Raw Wine: New York and Los Angeles
Raw Wine is the pre-eminent natural wine fair, at least by international standards. Isabelle Legeron, a Master of Wine and the author of Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally, started it five years ago in London. In addition to London, it is now held in Berlin, New York and for the first time this month, Los Angeles. It is a two-day fête, Sunday and Monday, with seminars and other events planned around it. If you are curious about natural wine, like it or just love wine regardless of how it is made, and live in a close proximity to New York or Los Angeles, I highly recommend checking it out, even if you have to take a vacation or “sick” day on a Monday.
Why? This is really one of the best opportunities you will have to learn about and taste the breadth of natural wines that are made today. Raw is a big fair with over 120 producers and it might be overwhelming but it has a very friendly vibe. Most winemakers don’t really care if you’ve never tasted natural wines before or if you are their biggest account; they are just happy that you took the time to taste with them. Unlike a lot of big tastings, the winemakers are usually there pouring, sometimes with family members, and even if you find yourself tasting with an importer or distributor, most of these folks are very passionate about natural wine and committed to their growers. So, while it is big, it isn’t corporate.
Personally, I appreciate the level of transparency and organization that is involved. Legeron doesn’t “curate” the tasting based on which wines she thinks are good enough to be included. Rather, all of the wines must meet the specifications stated in Raw’s charter. They are farmed without synthetics, are hand harvested, fermented with native yeast save for secondary fermentation in the case of Champagne and cannot have more than 70 mg/liter of total SO2. The total SO2 level is indicated for each wine. The program also indicates if a wine has been fined or filtered.
I must warn you that it is nearly impossible to taste everything even if you are there from start to finish, go to both NY and LA, and have a very large and efficient liver. Here are some tips on how to navigate the tasting:
1) Focus on certain regions. There is much to be learned by comparing the differences between winemakers who work with similar terroirs or the same grapes.
2) Ask questions. If someone is pouring for a lot of people I try not to inundate them with too many but will ask them for their email and let them know I’ll be in touch. Keep in mind that not all winemakers speak English or speak it well. If there seems to be a language barrier, ask for a business card and email them (you can use Google translate to ease communication). This said, if you taste with someone who is not terribly busy, take advantage and get as much knowledge as you can.
3) Be patient. Some tables are swamped and especially if you want to try wines from popular producers you’re going to have to make a time commitment. Which leads to…
4) Be adventurous. Check out producers you don’t know first. If you really want to try wines you are not likely to see anywhere anytime too soon, look for producers that do not have importers. Go out of your comfort zone. Taste the grapes you’ve never heard about before. Spend an hour just tasting orange wines, especially if you haven’t had them or have yet to meet one you’ve liked. Or petnats. Or amphora vinified wines.
5) Have your own opinions. Just because a bunch of people you know think a certain wine is amazing doesn’t mean it’s going to have the same impression on you and don’t be afraid to say so. Same if you’re really digging something but someone else isn’t. Dialog, debate and dissension are good things.
6) Drink a lot of water. I try to have several sips in between producers. Not only does it slow you down and slightly cleanse your palate but also, even if you are spitting, all of that wine is dehydrating.
7) Don’t drive. If you’re coming from Manhattan take the L to Jefferson Street, even from 8th Avenue it won’t take more than a half hour. If you don’t have access to public transportation on either coast, taxis, Lyft and Uber are more than happy to drop you off or pick you up. Spitting 50 wines is still absorbing a small amount of 50 wines and that’s a lot of alcohol.
Raw Wine NYC
November 5 & 6, 10 am – 6 pm
99 Scott Street, Brooklyn
Raw Wine LA
November 12 & 13, 10 am – 6 pm
214 South Main Street, Los Angeles
Public: $55 online, $70 door per day, $90 – 2-day pass
Trade: $25 online, $35 door
Also, check out this link for other events going on during Raw in both NY and LA.
Not least, there is a wine dinner at Saha in Berkeley with Raw winemakers Johannes Zillinger from Austria and Jõao Tavares de Pina of Quinta da Boavista. It’s a five-course dinner starting at 7 pm on November 9th. Both producers make stellar wines and Quinta da Boavista is one of Portugal’s most exciting and unique wineries. For more information go to: http://sahaberkeley.com/events/