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  • Christina Pickard

My Big, Fat Natural Day Out

This week has been an important one for the UK wine trade.  And that’s not because the London International Wine Fair, one of Europe’s biggest wine events, is happening this week.  It’s because for the first time ever, London hosted its very own Natural Wine Fair.

Britain, which normally prides itself as being pretty cutting edge, was a bit behind when it came to catching on to the natural wine movement.  Especially considering it’s geographically closest to the countries making the most natural wine–France and Italy.  The United States and even more so Japan have been drinking the stuff for years.  But over the past five years the movement has been gaining popularity at rapid speed on British soil, thanks in many parts to distibutors Les Caves de Pyrene who now have two hugely successful natural wine bars (Terroirs and Brawn) and to other importers and natural wine bars like Aubert and Mascoli and Artisan and Vine, respectively.

Wines by Thierry Germain

So why was a Natural Wine Fair such an important leap forward for the UK wine scene?  Because for the first time in this country, the public were able to taste over 500 natural wines from 120 winemakers.  For many people, it was the first time they’d ever tried or even heard of natural wines.  (As I write this there are also natural wines by the glass featured at restaurants around the UK for a fortnight only—for more details go HERE).

Winemaker Sebastien Riffault

The importance of the fair for those working in the wine trade, (many of whom have already formed strong opinions–whether for or against–on the subject of natural wines) was that they could finally taste a whole slew of wines from different importers all in one space to either confirm or deny their feelings on the subject.  Although, as a lover of natural wines, I hope that for those in the ‘against’ camp, the tasting was an opportunity to put to bed the sweepingly inaccurate statements that have been made about all natural wines tasting the same or being unstable, or unageworthy, etc etc.

Anyway, enough about why the Natural Wine Fair was good for Britain and its wine trade.  More importantly, why was it good for me?!

Giusto and Arianna Occhipinti, Sicilian winemakers (and uncle/niece!) of Cos and Occhipinti respectively

Well, it gave me the opportunity to be reunited with lots of winemakers who I’d visited on my travels, and to meet many more whose wines I knew but whom I’d never met personally.  Frankly, I was like a kid in a candy shop.  All those superstars of natural winemaking under one roof!  All that wonderful (a lot of it anyway) natural wine!  It was almost too much for this wine geek to handle.

Olivier Cousin and his son Baptiste. I had the most wild, exciting visit with these lovely guys in the Loire Valley.

As if I wasn’t already experiencing sensory overload, my dear friend Doug Wregg, Sales and Marketing director of Les Caves de Pyrene, had kindly invited me to dinner that night with many of the ‘growers’ (as they’re called) at Brawn.  ‘What’s that you say?  A dinner at my favourite wine bar in London with a large group of some of my favourite winemakers all in one place, all expenses covered??  Umm yes please!!’

The evening was a wonderfully noisy, wine fuelled event, with seemingly endless small plates of Brawn’s deliciously rustic French fare arriving throughout the night, and more natural wine than you could shake a stick at.  In fact, most of the time, there were at least two carrafes of unkown vino on the table and several more bottles for good measure.  Glasses were swapped, wines were confused.  By the end of the night no one knew or cared what was in their glass as long as it tasted good.  And it all tasted good.  That’s the beauty of natural wine and its makers.  No one got uppity about the wines needing to match perfectly with every dish (which would have been impossible with the frequency and variation of the dishes’ arrival anyway) or even took the time to ponder over each aroma or flavour characteristic.  And unlike many of natural wines’ critics, there was certainly no one there analysing every molocule of liquid in their glass for ‘faults’, declaring pompously, ‘I detect a little Brett, and a bit too much VA’.  The wines, ‘faults’ and all, tasted too darn good for that.  No one cared whether the wines were ‘perfect’ (read: ‘slathered in a thick layer of make up to conceal any notion of their true identity’).  Natural wine was made to be drunk and enjoyed…and drink and enjoy we did that evening!

Eric Narioo, Les Caves de Pyrene’s ‘Grand Fromage’

I would liken being reunited with all of those French winemakers (read about more about them HERE and HERE) to the feeling you might have if your favourite teachers and mentors, whose work you’ve admired and learned so much from over the years, were all to gather in the same room and get drunk with you—in my best American valley girl accent—like totally awesome.

Winemakers Tom Lubbe and Olivier Cousin–cheers guys!

When I was finally dragged away from Brawn at about one in the morning, my last images of the growers I admired so much, was of them drawing in marker on the walls of Brawn (and in fact on the restaurant manager’s jumper as well…I won’t say what part of her anatomy was being traced…I said I admired them for their wine remember).  In the cab ride home, which I shared with Doug, natural wine author Alice Feiring, and Sancerre winemaker Sebastien Riffault (who, despite being fluent in English, had, after several drinks, suddenly lost the ability to speak the language), I was still buzzing with the excitement of the day.  Sometimes it’s nice to feel like a kid again.  A kid who can legally drink copious amounts of alcohol of course.

Max, Brawn’s manager, enjoying NOT having to work at his restaurant for once!

And I’m already counting down the days until next year’s Natural Wine Fair.

Doug Wregg and me

A big congrats to Isabel Legeron for organising the fair, and to Doug, Eric, and the other importers, for the enormous amount of time and energy they put in over the last few months to allow us to experience such a momentous event for natural wines.

*You can find more of my favourite wines from the Natural Wine Fair in my Adventures with Vino album and watch my promotional video on Brawn HERE.

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