Day 10: The experience of selling “Au Natural”!

Ben Wood is a long time wine retailer and saignee reader. He works at 67 Wine.

Hi,
So, I am a big fan of Saignée, and after having several discussions with Cory about last years 31 Days of Natural wines, I thought I might attempt to pen something down. Unlike a lot of writers in the series, I work for a retailer. Our goal is to sell wines (of course!), however I have a very large personal bias toward natural wines and wines with an honest sense of place. To that end, I’d like to talk about the experience of selling these wines.

First, A few definitions that we use all the time at work (there are a lot more that can sometimes be helpful, but here are the basics):

Biodynamically grown: this is a label given to wines that are made from an estate practicing biodynamic agriculture, but is not certified or undergoing any certification process.

Organically grown: these are wines from an estate that practice organic agriculture, but are not certified or undergoing any certification process.

Certified Biodynamically grown: a label given where an estate has completed a Demeter or similar certification.

Certified Organically Grown: wines produced from an estate that has completed some form of outside organic certification.

Second, A few definitions that have very little meaning in our way of thinking:

Sustainable: a catch all for wines that wish to, in many ways, to generally green wash. It is neither a definition that we use, nor do these wines get any sort of special labeling online or in the store.
Lutte Raisonnée: the same idea as sustainable, a green washing idea that gets no extra advantage online or on our shelves.

Of course, as all of you know, we get asked questions about these types of wines all the time: “Do you have organic wines?” “Are there any good organic wines?” “What is biodynamically grown?” And so on. We love getting these questions and challenging the customers who ask them to try natural wines. A favorite to sell is the Domaine Deux Anes Premier Pas. This is a great wine imported by Jenny and Francois selections. One great selling point is the rough translation of the wine’s name, “Two Asses,” with another being the visual appeal of the label, depicting the two donkeys that work the land. The caveat is the flavor, which is quite earthy and funky right out of the bottle (but like most great wines, gets truly delicious after about 20 minutes).

Many of the complaints we get with natural wines include, “It’s cloudy, so something must be wrong,” “The wine tasted ‘bad’, so it’s corked,” all the way up to “Why organic? That type of product always tastes bad.” On one hand, there is a reluctance to experience new things. There is a resistance towards organic products that originate from the days when all organic products were unscientific, and generally not as good as they are now. On the other hand, people in my age range and younger are more eco conscious and often look specifically for organic wines. Some of my favorite moments include educating our customers about the amount of chemicals that go into a mass produced wine . . . Enzymes, colorants, liquid tannin, and more, and then seeing their reaction. Another one is explaining about the difference in the sulfite levels, and how that comes about (not adding sulfites to control the winemaking and using a limited amount during bottling) and what it might mean for them as consumers.

In short the arguments, discussions and conversations around these great wines make them a joy to sell. Here is a quick list of some of the ones I love to sell and the “pitch” I use:

Alain Alier’s Mourisppe: these are wines made in the middle of a beautiful forest and is tucked away from traditional vineyards that surround it (Cory’s note: I got to see this vineyard last march and it is quite stunning: http://winedigger.blogspot.com/2010/05/domaine-de-mouressipe-alain-allier-st.html

Lopez Heridia’s Gravonia Blanco: a great wine made in the old tradition of Rioja. This wine is light, beautiful and earthy.

Domaine Guillot-Broux Macon-villages: this wine is a saline and beautiful chardonnay that tastes primarily of minerals with a hint of lime.

Natural wines are enjoyed by a full range of customers; however they are more important to some smaller segments of our demographic. They are really quite popular with the “younger” age group- especially millennials. As the youngest group of wine drinkers, they seem to be very eco conscious, and consume the largest amount of wine per capita in the history of this country! Millennials are also among the most educated consumers and the most adventurous in terms of willingness to try new wines, such as Groilleu, Bracoul, and other various blends from all over the world). Due to their desire to experience new wines and their eco-conscious mentality, these wines are perfect for them (and anyone else who wants to try some good wines!).

These wines are the most fascinating thing to sell, discuss and share with our customers due to the story that comes with each bottle of wine: the honesty that comes from working the land yourself, as well as vinifying the grapes in a natural and non-manipulated way. Interacting with the people involved in natural wines has also been a joy, ranging from our customers who regularly buy these wines to the importers and wine makers. Each one has an interesting story about the wines they love and are pretty cool people to hang out with.

Thanks,
Ben

Follow day by day here: https://saignee.wordpress.com/32-days-of-natural-wine-links/

Up Next: Our first ever bi-lingual post, or; [spanish]Our first ever bi-lingual post[/spanish]

~ by Cory Cartwright on June 28, 2010.

