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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Natural Wine Tasting in Paris

I’m just back from an absolutely incredibly awesome 2-day tasting event in Paris. It was organized by Thierry Puzelat, who in addition to being a natural wine producer based in the Loire, also imports and distributes foreign wines in France.

Here’s a list of the winemakers who came (here). Anyone who knows their natural wines will recognize some impressive names there, and I felt overwhelmed and honoured to be invited along with them. For me, this invitation to participate in the fair (called “Deguestation”) and have my own table to pour my wines, was the final affirmation that I really do make good wines, which many, many people buy and enjoy. This is of course silly and irrational because I’ve been exporting thousands of bottles for years, and mostly repeat sales too, so ‘intellectually’ and ‘rationally’ I already knew that  my wines were ‘good’. But they say that we humans are fundamentally emotional animals and that we are not really as rational as we like to think we are. Whatever! The fact is that now I really know, deep down and ‘emotionally’ that I’m doing something right.

And France! We all know what the French are like when it comes to wines, don’t we? Yes, they’re a bit like the Italians and Spanish, actually, ie they think that ‘their’ wines are the best, and so it’s very difficult to sell foreign wines in those countries.

And that, is basically what I wanted to say in this post. But here’s a bit about the tasting itself:

It was held in Le Chateaubriand and in the Le Dauphin, two restaurants next door to each other on Avenue Parmentier in the 11ème.

Here I am (left) with two other producers

View from the inside, from my table

We producers were all lucky enough to be invited for lunch and dinner on both days, though at lunch we had to eat on the go, as it were, at our tables, as it was really busy, and couldn’t really close:

with Thierry at my table
I was sharing a table with two Georgian producers, John Wurdeman (from Pheasants Tears winery) and John Okro, an small independent producer:

John Wurdeman at his table
About half the producers were Italians (mostly Northern Italy, Piemonte, Veneto), and half was made up by Slovenians, Greeks, Catalans, and two Spaniards (one proper Spaniard, Goyo García from Ribera de Duero; and an Italo-Scottish Spaniard, from Sierra de Gredos, ha! ha!). Such is Thierry Puzelat’s multi-faceted stable of foreign winemakers.

Here I am at La Cave, next door to Le Chateaubriand, tasting an orange wine from Rome
I met many interesting people over the 2 days. The ‘official’ hours were 11:00 to 18:00, but of course the tasting/drinking/networking continued outside in the street till dinnertime, then over dinner, then after dinner until the wee small hours.

Polenta with lamb, washed down with a full-bodied Georgian!
On the first day I met, incredibly, ___ ___, who used to play scrum-half for the Spanish rugby team back in the 1980’s. What was he doing there? I don’t know, I forgot to ask! We had a great chat about rugby and about the positive values it instils, so unlike football. I also forgot to take a photo of us together.

after hours
Then I met a cook-actor who cooks dishes for clients right in front of them, as if on a stage, with music and dancing included – and he wants my wines! We chatted for a long time about this and that (and life, etc) because he believed that he had to know his producers personally (of food and wine) in order to give his clients 100%.

Then I met many, many chefs, maîtres, sommeliers and waiters and waitresses, who were all more ‘technical’ if you can call it that. They would smell and taste my wines and then sort of stare into space for a while – obviously trying to imagine what they could pair the wine with.

I wish I’d taken more photos and more notes, because I’m sure I’ve already forgotten at least half the people who came to taste. However, I don’t have a single business card left in my pockets, so I must have given them all out!

It only remains to wait and see if any results are forthcoming, in terms of sales. I’m pretty sure they will be. They say that “all things come to they who wait”, but I believe that you also have to throw out little signals (eg attend tastings) otherwise no-one will know of your existence. Also, I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t pay to rush things in the (natural) wine world, not in the vineyard, nor in the bodega, nor when looking for an importer in Japan! (hint hint) :)

I also met, on the first morning before the tasting started, a fellow natural wine-maker, Jordi Llorens, from Montfort in Catalonia. It turned out that we had a lot in common and had lived sort of similar parallel lives which took us both to where we are today, ie practicing organic agriculture, and making natural wine.

Winemaker Jordi Llorens myself

The lock filling up with water 

And lastly, here’s an anecdote that couldn’t be more appropriate to this post. I was sitting behind my table during a quiet period, and I was doing a bit of anti-social media on my mobile (as one does) and did I not see a tweet by @AliceFeiring with a link to an article on natural wines in the Wine Spectator; so I thought ‘how appropriate’, I went to read it, and after reading I tweeted back “There seems to be a disconnect between theory and reality here”. I had to make an effort to be polite and correct here, because otherwise I’d have come across as a raving fanatic – which I’m not!

The article is a complete fantasy by the author who cannot possibly have much experience of natural wines. To me it read like something out of a creative writing workshop, ie good use of the English language, nice turns of phrase, good sound-bites, condescending platitudes in the introduction, inappropriate but alluring analogies later on, in general an excellently written ‘piece’. But unfortunately it has nothing to do with the reality of natural wines. The author, Harvey Steiman, is of course immensely knowledgeable about wine and food in general (he’s been writing for the WS for decades), but as far as natural wines are concerned, I’d respectfully say that he lacks the knowledge and experience to give a balanced and informed opinion.

And of course, as usual, no names were given regarding the faulty wines (of the winery, the wine or the vintage), just the usual generality along the lines of “the natural wine movement has a great tolerance for faults” Is this out of politeness, or is it lack of hard evidence? Even after all those times "sitting round a table wanting to moo at the barnyard aromas wafting ..." ?

Over just two days I must have tasted +100 natural wines at Le Chateaubriand, and:

- not one had Brett
- not one had excessive VA
- not one was like cider
- not one had funk (whatever that is!)

They were all in fact completely fault-free. Is that so amazing?

But c’est la vie! I’ve reached the stage now (in the development and evolution of my attitude) where ‘frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ what the mainstream writers write. But at the same time I think it’s a terrible shame that with such a wide readership, many people will be put off or will become skeptical of natural wines and will not bother to taste any. Again, c’est la vie, I’m not out to evangelize or ‘convert’ anyone to natural wines. Each to their own, and a wine for each occasion.

After all this time (12 years making natural wines; 5 years participating in the wine world) I still don’t understand the attitude of the mainstream wine world (writers and trade) towards natural wines. This article in the WS was just ignorance, but many other articles are aggressive/denigrating/mocking. Why? Is it fear? Fear of losing market share or sales? Ridiculous, IMO, because the best guestimates puts natural wines’ share of the world market at less than 0.01%.  Fear of the public realizing that about 90% of all wines produces are full of additives and subject to industrial manipulations? Again unlikely, IMO, as natural winemakers do not have a marketing lobby or the resources of the budget to do any advertising. Is it just mockery? Just pooh-poohing a passing fad? I don’t think so, because the modern manifestation of natural wines has been going on since the 1970’s.  I really don’t know (or care) but I would be curious to hear of any theories that anyone may have on this question.


  1. Hi Fabio,
    it's just unknowledgment. People fears what doesn't know, change and so on.
    In the last decades everything has been made in the same way by everybody. Wineries, critics... suddenly (well, in a sort of suddenly 'cos it was not made nightly and secretly) appear many wine makers out of the box, people sharing their opinions, little bussiness around them and I guess they're saying somethig like what the hell! how this people is doing something out of the manner we've beein doing, explaining and changing the bussiness in some way...



  2. By the way, maybe you've seen this video before:

    Quite funny the point said by Dani about people is fine with natural wine, industry not.



  3. Hi José,
    Thanks for your comments. C'est la vie, is all I can say!


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