THE RAW DEAL
For an unparalleled tasting of low-intervention organic, biodynamic and natural wines, look to Raw Wine
For an unparalleled tasting of lowintervention organic, biodynamic and natural wines, look to the Raw Wine fair
Over two days in May this year, more than 150 wine producers from across Europe and the Americas—some from as far away as Chile— gathered at the historic Markthalle Neun (Market Hall Nine) in Berlin, Germany for the 14th edition of Raw Wine fair. Founded in London in 2012 by Isabelle Legeron MW, Raw Wine showcases artisans of low-intervention organic, biodynamic, and natural wines, and brings together importers, trade professionals and wine aficionados who like to discover and drink them.
A fierce champion of the organic, biodynamic, and natural wine cause, Legeron’s impetus for setting up a wine fair dedicated to these wines and artisans stem from her experiences growing up in a family of vignerons in the Cognac region of France. Having worked on the family’s vineyards, she witnessed firsthand how the introduction of chemicals via weed killers, pesticides and fertilisers—then feted to aid in farming—adversely affected the terroir, stripping away the essence and vitality of the soils. Subsequently, during her foray as a wine consultant in London, she became disillusioned with the commercial business side of the wine trade. She laments, “I went into the world of wine because I wanted to go back to nature. I was hoping to meet farmers but instead I met businessmen in suits. That’s when I realised that the world of wine is like any other business: Dominated by industry.”
It was while making a television show called Journey into Wine that Legeron started meeting vignerons who were real farmers working the land, and who were making wines with low-intervention and minimal additives. “I decided to only work with these wines because their producers were passionate people I wanted to spend time with. I realised there was no event in London where one can meet these artisans, so I thought I’ll organise it,” Legeron recounts.
The success and positive reception of the inaugural Raw Wine fair was overwhelming, buoyed by the general upward trend of consumers who care about environment sustainability and who are becoming more discerning about their food and drink. Growers and winemakers too—many who are artisans with small-batch production volumes—embraced the opportunity to showcase their wines to a larger audience and were soon requesting for international editions of the event to satisfy a growing global interest in natural and organic wines.
Legeron explains, “Initially, the London fair was quite local and British-based, but very quickly Raw Wine became a very international wine fair where people travelled to meet growers. Our attendees now are definitely more international and not just those who already love natural wines.” Expanding Raw Wine to continental Europe and subsequently North America was an organic development for Legeron. Today, Raw Wine spans multiple global locations, with regular editions held in cities including London, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles. Come this November, the fair will debut in Montreal, Canada.
BERLIN BOOM, EASTERN EUROPE ENTHUSIASM
Raw Wine Berlin 2018 marked the fourth year the fair had taken place in the German capital. While previous editions were all oneday affairs, this year saw the event open up an extra day for the public and a day catered to trade professionals. Not only does this reflect the growing appreciation and demand for such wines in the city—since the debut of Raw Wine Berlin in 2014, close to a dozen of natural wine bars and shops have sprung up across the capital—it has also put forth Berlin as a hub for the burgeoning Nordic, Eastern Europe and Russian natural wine market.
According to Legeron, Raw Wine Berlin attracts a predominant Nordic and Russian crowd. On top of importers, restaurateurs and sommeliers from the likes of Copenhagen, Helsinki, St Petersburg and Moscow are increasingly interested in organic, natural and biodynamic wines. The fair has become a great way for them to keep up to date with the latest wines, vineyards, winery and production developments. “What we’ve worked hard at with Raw Wine is not just showing these natural wines as easy drinking, juicy and fun beverages, but positioning them at the fine dining level,” Legeron explains. “We invited sommeliers from Michelinstarred restaurants to show them that these
are gastronomy wines to be drunk with proper glassware, some decanted and all relevant in their environment.”
What’s also unique about Raw Wine Berlin is the growing participation of winemakers from the emerging wine regions of Eastern Europe. The 2018 fair saw a sizeable contingent of producers from Georgia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Czech Republic, including Vina Čotar from Kras, Slovenia, and Milan Nestarec from Moravia, Czech Republic.
As Legeron shares, countries like Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia are dealing with the aftermath of communism and socialist governments, when winemaking was either hindered or restricted to large scale low-quality production intended for domestic consumption. Vignerons are now rediscovering indigenous grape varieties and reclaiming their traditional winemaking techniques that adhere to organic or biodynamic principles. Consequently they are looking to export these quality wines, using Raw Wine to introduce them to the global wine market.
TRANSPARENCY, COMMUNICATION, EDUCATION
Legeron takes pride in the fact that Raw Wine champions transparency, something she feels is severely lacking in the wine production industry. Ingredient labelling laws for wine are just not as stringent as those for food products. “We are always told that wine is just fermented grape juice, but a huge majority of conventional wine is made with a lot of permissible additives that need not be declared on the label. Raw Wine exists to raise awareness about what’s going on in the wine world in terms of winemaking,” she explains.
What sets Raw Wine apart from most other wine fairs is its strict rules of participation. All wines presented at the fair must fulfill a set of criteria: Grapes must be farmed organically and/ or biodynamically; grapes must be hand-harvested; no yeast may be added except natural yeast in the case of secondary fermentation of sparkling wines; no blocked malolactic fermentation; no winemaking additives may be used except for low levels of sulphites, which winemakers must declare; no sulphite totals may exceed 70mg/L; no “heavy manipulation” of the wine using gadgetry such as reverse osmosis, cryo-extraction, spinning cone, etc; no chaptalisation or acidification.
To ensure the viticulture practices and the minimal-intervention winemaking of the artisans at Raw Wine, participating wineries are first asked if they are certified organic or biodynamic. Wine producers are also asked to supply analysis paperwork detailing total levels of sulphites for each wine presented at Raw Wine. Legeron admits these may not be fool-proof. In the future, she is
LEGERON TAKES PRIDE IN THE FACT THAT RAW WINE CHAMPIONS TRANSPARENCY, SOMETHING SHE FEELS IS SEVERELY LACKING IN THE WINE PRODUCTION INDUSTRY.
looking into more stringent initiatives, such as possibly testing soil samples. For now, it requires a lot of travelling, interviews and checking around the community.
For lovers of natural wines, one competitive edge of Raw Wine vis-à-vis other wine fairs is the sheer amount of information about the wines and wineries provided. “On our website and micro sites, you can find out exactly who does what. We have lots of technical information on each wine... My commitment is very much about giving as much information about the wines as we can,” Legeron expounds.
Which is also why Legeron tries her best to always have the winemakers behind the stands at Raw Wine, “because no one else will be able to tell you about the soil and the way the wine is made the same way”. She concludes, “A lot of these wines at Raw Wine are about the people who make them, so when you come here to discover the wine, it’s about getting to know the winemakers and having that human interaction.”
This page At Raw Wine, organisers try to share as much technical information as possible