzword) independence in the field and in the cellar.
RAW WINE was started in the UK in 2012 and has quickly grown to include events in Berlin, New York and Los Angeles (obviously). The fair hosts over 140 producers, most (note many producers are seeking representation) of whom are represented by a diverse group of importers. Many of these importers need no introduction; Selection Massale, Grand Cru, Critical Mass, Rosenthal, Jenny & Francois, Bonhomie (to name but a few). The vineyards, themselves, are affiliated with an array of different natural wine associations like VinNatur, S.A.I.N.S, Biodyvin, etc. To see all of these entities in one place was a motivating. As a buyer, you often feel somewhat alone in your choice; it’s hard to contextualize your own list as it applies to the infinity of lists.
PRO: Grower champagne showed the f up.
CON: The Gut Oggau line was too long and the wine hyped the f up.
I was on somewhat of a mission, albeit a half drunk mission, but I cracked open my brand new artisan guide with damage in mind. It was a pretty simple plan of action; I wanted to taste all the wines proliferating for Instagram feed that I couldn’t get in New Orleans–plus, leave with room for distractions. Most of the wines that interested me are coming out of the United States. These are the producers causing the industry to shake the most. With very little in the form of tradition, these bottles have a certain unrestrained quality that will remain relevant and important to the conversation the surrounds natural wine. I have been and will continue to drink and be impressed by the likes of La Garagista in Vermont, Bloomer Creek in New York, and Cellar Door out of Humboldt, CA.
PRO: Abe Schoener recognized me.
CON: I was pretty drunk by then.
Isabelle Legeron has been hard at work, creating a platform from which natural wines can be handed down and passed around. It’s easy to joke about hipness, but the reality is that mavericks like her have changed the way that we drink–for the better. She is championing and bringing awareness to an industry that fits into a larger discussion about sustainability. But Legeron continues to exist within the system as does the RAW WINE fair. That position isn’t necessarily problematic, but it is worthy of note. The image and impression of wine is already (clearly) changing, but the next leaps will originate from people less involved in standardized institutions.
PRO: There is a natural wine fair.
CON: It isn’t enough.