Day 20: i sell natural wine

jarred gild sells natural wine in detroit and he doesn’t care for capital letters

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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Up next: To London, or; I wish I had known about this place during the volcano

~ by Cory Cartwright on July 8, 2010.

18 Responses to “Day 20: i sell natural wine”

  1. […] so, for some context, i wrote this while staying up overnight, under the […]

  2. Wonderfully written piece, Jarred. Lots of knowledge (naturally) but told with a wit and a bit of sass that made me keep on reading long after I was lost on the wine selections (being the noob that I am).

    I’m gonna make a stop into Western Market this weekend and pick up some wines. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Nice post, Jarred. I love the Gruner Veltliner, it’s become our house white for the summer. Several others here look interesting; I’ll have to make a wine-buying trip. Do you offer case discounts at Western?

  4. i ditto dibble!

    i purchased a case at western this month. i mention this because i can also buy wine at wholesale prices at my home store. note, jarred/western’s cache of clos roche blanche sauvignon is now depleted.

    jarred, how do you mean lopez de heredia challenges the “rules”? are they pop culture rules or rioja rules?

  5. jarred – nice post. i have a good friend from college who shops in your store. his name is Sven and he’ll say hi next time he’s in. i’m honored that something i wrote made an impression on you – consider me thanked. i always drink the hofer zweigelt chilled too – it’s much better that way. i think that you need to end your unnecessarily cruel practice of depriving the good people of detroit of Burgundy wine. why do you want to be so mean like that?

  6. Great read, Jarred. Nice to see more from the retail side of things.

  7. I also love reading the posts by other retailers. I would have loved to see a post all about the defintiely Yellow + Blue wine (and do agree that their initial packaging was god awful.) Customer reaction to the tetra paks is practically a study in human behavior.

  8. great post. loved Jarred’s total lack of artifice and attitude.

  9. Enjoyed the post. I work at Siema out in Virginia and we all appreciate the kind words about the Tati Barbera.

  10. Jarred – Thanks for the refreshing read.

  11. thank you all for the kind words, they’re much appreciated, and quite encouraging. i’ll try and keep up a good pace at

    matt- hope to see you saturday or sunday afternoon.

    ian- 10% off six bottles anytime, and i can occasionally do more on whole cases. hofer gruner or zwiegelt, $140/cs

    putnam- you’re the man

    brooklynguy- i’ve met sven, a great guy. come visit sometime! it’s not that i don’t want to sell burgundy, i just can’t find anything under $30 that’s worth a damn except the leclerc. if folks are going to spend more than $30 they go to the wine shop two miles away that specializes in burgundy (elie). i’ll look into any recommendations, but there’s alot we can’t get in michigan. i do have some great white burgundy though….

    christy- maybe i’ll try and do a second 32days piece, or just something for my blog ouvert7jours. it’d be nice to have a chance to sit and learn a thing or two from matt cain.

    anderson- y’all are doing a great job. i have a number of your wines and i adore them all. the tati barbera is one of my best sellers.

  12. putnam- to actually answer your question- the greenest wine customers think you can never keep a white that long, and the ones that know a little about wine think that you can’t have a wine of that ageable quality for so little money. oddly enough, all the oldest wines i have are white: the LDH wines and the C.H.Berres rieslings from ’96 and ’98. with my stash of 2000 hanssens oudbeitje (strawberry lambic) i actually have older beer than red wine in stock. excited to read your piece this year.

  13. I’m going to skip over the comment “friendly to people that drink bad wine,” and respond to your question of indigenous yeasts. All of our wines that carry the Demeter logo were made with indigenous yeasts, ideally all of our wines would. If per chance we have a tank that requires yeast, we will use some and that label will no longer carry the Demeter logo. The 2008 vintage was our first trying to use indigenous yeasts on 100% of our wines and almost all of the that vintage was, except for the Muller, we did use yeast for that. I think the Muller is one of 2 or 3 wines out of 20 that we used yeast from that vintage. Yeast, or no yeast, all of our wines are made from Demeter certified grapes, as our entire 230 acres are certified and all our wines are estate grown.

    As for the label, well I am honored you think it is fancy, I certainly like them. I always like to pass that along to my friend who designed them.

    Thanks for carrying our wines. We really appreciate it.

  14. kristin- i certainly hope i didn’t offend you with that comment, i really do love that wine and drink it at least once a month. i sell alot of wierd, tangy, barnyardy wines that freak people out, and it’s great to have a product that I can give to people and help ease them out of their comfort zone. a couple times now I’ve put a stack of it near the piesporter, and now those people are drinking all sorts of interesting goods. I applaud you for producing such an array of great wines, and for less money than so many shitty wines. (and seriously, awesome labeling. As a retailer, especially as one that isn’t in a store with a staff of salesmen, it can really make the difference. I don’t even need to say bad wines with pretty labels are still worthless)

  15. did i catch a fourth hole reference in there?

  16. No, you definitely didn’t offend me with that comment, I actually got a chuckle. Our Muller Thurgau does seem to be a good intro wine for people, it certainly flies out of our tasting room at a super quick pace. Thanks again for your support. And this blog, which is pretty funny.

  17. Very cool jarred, I need to make a point of trying this yellow + blue you speak so highly of.

    Keep on keepin’ on.

  18. Jarred,
    Amazing read despite the lack of capitol letters . . . It’s very nice to read posts about other retailers. I’m so jealous of the yellow and blue wines- I have drunk them many times, but tetra pack is verboten in my store (damn). There were a few wines I did not even know about (Montinore Thurgau, very cool. . . I’ll have to try some!)

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