Live, Raw and Real

The RAW Wine: The Artisan Wine Fair website defines natural wine as “farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar.” That means no sulfur, no fining or filtering and most certainly, no Mega Purple. Fine. I’ll talk about natural wine. I have strong thoughts but I’ll do my best to make it clear when I’m speaking of facts and when I am giving you my opinion. And when I really think my opinion is right, which is rare. I try to be open and I encourage you to do the same. Being open makes you a better wine consumer. And that IS a fact. With the RAW Wine Fair’s arrival in Los Angeles, I knew I needed to face my fears of too much brett. I have issues with bretts on many counts but here, I’m referring to wine brett not beer brett. The time had arrived to delve into natural wine. First of all, know that there is no legal definition of “natural”. Wines can be legally labeled as Organic, Made With Organic Grapes or be certified biodynamic by Demeter. These certifications are a good clue that the wine is tilting at natural. Still, “natural” has yet to have official legal meaning. The RAW statement I cited is what most people unofficially agree to. Nothing added, nothing taken away. But—another but!—it is not so simple, and RAW Wine founder Isabelle Legeron MW acknowledges this. Which endears her and her fair to me infinitely. In Legeron’s book “Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally” , she states, “Natural wine is a continuum, like ripples in a pond.” A continuum! J’adore. It is difficult and at times devastatingly costly to produce wine without sulfur dioxide to safeguard against things like refermentation. What’s better: using a little sulfur dioxide to save your bounty or sticking to your guns even if it means losing an entire harvest? Legeron iterates that while the “sans soufre” examples may be the pinnacle of natural winemaking, there are still those out there who choose to employ a small amount of sulfur. And some people may filter. A continuum creates a space for a higher gradient of natural. My issue with the natural wine movement of late is when the wines that are associated with being “natural” tasting are faulty. There are so many good natural wines: often cloudy, always with character. But I’m talking unbalanced wines. Wines with scorching volatile acidity, mouth-coating brett and worst of all, “mouse”. Mousiness comes when brettanomyces, lactic acid and other bacteria interact. To me, it is horrendous. It’s like there is a furry creature trying to find its way out of your mouth. Granted, flaws also exist on a continuum. Some people have a rodent fetish. I don’t know. And I’m good with small amounts of “flaw” giving wine character if the wine is well made. But I have no tolerance for wine that has these “flaws” because the winemaker doesn’t know what they are doing or simply does not have the experience to make a natural wine that retains equilibrium. This is an instance of me having an opinion that I stand behind. Please don’t hate me. But for the love of the grape and gerbils everywhere please don’t feel like wine needs to make you grimace. There are oodles and oodles of natural wines being made, in particular by Old World families who have learned from centuries of practice how to naturally or at least organically and/or biodynamically create wines that are fascinating, beautiful and balanced! Natural does not equal Mickey in your throat. And this is what makes me love the RAW Fair. It recognizes the continuum. They do have very strict criteria for wines to be accepted into the fair but are accepting of people who want to use a smidge of sulfur. And being the vegetarian that I am, I was glad to see that only vegan or vegetarian fining agents are allowed. So thank you, RAW for keeping it natural but keeping it real. Below you will find my favorites. I liked the Forthave so much that midway through the day I forewent the spittoon and took my Red Aperitivo spritzer out to the deck to get a breath of air and contemplate what I was learning. Watching the crowds at the picnic tables happily drinking and soaking up the sun, I thought about how hot it was for a November day. I thought about the fires burning with terrifying proximity to my home. It’s a small step, but making wine that respects the vine and the planet seemed like the right thing to be doing. I went back into the fair, re-energized to meet the future. Oh, and a proper shower wine pick is in there too. Not that I am endorsing shower wine, but if I was…scroll down to my Portuguese pick. Lo-Fi : After shaking Patrick J. Comiskey’s hand and trying not to outwardly fangirl—I’d met him once before not realizing it was the man whose writing I revere (read “American Rhone” !) and giggling at his pointing out my virgin wine glass, I dove into the wine I saw he’d been sipping—Lo-Fi! If it was good enough for him surely it would be for me. A trio of Cabernet Francs, a Malbec and a Grenache noir were all sound, well made and delightfully complex wines. I was particularly into the Clos Mullet vineyard Cab Franc—named Mullet for some stake cutting in the vineyard that led to uneven posts. If you are wondering what the Latin on the label is, it’s “Business in front, party in the back”. I’d party with Lo-Fi anywhere. Solminer : Moving along, I saw another familiar face. Well, label: Solminer. The 2017 Carbonic Syrah deLanda Vineyard is playful and gluggable thanks to the carbonic maceration method cutting down on tannins. Its sprightly nature is illustrated by the leaping goat on the label—Molly the goat. And while she lends her personality to the label, there is nothing goat-y (or mousey!) in the flavor. Meinklang : Moving away from California momentarily, I sampled some Austrian goodness. My favorites from Meinklang were their Pinot Gris wines, both dry and sparkling. They are racy, nervy and even when they look cloudy, they taste like clear sunny skies. I tasted several more stand-up wineries’ products when it happened: two wineries in a row of squirrelly mice assaulting my palate. I did a couple of laps to walk it off and find a wine that looked more catty and less mousey. I found it in France! L’Epicurieux : The kitties on the label of L’Épicurieux “Chacha” Régnie seemed like a good sign that no mouse was to be found, and I was correct. The mantra of the winemaker is “soil first”. They use a tiny bit of sulfur and they use it right. The “Chacha” name is from the winemaker’s wife Charlotte—Chacha is her diminutive. Sébastien may not want me to spend time speaking of labels and names but truth? A winemaker who lends heart and soul to these elements of his wine pours all that into the glass too. And love is a taste that no measure of additives can fake. Hatton Daniels : This winemaker creates a Malvasia Bianca that has caught my heart in the past, but this time I tried their 2016 Philip French Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. If you think Cabernet as being personified by a serious sturdy old man, think again. This is a perky and lively cab. It is still that old man (aka it still tastes like a Cab!), but he knows how to toss off the bowtie and polka—or jig?—like nobody’s business. Fun-time Cab. Maybe even sexy-time cab. Cab that can do more than just dance. Margins : Megan Bell has quite the wine pedigree. Trained in the Loire Valley, she makes superior wines. But she has no attitude—she is gracious and brilliant, and I cannot be more pleased to have met her. A sip of her Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg spurred me on to try everything. Bell herself spearheaded changing the vineyard the Chenin came from over to organic practices. This is an example where I clap the back of the winemaker and say thank you. She brings in the varieties I’d adore seeing more of out of California and fosters them into health. Margins’ wines are unique as Megan herself. Quinta da BoaVista : Somehow the labels made me think I was not going to be into it. The offbeat bottles featured sketches were of dudes up to no good hijinks. But that makes sense—the wines’ given name is “Rufia” which translates to “punk” or “ruffian”. Who were these punks?! “Cliffy! Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose (except maybe taste buds).” This is what I told myself as Alex Claus, who works with winemaker João Tavares de Piña, began telling me how much care was taken to select and tend to the grapes turned into divine wine. The 2017 “Rufia” Orange, a skin-contact white wine from the Dão in Portugal, was everything you want both in skin contact white AND everything you want in a crisp yet full white. I racked my brains trying to come up with a way to describe the wild and tangy stone fruit vibe I was getting when Alex said something bold, “Sort of a St. Ives Apricot Face Wash, right?” That was it. SO! Here you have it. I want to drink this wine with everything, but it also receives the Ellen Clifford Shower Wine Award for RAW. Because obvious. Forthave Spirits Red Aperitivo : How about some hard booze to round things up? Sipped straight any day, or on a hot day mixed with a bit of sparkling water, it’s hard to beat. And all organic! The botanicals range from orange to rose, and it is slightly sweetened with sugar cane distillate and colored with hibiscus and black carrot. I swear I could taste the hibiscus influence too. Sometimes a spirit is more complex than my simple words can do justice, but this is somewhere between aperitivo and amaro, bitter and sweet.

