Day 20: i sell natural wine
my wine knowledge is strictly post-2007. from the ages of 19 through 22 i was a beer geek, the sort of rabid beer-geek that drives long distances to find obscure bottlings, that makes a mess of their kitchen every week homebrewing, that scoffs at wine for being heavy on the palate, expensive, and elitest, all whilst while choking down a barrel-aged russian imperial stout that costs an hour’s pay per bottle. that got old fast. i then got into jolly pumpkin, lambics, and the whole world of dry, tart brews. those never gets old, but by that point i was a beer buyer and the wine buyer’s bitch, and it’s something of a dead end career-wise to just want to drink sour beer.
i started to buy wine and make myself drink it, predominately spanish wines, because they were sold in giant piles everywhere i shopped. had things not taken a turn for the natural, my interest in the world of wine would have likely dwindled after that, and i’d of retired my tongue to gin and tonics and farmhouse ales. by this point i had left whole foods and started at western market, a small italian “fresh market” that had started carrying wine, but lacked direction, or even a buyer. there were some interesting wines on the shelf, but i didn’t know them from the thick, heavy, boring junk that i despised. then, at the ripe old age of 23, i met putnam, a man who had years ago grown weary of industrial wines, had quit drinking wine in favor of beers like mahr’s pilsner, but possessed a palate reborn like a phoenix when introduced to joe dressner’s wines. it’s very likely this isn’t how it all went down, for my memories are unreliable, but the important parts are there: putnam drank real wine, and i drank with him.
the wine industry, like much of society today, is full of ridiculous, unnecessary, bullshit. lewis, my comrade at western market, reminded me of plato’s allagory of the cave: in it, a group of people are forced to face forward, and to only see the projected shadows of people walking between a fire behind them and a wall in front of them. this is close to how i see our modern consumerist culture: people see the results of action and pay no mind to the process behind them. i, for better or worse, have been acutely aware of the process that results in product since a young age, and have since identfied myself as a anarcho-marxist.
for me, real wine is a way to connect to real people, that do real things, and aren’t wasting my time or theirs on bullshit. i have more than enough bullshit product from focus groups, marketers, and greedy people than i can deal with, let alone the shit product produced for people barely scraping by for people that are barely scraping by. in my world, if you’re spending leisure dollars on stuff that is making someone’s life shittier, you suck.
so here’s some natural wines that i enjoy and sell at my store. i’m well aware on the harmful processes that i encourage by purchasing wine, but i drink enough wine to stop caring. what do i know anyways?
hérétiques is my best selling wine in 2010. this might be my proudest moment as a wine-monger. i employ a sales technique that can only be used sporadically; that is, i inform customers that i won’t be recommending any other red wines until they’ve tried it. pépière muscadet has a devout following as well, but joseph landron’s wines take part of their market share. mentioning that you have the largest natural muscadet selection in town doesn’t garner much respect around here. these are two of the very few wines that people will ever purchase by the case from me.
i only stock two burgundies, not counting three beaujolais, two of which are morgon (foillard cote du py and breton). i only actively recommend the leclerc, and will sell it at cost to customers that convince me they want to experience good burgundy but are without means. it smells like raw beef and sweaty women. i’ve yet to find any others worth the money that i would have a reasonable chance of selling.
peillot’s wines are some of my personal favorites and i stock the three that were available to me, though it’s an image of renardat’s bugey cerdon that i put on the back of my business card, and spilt into my macbook, permanently causing an internal stickiness. the bugey cerdon isn’t pictured because i drank every last bottle in michigan i could find. i can’t give tempe’s rodelsberg away at fifteen dollars, which makes me feel like a lackluster salesman, except that i get to keep all of that wine to myself as well.
pinon’s cuvée tradition vouvray was the wine that allowed me to understand what good wine is. putnam, in what must have been one of our first times hanging out, had brought his big green egg to my backyard, freshly converted from a suburban waste of space to a garden. we ate asparagus and the experience was transformative. too this day i’m grateful beyond words to all parties involved in getting that liquid magic into my mouth. that cour-cheverny tastes like it was squeezed from a giant bug. i’d like to drink all of it.
