Photo credit: Allison Wu
After being furloughed from my bartending gig at The Jasper, a first-of-its-kind cocktail bar in the heart of Carytown, I quickly discovered that cocktails just don’t taste the same when you make them at home. The ice in my fridge is no good for shaking or stirring. It’s messy (and sticky) to make syrups on the stove. Not to mention how annoying it is to juice citrus at home. Plus, after a ‘tail or two— I’m not so hot on my feet. And playing bartender at home, even if just for me and my fiancé, gets old fast. So, I turned to wine. Pour, sip, repeat. It’s easy. And sharing a bottle (or three) with friends feels way more approachable than being stuck shaking booze every time someone’s glass runs low. That being said, I’m the first person to admit: wine shops can be, uh, confusing. There’s so much to choose from: regions, styles, grapes, producers… the list goes on. Labels are pretty, but relying on them alone can lead you to a paper-dry red when you were really craving a bright rosé. Luckily, there is one way to narrow it down.
Fast forward to the pandemic, and I was buying juice by the case.
I prefer to shop from small-scale, organic producers, and farmers when it comes to my food. I’m a regular at the local butcher shop. And while I adore the taste of Miller High Life, I err on the side of local when it comes to my brews. It’s no surprise that I would be drawn to the world of natural wine. I first learned about what would later become my passion after working at Saison Market for a year. Even though I wasn’t learned in the world of wine quite yet, I knew that the bottles I kept coming back to were “natural.” Fast forward to the pandemic, and I was buying juice by the case.
The Morning After
Though there are many reasons to go natural, this one is popular: hangovers. It’s a struggle for me to get my eight cups of water in (Quinton helps!), so you can imagine that I promptly noticed how I felt the next morning after a night of natural wine compared to ‘tinis or house-reds at the local neighborhood bar. Natural wine is generally very low in sulfites, even sulfite-free in many cases. In my experience, natural wine simply doesn’t bring the same next-day fog as conventional wine.
Live and Let Live
Natural wine is “low-intervention,” meaning that the vintner allows nature to run its course, only stepping in when necessary. See: biodynamic farming. Similarly, the vintners don’t rely on machines to harvest grapes, which often results in unwanted additives—like spiders and other creepy crawlers—getting into your juice. Grapes are carefully handpicked to ensure only the best of the best gets into your bottle. Vintners tend to stick with native yeasts when it comes to fermenting the fruits of their labor. No harmful pesticides or herbicides here! Many farmers will plant other types of produce, like tomatoes, amongst the grapes for the sake of biodiversity, also allowing farm animals to roam free in order to eat weeds and yes— poo (because it’s good for the soil, okay!). Biodiversity = delicious wine.
Finding natural wine is easy— you just have to know where to look. While I adore a label that’s easy on the eyes (peep my Instagram!), the label on the back is actually the one to read. A trustworthy importer/distributor, like Jenny and Francois, Plant Wines, and Native Selections (to name a few), all prioritize natural wine. Plus, once you’ve got a handle on some of the producer names, like Krista Scruggs, Ruth Lewandowski or Martha Stoumen, it’s easy to find them in good company amongst other like-minded vintners.
Natural wine prizes transparency, the power of nature, and lauds the beauty of process and the diligent patience of those who devote their lives to it.
Despite my cocktail career coming to a grinding halt, my desire to learn never did. I find joy sitting at home with a glass of wine, learning all about the vintner and their history, the land, their process. It’s not only interesting— it’s important. Natural wine prizes transparency, the power of nature, and lauds the beauty of process— and the diligent patience of those who devote their lives to it. In the words of wine writer Isabelle Legeron: “It is a tiny drop in a big ocean, but, oh my, what a drop.”
— Emma Siobhan McLaughlin