Photo by Katie Jane Burton

For years, there’s been a growing, and at times controversial, movement in the wine world around natural wine. While the value of organic, local produce that is made with care is widely understood, with wine, the preference for organic, biodynamic and natural wines is both a matter of taste and also a deeper education about why these wines are different from others.

Enter the RAW Wine Fair, a two-day tasting bringing together over a hundred growers in Brooklyn last week and also Los Angeles this past weekend. Tasting through these wines, a drinker who might not be aware of natural wines might find flavors they had not experienced before. This purity is attributed to the fact that these wines are living, produced with minimal intervention and simply letting the grapes show their true character.

We sat down with RAW Wine founder Isabelle Legeron MW —the only French woman ever to ever become a Master of Wine, and author of Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally— for a discussion on her work with growers and RAW wine’s mission:

Quinn: Why should drinkers be excited about natural wine?

Legeron: You can only really make great wines when you preserve live in the vineyards and work organically. You can only express terroir when you work, at the very minimum, organically. Not only do they preserve life in the vineyard, but they also preserve life in the cellar. All of the microorganisms are not killed by excessive used of sulfites, filtration and then it is bottled with the integrity of the vineyard site. This is what wine should be, but we have really forgotten that wine can really be like that, since everything now is about mass-production as quickly as possible. I feel that what these people are doing is really important and a return to authenticity.

Quinn: For those who might feel that all wine is the same, how do you describe the differences in what they are tasting with natural wine?

Legeron: The modern wine making taste is only 40 to 50 years old, so everything we think we know about wine is actually very recent, but we have actually been making wine for some 8,000 years. You have to unlearn. So I think for me the key is to communicate to people that maybe what they think wine is is not necessarily the whole story and that wine has many facets. Keep an open mind, just as we do with great olive oil or coffee. To me the best crowd is people that don’t know that much about wine, because I feel that they are a lot more humble and able to keep an open mind to discovering new wines.

Photos by Jules Dressner
Quinn: RAW Wine is going to Los Angeles next week. What excites you about the changes happening there?
Legeron: California has obviously a very long history of wine-making, but the face of the region is changing because of these really exciting new growers who are making wine slightly differently. I think this is actually a great example of people getting their head around the fact that California wines is not just a heavily extracted, alcoholic Cabernet Sauvignon or oaked Chardonnay. If you look at the local drinking market of Los Angeles —where so many people are very into health, being fit, and eating cleanly— they drink like the equivalent of slouching on the sofa for three weeks and eating at KFC. This is what they’re drinking. The communication is now about getting those drinkers to realize that the world of wine is like the world of food. There is no ingredient listing, which is why it’s very difficult to understand what is going on, but I know that what we are doing will help bridge that gap and help inspire a whole new generation of drinkers.
Quinn: How can people learn more about and seek natural wines when they buy a bottle or drink at a restaurant? 
Legeron: Ask questions. How was this wine made? What’s gone into it? Please go see people who know and who can say to you that “this is just grape juice”. On a practical level, we need see laws for ingredient labeling on a bottle of wine. This would be a very concrete step into protecting the consumer. For now, we are trying to build a community to grow this market in a healthy way which is respectful to the work that the growers are doing. We’re communicating to people, “think about what you are drinking”.
Here are several wines from the RAW Wine Fair that we loved that you can seek out in your local stores:
Bret Brothers (France):
Pearl Morissette (Canada):
Montebruno (Oregon):
Basic Winery (Slovenia):
Scholium Project (California):
Bichi Winery (Mexico):
Gen del Alma (Argentina):
La Réserve d’O (France):
El Celler de les Aus (Spain):
Andrea Scovero (Italy):
Photo by Katie Jane Burton