-by organiser Doug Wregg
The dust has settled, the broken glass swept up, the spittoons dismantled for another year, the lights switched off and aching limbs and slightly sore heads placed in cold storage. Time to take stock of another Real Wine Fair and recollect the emotion of the occasion in a state of comparative tranquillity.
A time to thank the growers for their huge contribution in coming and showing their wines, for their enthusiasm and spirit and for generating that special friendly atmosphere that big tastings thrive on.
And to thank those who made their way through the claggy rain to Tobacco Dock and have subsequently given us the most positive feedback. And thanks also for your suggestions to make it an even better fair next year.
It was a pleasure to be part of this event. A couple of people asked me what financial benefit we derive from our investment in the fair. There is rather more (or less) to it than that. The rewards are not commercial; their real value is far more profound:
*The pleasure in seeing old friends
*The pleasure in making new ones
*Bringing likeminded people together
*Conveying that wine is not all about profit and for narrow purpose but has an identity, a history and cultural distinctiveness and personal foundation.
The Real Wine Fair strikes no didactic agenda despite what some commentators might write. The fair exists to bring the growers to the people and allow the public and the trade to experience wines that they might not normally taste or even know about. A fair is sometimes just that, a festival or celebration of the good things in life, a whirl of human interactions rather than a succession of cold financial transactions. If everyone feels positive then we’ve done our job and that is reward enough.
The Real Wine Fair ~ More than a wine tasting
The dates – Sunday 17th March – Monday 18th March
The weather – cold, murky, mizzly
Marie Thun calendar – two root days!
Two days in Wapping
110 wine growers
500 + organic, biodynamic and naturally made wines
Street food snacks
Artisan food and drink
Pop up wine shop
Pop up wine bar and restaurant
Real Wine posters
The Real Wine Month
Promotions and events throughout the UK in March
The Venue – Tobacco Dock, Wapping, E1
Tobacco Dock, a Grade One listed warehouse, was smokin’ hot, a superb venue. The Great Gallery was the perfect exhibition space, light (despite the gloomy weather), airy, with sufficient room comfortably to accommodate over 100 growers and many hundreds of visitors at a time. There was a separate room for the food, a big restaurant which doubled as a wine bar and rooms dedicated to seminars.
Real Wine 2013 was the collective enterprise of Les Caves de Pyrène, Indigo Wine, Passione Vino, Roberson, Ethical Edibles, Tutto Wines and Modern Portuguese and their many growers and we were also honoured to host a terrific contingent of Georgian winemakers.
It is invidious to single out growers, so a few extra honourable mentions. It was good to see the South West growers back en bloc – Luc, Pascal, Ludo & Jean-Bernard lent their usual cheery demeanours to the occasion. Spain was particularly well represented with great growers from lesser-known regions such as Alicante, Manchuela and Tenerife. The Georgians brought a variety of superb, exciting and unusual wines from their homeland. Artisans from Italy were exceptionally well-represented – they came from Piedmont, Lombardy, Friuli, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Sicily – amongst others – bearing a bewildering array of indigenous grapes and styles. This was, to coin a phrase, the real Italy, a far cry from milquetoast Pinot Grigio and over-sulphured Trebbiano. We had a fine sprinkling from Australia, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand – wine made from wild vines, in old tinajas or concrete eggs, with skin contact and sans soufre. The old new world or the new new world? Only time will tell. The Real Wine Fair may be viewed as putting a girdle around the world; this is the new small-scale globalism, connecting the dots, those dots being small growers working in a unique idiom, not necessarily recognised or honoured by their own local critics or peers, but working in an intelligent and prescient fashion to become the most eloquent advocates for the terroir of their own vineyards.
The Food (& Drink)
The food hall has become one of the features of the fair. Top London restaurants, artisan food and drink producers and suppliers come together in one room to offer fair growers a smorgasbord of delightful bites and thirst slakers. This year Zucca, Duck Soup, Donostia, Handmade Food, E5 Bakehouse, Wright Brothers and Androuet fed the wine-soaked masses. You could spend a whole day browsing, munching and sluicing. With hearty dishes such as cassoulet, duck confit and three day cooked lamb and street food snacks such as gnocchi friti with ham, broad beans in flatbread, wholesome sausage rolls, savoury crab sliders, platters of cheese and sinfully delicious ice cream on the menu, all tastes were catered for and palates pleased.
