Last week’s wine fairs in London came and went in a whirlwind of seminars and spittoons, but for me the most enjoyable oenological experience was my day at the RAW natural wine fair. A far cry from the usual parade of suits, name tags and slick labels, RAW lived up to its name. Hosted in a warehouse in East London, the bare surroundings took nothing away from the event’s naked stars lining the trestle tables; natural wines.
No chemicals, no additives…and no lack of taste. These are the wines that are literally labours of love. Hand picked, foot trodden and 100% true to the land where they grow, the RAW fair is about bringing together winemakers with a genuine respect for the environment and for the integrity of their produce. Many of the faces pouring are young and full of individuality. There are dreadlocks, tattoos and homemade clothes at every turn – could this be the new face of the wine industry? VinNatura, the natural winemaker’s association certainly seems to think this individuality is the future: their aim is “to preserve the individuality of wine from the homogenisation that chemistry, technology and industrialization that have consumed the business of wine.”
It’s an exciting concept and one that inspires great passion. The producers I talk to whilst they fill my tasting glass are eager to tell me about the wine, how it was made, its terroir and its history. I learn about the chateaux that produce biodynamic Chenin and Cabernet Franc in the Loire valley, such as Chateau Tour Grise. They have been using the biodynamic method since 1998, with planting and harvesting governed by the cycle of the moon and the grounds around the 15th century mansion hoed and pruned in the same way it has always been. I hear the stories of Lauren Rosillo, a young Spanish winemaker whose enological project produces premium wines using ancient methods. Her vineyards in Andalucia are cultivated using draft animals, roman ploughs and artisan techniques on hundred-year-old vines.
Wine fairs can be a blur of tastes and names, but I took away more vivid memories of the stand out offerings because of the tales behind them. By bringing back to traditional, sometimes ancient, methods of production, and by embracing the individuality and integrity that small scale wine-making can produce, natural wines are carving out a unique and pure niche in the market. We are so accustomed to the identical vintages of chemical-creations that it was a sheer joy to experience wine as generations before us once did – as a direct product and portrayal of soil, climate and nature itself. So why not give natural wines a try and get back to your roots?