Specialty Food Magazine

JAN-FEB 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 76 of 159

what they're putting in their mouths. They eat organically and are finally asking the same questions of how wines are made." Rather than winemakers pushing their green philosophy on consumers, Atwood says it's the consumers who are pushing the growth of natural wines. "They're learning about them online, caring more about wine that tells a story and not wanting something that's found in every supermarket," she says. Atwood acknowledges that natural wines currently represent a "tiny percent- age" of domestic wine sales, but she's finding an increasing number of similarly minded retailers from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The inventory, however, is dominated by natural wines made in France, Italy and Austria, countries where the movement has been strong for decades. Since natural wine is a loosely defined term with no sanctioning body, hard num- bers reflecting growth and sales are not available. The escalation of interest is evi- dent, however, in the number of distrib- utors focusing on natural wine, includ- ing Atwood's company, Louis/Dressner Selections, Jenny & Francois, Savio Soares Selections and Farm Wine Imports. Los Angeles is home to new progressive wine shops emphasizing this category, such as Buzz, located downtown and open until 2 a.m., and Domaine LA on Melrose Avenue. In Hollywood is a happening natural- wine bar, Lou on Vine. In San Francisco, bars and restaurants—including Terroir Natural Wine Bar, Gather, Bar Agricole and Arlequin Wine Merchant—are doing their part to advance the movement as well. Risks with Few Regrets Naysayers of the natural label abound, sug- gesting a marketing ploy for added sales. But not every winemaker has seen success in transitioning to natural. Wells Guthrie, the winemaker at Copain Wines in Healdsburg, Calif., says in years past, his ripe pinot noir was a highly rated critic's darling, with cases selling out fast. Recently he made a more Euro-style natural pinot noir with lower alcohol content. "[Robert] Parker hated it," says Guthrie. "Direct sales went down." Still, Guthrie has no regrets. "It wasn't meant to follow a trend," he says. "I just wanted to change for my own reasons, make lighter-bodied wines I wanted to drink. There's better acidity, they're more vibrant, [they] belong on your table with some food. It's probably the best thing I ever did." The Organic Paradox In specialty foods, becoming certified organ- ic can mean a boon for business—and expec- tation of quality. Yet the same certification bestowed to wines doesn't always trans- late positively, says Domaine LA owner Jill Bernheimer. "Some customers are recep- tive to organic farming practices or hearing about added yeast in wines, but others are suspicious or nervous of organics in a way they would not be if they were shopping for lettuce," she says. "I haven't quite figured out why that is. I see their faces change when I say it's organic. There is this disconnect." While some consumers may need more convincing, Rudy Marchesi, owner of Montinore Estate in Oregon's Willamette Valley, has seen firsthand the difference in natural versus conventional winemaking. He bought Montinore in 2005 and wasn't pleased with the quality of the wine being made nor the health of the vineyards. Step by step, he eliminated herbicides and pes- ticides in the fields, started a composting program, worked with cover crops, and then took some trials with biodynamics before becoming fully biodynamic certified by Demeter USA in 2008. "We saw a dramatic response in the soil within the second year," Marchesi says. "The previous owners were using cultured yeast, and we're using native yeast from our area and allowing the grapes to go through natural fermentation. The wines just keep getting more interesting in flavor." Marchesi saw some eye-rolling among his fellow vintners when he made the "The natural wine market is definitely youth-driven. They eat organically and are finally asking the same questions of how wines are made." transition to biodynamic. "'If you want to waste your time doing that, go ahead,'" he remembers them chiding. The heckling stopped when they tasted the resulting wines. "They recognized that something profound was happening in the glass and maybe it wasn't such an oddball thing to be doing," Marchesi says. Montinore now produces 40,000 cases of wine per year and sales have recent- ly increased almost four-fold on the East Coast. Marchesi believes New Yorkers are especially receptive to his wines because they are more familiar with an unadulter- ated, European-style. "Our wines reflect where they're grown and how they're grown in a big way," he says. How the grapes are grown has had an impact on Montinore Estate in another way. "My workers are no longer afraid of what we spray," Marchesi notes. "Their role has changed from being just a worker to custo- dians of the land. They have a sense of pride when we pull in the harvest." |SFM| Julie Besonen is food editor for Paper magazine and restaurant columnist for nycgo.com. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 75

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