The story of a more sustainable approach to food production and, consequently, consumption, is played out every weekend at an increasing number of farmer’s markets right across Australia and New Zealand. Whether it be sunshine or rain, these primary producers wheel out, stack, and showcase their locally grown produce for local conscientious consumers to inspect, try and buy the things they know have come straight from the source.
In recent years, this paradigm shift of food mindfulness has spread itself over to the topic of wine, with an ever increasing number of winegrowers and makers opting to pursue a more sustainable approach to the way they grow and make their wines.
So, is this action being observed at the most crucial point of the production process, the actual sale of wine? Are the restauranteurs and sommeliers noticing an increase in these types of wines, as well as the necessary demand for them by their customers, and are these wines even good enough to be included on their lists?
“In short”, says Stuart Knox, owner/sommelier at Sydney’s Fix St James, on natural, organic, biodynamic wines, “I love them. To me they are a far more honest interpretation of the vineyard. Having said that, I don’t insist that every wine I drink is one of these, and I understand that it doesn’t work for every producer. What I do want though is more thought going into what they do or don’t do in the vineyard and winery”.
Stuart has been operating Fix for almost 7 years, and in that time he has noticed that, “we’ve gone from people actively avoiding organic wines and not knowing that natural/biodynamic wines even exist, to now having a good understanding of them”.
Cameron Douglas, New Zealand’s first and only Master Sommelier, is in charge of, and consults on, many wine lists up and down the land of the long white cloud. He has certainly noticed “an increase in demand”, but thinks “this is balanced with an overall change in the way people are thinking about what they eat and drink”. “I know”, continues Cameron, “a number of restaurants that aim to source organically farmed produce, because it tastes better and can make for more authentic tasting dishes”.
Experiences in awareness raising for these types of wines is less so for Andrew Clifton-Smith, manager and sommelier for Bacchus Restaurant, in Newcastle, NSW. He thinks, “despite the obvious increase in awareness recently, of organic and biodynamic farming practices… generally people have not related that to wine yet. I certainly don’t get many guests walking into the restaurant demanding organic wine”.
Talking to Stuart, Cameron and Andrew, it becomes clear that these types of wines are making it onto the lists of Australia and New Zealand’s best restaurants and bars, but not just because there is a demand from the consumer, or because of some personal preference from the sommelier. These wines are making it onto their lists, first and foremost, based on merit.
“The bottom line”, says Cameron, “is matching people to food, wine and an experience that makes them want to come back”. Cameron recently curated a wine list for a restaurant, and when he looked at it closely noticed it had an unexpected theme of organic and biodynamic wines. “It was not intentional”, says Cameron, “but in choosing the wines based on balance and complexity, along with their adaptability with food, I was surprised to discover this attribute”.
Andrew, from Bacchus, freely admits that “seeking out these wines began more as a personal preference for a less adulterated product, but I have also found these wines have a vibrancy and vitality that is unmatched by many conventional wines”. So, when it comes to selecting which wines to list, Andrew has found that, “texture is much more prevalent in natural and organic wines” and texture is, ” a quality that is so important, particularly when matching wine with food”.
For Stuart, at Fix St James, selecting what wines to list is simple, “every wine that’s on the list is there for it’s merit on the palate”.
So, with all this increased awareness and accessibility to these types of wines, how do these guys present and explain them to an interested customer?
“When presenting or suggesting a wine”, says Andrew from Bacchus, “I tend to introduce the farming practices and the beliefs of these wine makers. At the end of the day these are the wines that I prefer to sell, because I believe that it is the winemakers dedication and time in the vineyard that produces the better wine. At the end of the day, I know that wine is quite subjective and personal, so I am always keen to offer a taste and let the wine speak for itself”.
Master of Wine, Cameron Douglas’ mission is to, principally, sell a dining experience; “If I can engage with a customer in enough conversation to move them towards a particular wine, which happens to be organic, natural, or biodynamic, then I am pleased to do so… I will select wines”, continues Cameron, “based on a food programme first, clientele second, and style of dining third. If they are natural, organic or biodynamic wines, then I guess I am choosing well”.
Stuart Knox believes, “these wines can take some of the snob stigma out of wine, but it doesn’t mean that they have to be natural, organic, or biodynamic to qualify though. I would say that discussing biodynamics can increase confusion and scepticism around wine, so I avoid it unless asked. I do still look at the BD (biodynamic) calendar though!”
When Stuart is selling the wines, it’s the story that counts the most, “I like to tell them the story of the wine, so they’ve already got a deeper connection to who made it, and why”.
D// – The Wine Idealist
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