14 Responses to “Day 10: The experience of selling “Au Natural”!”

  1. Interesting comments about the age demographic. I wonder if it’s different in the SF Bay Area where I live? When I’ve gone to events that are geared towards natural wine (especially Louis/Dressner ones), I’ve observed the general age of the crowd to be older than what you describe in NYC. In this case, mid-30s and older.

    I’m sure Guillaume or Cory can confirm as to whether that’s right or not as they have been able to watch this on a daily basis.

  2. 2 anes=2 donkeys.
    2 culs=2 asses
    heredia= almost industrial

  3. G,

    You are insufferable! Keep it up. The nattie wine world is a better place since you got here, dogma and all.

    As for Lopez, I am admirer but really don’t go for them at all with my wallet.

  4. I’m not hating on lopez de heredia, i like the wines and all, but no one can talk about “natural” when it comes to a 170 hectares house.

  5. Guilhaume,
    Agreed they are large, but for a big producer I think that they do many things correctly. Natural means what then? Size is a factor? I occasionally buy their wines; but they were for me a transitional wine- that taught me to imagine what else is possible.

  6. I have no idea what natural means really, but if a hundred and seventy hectares house, not cultivated organically, not shy on oak, not shy on sulfur, can be labeled “natural”, i know i don’t want to have anything to do with it.

  7. I thought they were organic. No? And I don’t really think of them as oaky wines. Oh wait, I did have one red that was crazy oaked. I forget which one, but it’s the one that’s released pretty young. I had no idea they were that big though. I agree that you can’t really be considered natural if you’re that big. Most of the places I consider natural are under 20 hectares I’d say. Mathieu Lapierre said to someone at that point that they just wouldn’t be able to do what they do on any kind of large scale. Things just get too…industrial. IE, not natural.

  8. I’ve never visited them, and again, i like the wines. But they are oaky, oxidative, which in my opinion is an obstacle to the expression of any “terroir”, and i don’t read anything on their website about being organic. oh, and a hundred and seventy hectares is 15 times as large as lapierre’s place, which is not exactly the smallest operation when it comes to natural wineries.

  9. Guilhaume,
    Point made- They don’t make your standard for real reasons . . . Something I need to consider (including tasting some more, and thinking about this a bit). Yeah- it’s a huge place . . . And we know that it is really quite hard to use “natural” techniques (organic or bio farming, minimal intervention in the cellar and all of that).

  10. I still don’t understand why the size of the domaine has anything to do with one’s ability to deem the wine “natural.” For the sake of argument, let’s assume that M. Lopez & Co. are using minimal sulphur, no oak, and cultivating org/bio, etc.; in short, they are intervening minimally and are making wine in a way that most of us would consider “natural.” Are you still saying that their wines cannot be so considered because they source from over 20 hectares? Is this assertion a product of being caught up in the romanticism of “natural” wine and craving the quaintness often associated (guilty myself)? Or are there concrete reasons why a larger domaine can’t make “natural” wine?

  11. LdH wines are genuine rioja wines: oaky, a bit debatable as far as terroir wines vs method wines (I see and lean towards both sides of that one), and made in a large scale.

    Personally I prefer these wines to many natural ones. Sulphur, liberal copper sulphate use, oak and all.

    70 euros for young Pacalet 1er or less than a quarter of that sum for a current vintage of Tondonia Rsva (white or red) or Bosconia? I’ll take the LdH any day.

    Then again I am the Spanish wine buyer…And my palate is fucked from all of that free basing in high school….

  12. Tallia,
    I actually have visited estates that had bio certifications, biodynamic certifications, and that were around 50 hectares, and i have no problem considering them somewhat “natural”. Lopez de heredia is just not working that way. Still, without being caught up in some romantic ideas, i find that a 170 hectares is a bit large. Who’s family need a 170 hectares to make a living? What vigneron is able to work all of his vineyards and make all of his wines with a 170 hectares property? Who can hand harvest a 170 hectares property? who can work his soils manually with a 170 hectares property?
    To me, it’s a bit like comparing restaurants like balthazar to a restaurant like per se.
    Joe,
    i think you undersand what i’m saying. I like LDH, i also like pacalet, i think they are both good wines. But clearly, one is natural and the other one’s not. And comparing prices between 1er cru burg and the rioja…. crack is whack!

  13. […] blog, the winery was called “almost industrial,” and was followed by a number of comments (see Day 10 in case you missed the exchange). Ironically, a totally different point of view to that expressed […]

  14. Guilhaume – we have some Tollot Beau Savigny 1er in stock for under $30. Should I grab you some? Or maybe some nice burgs from North Berkeley?

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