bordeaux continues to not make an impression on me. i like the ecuyer de couronneau for it’s sheer weirdness. hearsay has that it’s made without sulfites. i don’t pretend to know if that’s true. it’s fizzy when opened.
puzelat’s wines won over the more skeptical of the two owners at western. steve has long seemed to understand the wines i choose, but his brother tony not as much. then he tried puzelat’s touraine pinot noir. he’s firmly in the natural wine buying contingent now, and even hand sells the tesniere, despite the lack of any term on the entire label recognizable to the average consumer.
montinore’s müller-thurgau is very useful wine. it’s mild sweetness is friendly to people that drink bad wine, and the fancy label catches the eye. it allows me to introduce customers to the principles of natural wine, and get them comfortable with the varietal being a word they had never heard before. people insisting on purchasing a varietal and then having no knowledge beyond that demand are the bane of my existence. i’d be interested to know if they use indigenous yeast.
am i supposed to drink the zweigelt cold? it tastes great chilled and like shit warm, so i’d say sure. i wonder about the yeast situation on these two as well. it doesn’t stop me from pushing them though, and the grüner veltliner will be one of the biggest movers of the year, despite only being available from a once-a-year direct import. i’ve been meaning to write and thank brooklynguy for introducing me to it two or three years ago via a write-up. drinkable proof of the influence that wine blogging can have.
these three form an interesting natural wine case study for me. few of my customers are familiar with the grapes or regions represented, and i feel they all present a good value. the roagna has a pedigree and is already cellared, and i think full worth the $46… but i’ve sold two bottles this year. i know more than that have been ordered from new york wine shops and shipped in. the cappellano has swifter turns on the shelf, selling maybe a case and a half this year. it packs the most wine per dollar of anything i can get my hands on, and at $18 folks would be daft to pass it up. the bricco dei tati barbera is the grapes are organically grown by the family behind siema imports (whose portfolio i enjoy), but that’s all i know of it’s naturalness. it’s one of my best selling wines this year. at $10 it’s not hard to guess why it outsells the others. it serves as a reminder what kinds of wines i need to seek out though, and to never become dogmatic, pretentious, or elite in my tastes; not that loving the finer wines here makes you any of those things, but that my mission is to find wines that connect a respectable situation that people can actually afford.
i’d be remiss not to mention the wines of randall grahm, a man with nearly a half-million twitter followers that took time out of his evening to speak to two of them at length about his wines. after dogging the local distributor for a case of samples, putnam and i had a chance to talk with randall on the phone for almost an hour. did the free-ness of the samples impact my judgement of the wines? only in that i actually got to taste the wines, something i could not have afforded otherwise. no, it’s the quality of the wines and randall’s passion for them that earn them space on the shelf. it’s a similar situation with quivera.
i’d carry the lopez de heredia wines even if they never sold, if only to remind my customers that there’s always something out there that challenges the “rules” they learn in their wine books. luckily that’s not the case, though i think this is the wine whose sales are most effected by all the blogger love for them.
now these wines. i’ve sold them since the first vintage, back when they had the world’s ugliest package. shallow, i know, but i’m a retailer and looks matter, especially since i’m not on the sales floor at all times. i didn’t give them much thought until this current vintage, complete with a snappy new design and a fourth varietal (sauvignon blanc) added to the line-up. of the fourty or so lines of text running sideways down the container, one line in particular caught my eye: indigenous yeast. in an era where terms like sustainable, natural, organic, and tradition are a dime a dozen, that one obscure winemaker’s note always causes me to stop and pay attention. additionally, they’re made from organically grown (the malbec’s even biodynamic) single-vineyard fruit, low in sulfites, stainless steel fermented, and brand owner matt cain insists there’s “no spoof”. for me, the tetra-pak situation is more than eco-friendly, it fits my lifestyle in ways that make me sound like a drunk; i’ve taken these delicious little liters of wine walking through montreal, kayaking michigan’s lakes, to music festivals, biking around detroit, and pretty much everywhere good wine isn’t sold. i was actually going to write this entire article about these wines, but chickened out. do the internet wine geeks like them? i don’t know, but i do know that i’m determined to make this one of the biggest selling brands in my store.
thanks for reading folks, and buy more natural wine!
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