Caravan Coffee Roasters kept caffeine addicts happy and fair organisers awake; Camden Town Brewery provided cooling amber sustenance at the end of the day, whilst Sacred Distillery and Sipsmith provided medicinal shots of gin and vodka.
Chocolate and Wine
Original Beans, purveyors of chocolate from sustainable sources, exhibited their excellent bars and offered a chocolate and wine matching challenge that attracted dozens of interested tasters to their table. Moscato d’Asti with Esmeralda Milk – we think it works!
The Pop-Up Shop by Roberson…
…was a conspicuous success. Offering 15% off rrps for all wines sold on the day the pop-up shop was a magnet for those who wanted buy after they tried. Wines from the fair are still for sale – www.robersonwine.com
Real Wine Posters from Louise Sheeran
Louise’s witty faux-agitprop wine posters adorned the inside and outside of the main hall and brilliantly captured the fun and camaraderie of The Real Wine Fair.
The Unfiltered Dog
A pop up restaurant run by Ed Wilson and the hard-working front of house crews of Terroirs, Brawn, Soif and Green Man supervised by the indefatigable Cecile. The punchy menu included platters of oysters and cheese, scallops with xo, crispy pork belly with kim chee, smoked mackerel with horseradish and watercress, quail with burnt leeks and romesco and banana bread with salted caramel. A 50 bin list of wines selected from the fair offered great value with all the wines sold at a tiny cash mark-up. The Dog played host to a raucous party of 300 growers and fair attendees on Sunday, whilst Monday was a more sedate affair.
John Wurdeman of Pheasant’s Tears spoke eloquently of his adoptive Georgia. This country, with its ancient traditions of vine growing and winemaking, is making waves. Wine is more than wine to Georgians, it is sacramental; it embodies the folk identity, it is linked with family, with ritual celebration, with music and with hospitality. He drew fascinating parallels between the wine and polyphonic music and explained the symbolic significance of the Qvevri. John outlined the historical and current political context of Georgian wine and explained about the revival of Georgian cultural identity and how the Qvevri, having captured the imagination of a new generation of growers and winemakers, is also crossing frontiers.
Mike Weersing of Pyramid Valley, gave a witty, relaxed and erudite talk about skin contact wines. His thesis was that the grower has one crack at making a wine every year. The grape is the aggregate of all the unique terroir factors and approximately 90% of the essence of the wine is concentrated in the skins. This is the DNA, the stuff of grape’s existence. Winemakers, worried about phenolic pick-up, discard the skin. Skin contact, however, allows the winemaker to use less (and even zero sulphur); it gives the shape and texture. Mike also spoke pertinently about terroir and how his grapes could be transformed into wine with yeasts cultured in a laboratory anywhere in the world and still bear the appellation of the region, which was absurd when the wine’s very original identity resided in the yeasts. He also spoke about sulphur and that he would use it if its addition (in small quantities) lifted the flavour of the wine, but if it didn’t, he wouldn’t.
Mark Andrew and Doug Wregg explored the notion that natural wine and events such as The Real Wine Fair provided a healthy countercultural balance to the prevailing commercialism and mediocrity. Their talk ranged across (the crassness of) points scoring, the invidious concept of the fine wine market, the impoverished state of wine writing, the editorialising in magazines that prevented the expression of opinions outside the status quo, the abstract notion of consumerism and subjectivity in tasting. Mark distributed copies of his magazine, Noble Rot, a forum for new wine writing talent.
The Georgian Supra at Terroirs
A Supra is a traditional Georgian banquet. The food is a mezze-style succession of cold and hot dishes with wine flowing alongside. This version was held at Terroirs. Gia Rokashvili, chef at Pheasant’s Tears restaurant, flew over from Georgia to prepare a gorgeous array of colourful dishes seasoned with myriad herbs and spices. The feast was punctuated by toasts (to love, to life, to giving, to God, to peace). Wine was drunk out of traditional clay bowls against a background of polyphonic folk singing. Krakhuna, Tsolikouri, Chkhaveri, Kisi, Chinuri, Shavkapito – these Georgian native grapes we have loved.
A magical evening of Georgian hospitality.
Must remember to stay off the Chacha though!
The Real Wine Month
170 restaurants, gastropubs, bistros and bars; merchants, shops and online retailers participated throughout the UK promoting artisan wines made organically, biodynamically or naturally either by-the-glass or discounted. The month also saw a series of parallel promotional events including wine dinners and masterclasses by Giusto Occhipinti, Vasco Croft, Luc de Conti, Samuel Guibert, Mike Weersing and Sebastian de Martino.
WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT THE REAL WINE FAIR
- So much fun – was it the great wines, or the winemakers present or the great tasters that gave the room such atmosphere. It didn’t feel like work at all. Loved the space – the light, and the food stands were perfect. –Emily O Hare, River Cafe
- As always it was informative and great to try new wines, meet producers, and soak up their passion (and wine!) for what they do…. –Zeph King, Operations Manager Real Ale Company
- That was immense…Georgia…so cool. So impressed, thanks and well done all! –Sarah, The Bull and Last
- My partner and I had a wonderful time and got to taste some fabulous wines. —Elisa Galvan
- It has been a pleasure being there, tasting, eating, exhange ideas and projects…your professional attitude is not a surprise, hence your good results. You can be very proud of the movement you created –Luciana Girotto, Marc de Grazie & Rococo
- If you didn’t make @RealWinefair today go tomorrow. Joyous, life-affirming event. Wine as it’s meant to be tasted – with great people and food –Fiona Beckett, Guardian wine writer
- What a fantastic tasting. Super organized and amazing wines! Thanks to @LesCavesPyrene and @RealWineFair –Claudia Rosati
- Best wine tasting of the year @RealWineFair –Jonny Kleeman
- Great atmosphere, super friendly and some fascinating wines. Thanks and roll on next year! –Olly Smith, TV personality
- Great day, so many nice people! Thank you, makes a long trip worthwhile. –Pigeage
- Truly gorgeous, delicious, insightful and interesting day @RealWineFair. Thank you for helping me find my new favourite wine. —Ellie Poulton
- Well I think we can safely say the @RealWineFair was a success! –Roberson Wine
- The @RealWineFair was totally excellent. —Hare and Billet
- A thoroughly enjoyable wander around @RealWineFair. Some fascinating wines. –Imbibe UK
- Too many [favourites] to mention. A playground for adults. Just gets better and better. Bravo. –Monique Ziervogel
- We discovered some absolute gems for our new lists. Thanks for having us, great event. –The Ebrington Arms & The Killingworth
- Massive thank you @RealWineFair, especially the chance to taste Binner, Frick, Montenidoli, next time need winery day to see all! –Pyramid Valley wines
- It’s full of real people, sharing real wine and having a frightfully good time. That’s why the @RealWineFair works. –Nik Darlington, Red Squirrel Wine
- I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all that is @RealWineFair, thanks. –Pressed for Wine
- Revitalising day @RealWineFair. Highlights incl. Pheasant’s Tears (Georgia), Anna Martens (Sicily), AA Trinchero (Piedmont), Zarate (Galicia). –Susie Barrie and Peter Richards, TV personalities
- Congratulations! What a fantastic fair. We’re already looking forward to the version of 2013. —Lena Sarnholm
- @RealWineFair @LesCavesPyrene Thank you, thank you very much, distinction to the organization, distinction to the public –Bernabe Rafa
- Cracking effort over the weekend! Enjoyed Georgian wines and Portuguese bubbles! Tobacco Dock was a great venue, top good job! –Please Fund Us
- Excellent examples of some truly natural wines. –Hannibal Brown
- Had a fantastic time @RealWineFair Sunday. Was some wonderful wines to sample. Don’t forget Real Wine Month is still ongoing. –Brula Restaurant
- Awesome, seen heaps of great comments, @RealWineFair rocks! –Tom Belford, Bobar Wines
- Thanks for having us @RealWineFair. Amazing wines, great people a real privilege to be there. –Si Vintners
IMAGES OF THE FAIR
The following pictures are courtesy of Jim Budd:
Events like this are here to stay. They generate their own momentum and effortless good will. Last month it was Rootstock; in May it will be RAW in Spitalfields. The debate about natural, naked, real or raw wine – call it what you will – has moved on, and most people are focusing on the wines themselves and enjoying them for what they are and not what they should be. On a personal note, The Real Wine Fair was a tonic, reminding me why I love wine and also how much there is to discover about wine – from new growers and new regions to new techniques and new ideas. The people are great by and large – incredibly likeable, sweet, funny and terrifically intelligent, craftsmen all, poets some, scientists others, sharing their knowledge and wisdom, but humble also in their desire to learn.