While in London last week, I met with Isabelle Legeron MW, who founded the RAW (The Artisan Wine Fair), in London in 2012. (May 15-16, 2016) Her goals: bring transparency to wine and showcase true terroir wine made naturally. Sitting outside in the brisk London chill for a cappuccino, she was as authentic and down to earth as the wines she loves.
Even though she told me that she prefers being among the vines or in the cellar with winegrowers, she has become a de facto leader and source of inspiration for both artisan producers and wine drinkers, who want the “real” thing. As she and many others point out, all wine used to be “real” and made only from fermented grape juice. But modern technology changed all that.
Did you know that 60 different additives are legally permissible in wine, not to mention a host of processes like reverse osmosis, cone spinning, etc.?
Wine is one of the only products sold for human consumption that is NOT labeled with ingredients. The 99% in this case are the industrial producers (both large and small), who want to keep it that way. The 1% are the winegrowers, who not only use organic or biodynamic farming practices, but who also refrain from using additives and processes in the cellar. (Read RAW Fair Charter of Quality)
On the RAW Fair website, Isabelle wrote:
I want to help people think about what they drink. It is not about condemning practices; it is about raising awareness so that people can decide what they drink. At the moment, they can’t.
It’s worth noting that this year is the fortieth anniversary of the “Judgment of Paris” and nearly the same for the founding of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (38 years ago). Those two events validated three concepts:
– “Experts” are capable of doing independent, objective blind tastings of wine.
– A single point score rating is a reasonable way to judge, compare, assess wine.
– The consumer doesn’t need to know what’s in the wine or where it came from, just the score.
These assumptions paired well with:
– the advent of industrial agriculture in the vineyard,
– the use of modern technology and industrial processes in the cellar, and
– the expansion of global marketing with the internet.
The trends pushed wine toward being a consumer commodity product that could be replicated using standardized, industrial processes, the very opposite of an artisan product, made by hand, reflecting distinct differences among grape varieties, vineyards and vintage years.
The scores began moving the market for wine so significantly that most winegrowers (whether small or large, well known brand names or not) became convinced that their only choice was to play the game…or risk not selling and eventually going out of business. (If you want to sign the petition…)
But luckily, there were artisans out there, who hewed to their trade. They are now the ones leading what might be called a revolutionary return to authenticity. It’s interesting that the same internet that spawned the standardization and industrialization of wine is now helping to give voice to artisan winegrowers and empowering consumers. Wine drinkers are starting to seek “authentic” wines with character, wines that have a story of people and place in the bottle. At least a portion of the public is tired of homogenized, industrial beverages. (And then, there is the whole concern about health and headaches from chemicals and sulfites, etc.)
Join the crowd. Find out for yourself who makes the wine, where it’s made, what its “roots” are. Then, start tasting instead of assuming that your palate is the same as the “experts”. The RAW Fair in London is a great place to start.
PS. This is fun.
(NB. I can’t help but note that all of these books are written by women. When I looked back recently at the Italian artisan winegrowers that I’ve written about, I noticed that almost half are women. This is astounding in a profession that is heavily male dominated. Read: Women of the Vines)
Isabelle Legeron, Natural Wine