Sébastien Congretel

L'Épicurieux Vin de Chacha Régnié Gamay

Solidly cru Bojo. The label lured me in the vin kept me there. — 6 years ago

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Severn Goodwin

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@Ellen Clifford Nice feature article today, so you desire a tryst with Gamay? 🤫 I got the standard bearer of BoJo NoVo today at lunch, likely will be sampled tomorrow. GD is even making a Rosé NoVo this year.
Ellen Clifford

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@Severn Goodwin thanks for reading the article! I also got my GD sampler today and am in particular excited to try the rosé and the Beaujolais Villages Nouveau! We’ll have to compare notes😊

Hatton Daniels

Phillip French Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This cab is alive! It’s fresh, it’s got layers, it has tannic depth and it still knows how to dance. — 6 years ago

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Tyler Martinelli

Tyler Martinelli

I love Hatton Daniels!! So great 🍷
Ellen Clifford

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@Tyler Martinelli yes! Super nice too!


Fronte Negotium Otium Tergo Clos Mullet Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2017

This is actually the Lo-Fi Clos Mullet Vineyard Cabernet Franc, if @Delectable Wine can fix that! The Latin on the label says Business in Front Party in the Back. I’d party with this wine front and back so there’s that. Love the Lo-Fi finds — 6 years ago

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Foam Weiß Pinot Gris 2017

Pet nat natural goodness. If only their table wasn’t so mobbed at RAW I’d have gone back for more. It was mobbed for good reason though Meinklang does fine work. — 6 years ago

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MaJ CappS

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I love every wine this folks put out! Bio deliciousness.
Ellen Clifford

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@MaJ CappS absolutely! More notes forthcoming in an article 😊