RAW and Natural Wine: Chilled, Unfined, Unfiltered

I’m always excited about the RAW Wine Fair. The mystique, the you-wouldn’t-get-it, the maybe-you-don’t-like-natural-wine, the IYKYK of it all. It’s legendary hipster lore in my mind. It has been the see and be seen of the natural world. I mean the natural wine world. I don’t even know what the natural world is anymore—who’s to say? But as it goes with the world, so too with wine, where “natural” is still far and wide an unregulated term. Not that I haven’t always found a good time at the fair. See Exhibit A and Exhibit B . What I do know about the world of natural wine is that it’s ever-growing, diversifying, and trending, to the point that Bon Appetit just published this article . Has natural wine jumped the shark? Is that even a fair question to ask? Consider the irony of BA publishing that piece, given that their former wine editor Marissa A Ross was one of the biggest natural wine champions ever, and her presence at the magazine certainly brought natural wine to the masses. She left around when they purportedly started paying her by the word (in other words, likely shortchanging her), also right around the time the editor at the time, Adam Rapaport, was exposed for shortchanging people, especially people of color, and right around the time the publication needed a huge turnaround. It has since been rebuilding itself with some success, remaining a big name in the food publication world, so when a major publication starts doubting, or maybe I should not say even doubting, more like casting, what? Shame? Shade? The heinous label of “No longer cool?” upon the very trend it originally buoyed, you have to wonder if it is “not cool”? Or has the movement merely let down its guard and become welcoming to everyone from househusbands who only drink Rombauer to businesswomen who live for DRC? In some respects, I do think there is more transparency about what natural wine is. Aka, more people know there is no exact definition (aside from France’s Syndecat de Defense de Vin Naturel), and we can all admit it is not an absolute process or product but a continuum of processes, from zero-zero, to biodynamic with a pinch of sulfur, to stylistically “natty” versus “clean”. Have we reached Big Natural Wine? I heard the rate for a producer to have a table at RAW has grown substantially, and RAW must be doing well as this was the second fair they had in Los Angeles this year. Natural wine (whatever that means) has been spreading like wildfire. To wit, in my nearby Los Angeles neighborhood of Virgil Village, a new natural wine bar recently opened less than half a block from another. I like them both, although, one still feels more welcoming than the other, but I leave that to you to deduce which is which. To be clear, I’m a fan of many natural wines, and a great many natural wine people, but resisted jumping in the pool completely due to a) the distain in the voice of a bartender when I reject a flawed wine, and they respond “oh some people don’t like natural wine” and b) as I mentioned, there is literally no good widely used definition and c) I’ve been burned buying wines from stores and producers I trust, only to realize at home, I have a bottle of undrinkable mouse-y wine. But! In the last year-ish, I do feel like natural wine bars/stores are stocking well-made wines without flaws, and many people are understanding that natural wine may not taste “natty”. And yet as inclusive as many things were feeling, the fair was still as overrun with white cis-male producers/winemakers as ever. I couldn’t help but wonder (yes I am a Bradshaw-stan), in an industry claiming to be forward-thinking and progressive, where were the women winemakers? I saw plenty of women pouring at RAW this year, many of them friends of mine, which definitely fed into my feeling like a part of the party, women were there and representing. Although they were rarely the winemaker or owner—rather usually they worked for the distributor. There is nothing wrong with that at all; I guess I was just hoping to see women represented as winemakers and producers a smidge more. I counted on the website list of producers the number of woman winemakers out of the 100-plus that would be there, and around ten were (I thought) female. Knocking it all down was my impulse—but rather than that, I suppose I hoped to see growth. So this year, I went into this year’s fair with two objectives: 1) Find out if the natural wine world (at least at RAW) has grown more welcoming 2) Seek out the women winemakers And then I got there, and when I got to some stands, I was reminded that a name ending in an “a” could be male in some countries. Or I’d find that the winery was actually run by a husband and wife team. The number of women was even less than I surmised. And non-white people? Even less. Progress made for the earth, in that people are seeking wines made with more respect for nature and the earth, but… Well, how about the welcoming factor? Upon arrival, I was summoned to take part in a blind-tasting contest. Of course a lot of wines at RAW are not conforming to “testable” varieties my education prepped me for, but I had fun, made my best guesses, didn’t feel judged by the duo pouring the wines for my assessment, and went my merry way, albeit not before the test givers figured out I was in the industry and invited me to a happy hour at the joint next door. It was a promising start. Despite my complaint of lack of women winemakers, I ran into several female-identifying friends who were pouring wines they repped. I felt ultra-included. Until at the table of a natty Champagne I recommended last time, I waited an excessive amount of time for a hipster jump-suited couple who weren’t even tasting to scootch aside. And just as I reached the table, suddenly a woman, I’m assuming who worked either for RAW or the winemaker (she was wearing a RAW shirt), pushed through with two people I am guessing were important influencers given the number of pictures they were taking and how they were treated. I am the type to hold my tongue but at some point, when I finally got a taste, may have commented on how I’d been waiting. I wasn’t sure, but I think the lead influencer noticed. I mused to myself that the natty scene was maybe still a bit exclusionary. Then! An hour later, as I was at a side table equipped for roving spit cup unloaders, and checking notes, the alpha influencer came up to me and apologized wholeheartedly. She saw I’d been waiting and wanted them to not ignore me and felt bad about what had happened. That was unusually sweet and appreciated. I’ve been at plenty of places in all walks of my hyphenated life journey where I am pushed to the outside, and the insiders don’t notice or care. I ask again, IS the natural wine world becoming more inclusive? Regardless of this above all: justice for the women. Where WERE my women winemakers? And also like, the latest stat I saw was that about 17.8 % of winemakers were women. So RAW is in whatever company in that respect. If all this seems disjointed, that’s because my feelings about what it means to be natural wine and what the natural wine “community” mean to me are in flux. If I find a flux capacitator, maybe I can get a sneak preview. Sorry, in the name of inclusivity I should explain that “flux capacitator” is a deep Back to the Future cut. In the meantime, I’m here to encourage inclusivity and champion a few of the established women winemakers I found at the fair. I wish I had more. The main point of this is that natural wine feels like it is coming to a point where it COULD be for all the people…to drink! And it is. And somehow I find myself holding the standard for how the industry brings in women and people of color. I want all wine for everyone. Whatever their background, sexuality, economic status, and so on and so forth. Plus, ALL wine, natty, conventional, even friggin’ mega-purpled cesspools of wine…I want all people to be able to command any of them that they want to, if they want to. Okay? Okay. Wine for people. Wine for the world. Wine for the environment. If we could all just find the Venn diagram of where these things all coincide with irony, we’d be taken care of. Oh, before I go, the three wineries I got to actually speak with the woman winemakers at, as they were there pouring, were Margins , Camins 2 Dreams , and Terah Wine Co. All three deserve their own article. I’m certainly going to hit them all up to be on my podcast. Go find them in the meantime though. It’s never too late. Well, never too late if you get on board soon enough, that is. Buying more diversely is a decent start. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Sugar and Wine and Everything Fine Further Down the TikTok Rabbit Hole Riesling Part Two: Prädikats-Fine-Wine Down the TikTok Rabbit Hole: Jalapeño Rosé, Why Not? You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Andrea Jaramillo Wine Situation Final Five! Cara Patricia

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