Time’s winged chariot has released its handbrake and once again we are hurtling towards the festival of wine, food and antic merriment known as The Real Wine Fair.
We have high hopes that the 2014 incarnation will be as successful as the previous ones. The perception of success is highly personal. An event may be deemed successful because of the sheer number of growers that are corralled to exhibit or the welter of visitors that attend it, or due to the publicity that such a fair generates in trade magazines and blogs. There is more to success, however, than crunchy numbers. Hearts and minds are not conquered with a mere cataract of impressive statistics. Quality should always precede quantity. I prefer to measure the imperceptibles – the flow of the event, the number of faces wreathed with smiles, the sincerity of thank-yous and the animated body-language of the growers.
A good wine tasting opens your mind to new experience if you are prepared to be responsive. This year on the Sunday of the fair I emerged from a seminar with the exhortation of Mike Weersing, the owner and winemaker of Pyramid Valley, ringing in my ears: “In that room [the main hall] over there are your dreams. Go and find them.” I was reminded of Virginia Woolf’s similar upbeat assertion in A Room of One’s Own: “There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
The watery late winter daylight had slipped away into inspissated smoky twilight and big arc lights had been switched on in the main hall creating an almost chiaroscuro effect. I could discern hundreds of people milling around and then I heard the contented two-tone sound that you always want to hear at any event, part buzz like the hum of an electric current, part bass-rumble like a river cascading over rocks, denoting the perfect mix of satisfaction and enraptured involvement.
Yes, the 2013 fair was energising – palpable good will; spontaneous smiles and buoyant reactions. A non-commercial, enthusiastic event with rough edges to be sure (and thank goodness for that) sans gilded message, sans tub-thumping proselytising, instead an invitation to come-hither-and-see-what-the-fuss-is-about-and-make-up-your-own-mind. Getting people to taste – and taste again, to speak to the growers, to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the fair and to leave preconceptions and nitpicking equipment at the door. By tasting wines in the spirit of real generosity one might then vault the confines of one’s circumscribed knowledge and liberate one’s imagination. And as Einstein so rightly said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
The more wines you taste the greater your appreciation of the sheer diversity of the artisan natural wine scene. That there will be wines you love and wines that you don’t reflects the truism that taste is personal; however the knowledge that every one of the wines is hand-crafted and made with the minimum of manipulations allows us to recognise the singularity of each enterprise. (One of the criticisms of natural wine is that they taste the same, because they are made by ideologists rather than oenologists, an argument that rapidly dissolves if you examine the actualité). You meet a range of people and personalities at the fair – from artisans to artists, philosophers, poets and defenders of tradition and culture, as well as innovators and free thinkers. You meet people who made a leap of faith to make natural wines and others who came via a more reasoned path. These vignerons choose to express themselves, or convey their interpretation of the terroir and the vintage through their wines; this style of winemaking is fully “hands-on”, based on physical commitment in the vineyard and studious attention to detail in the winery since they can’t – and won’t – rely on chemical panaceas. Real Wine champions the diverse individuated approaches rooted in the artisan spirit.
Some people perceive the existence of The Real Wine Fair as a mere kind of counter-cultural critique of the wine trade. To be fair (or maybe unfair) most generic tastings are stuffed to the gunwales with mediocrity and homogeneity. There are valid reasons for this. Firstly, you have to be able to afford to exhibit your wines, then find time and money to leave the vineyard and travel (difficult when you are a one man/one woman band), and you really need to strictly assess the commercial value of doing so when production is tiny and margins are small. Bigger wineries with their greater resources can afford to do this, but the generic tastings founded on the presence of major players, commercial interests and big brands are curiously artificial, flaccid affairs: Suits and boots mainly talking to boots and suits. That’s business and it oils the wheels of the wine industry, for sure, but it doesn’t engage us viscerally or intellectually. In our opinion, the best growers’ tastings are naturally small in scale and big in heart. The Real Wine Fair is one of the few events which doesn’t have an overt mission either to sell itself or to lecture its visitors patronisingly about what they should enjoy, which growers or wines are iconic, which personalities are larger than life and what the whole goddam purpose of being there is! If it did, the element of enjoyment, which is surely paramount, would be immeasurably diluted. Having said that, demystifying and democratising wine is on the agenda – we seek inclusion wherein boundaries are dissolved, the public and the trade rub shoulders, and dialogue happens between winemaker and wine drinker. What could be more natural?
Many of the growers are our friends as well as people with whom we do business and the visitors to the fair are far more than faceless consumers (described by one MW who works with a supermarket as the “end-product users”. Depressing or what?) They are our guests. This then is the kind of grand party where you can bring together friends and strangers under one roof and build a network of tremendous goodwill. The message, therefore, such as it is, is simple, deriving from the famous motto in Howard’s End. “Only connect, the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted”. The growers come and pour their wines and tell their stories and connect with the customers. The customers connect by tasting with an open mind. Business and creative passion connecting, friendships made, mutual understanding achieved, igniting (we hope), to learn more, to visit vineyards and wineries, to order these wines in restaurants and/or to buy them from their wine merchants.
Discoveries, epiphanies and recalibrations – as the man says come to The Real Wine Fair and find your (wine) dreams! Come and be part of the fun. Wine can be exciting, celebratory and thought-provoking; this is the wine fair for that. In 2014 we’re keeping it real again. Really real.
–Doug Wregg, fair organiser
Yes, we’re back in the dock, Tobacco Dock, Wapping E1W 2SF to be precise.
Please plug these dates into your diary
Sunday 13th April 2014 (Public & Trade)
Monday 14th April 2014 (Trade)
“Arriving at the Real Wine Fair…I remember it wasn’t as glamourous as I’d somehow imagined..it was all about…levelling the field, where no one producer had a flashier stand than the other.
My third eye had, all of a sudden, been pried open…transforming this moment into blissful memory forevermore….This wine was metamorphic, elemental. It was also, biodynamic. I had just experienced my profound wine moment. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know where it came from, how was it made, and if there were any more just like it.”
–Daniel Honan of The Wine Idealist describing how his experience at the 2012 Real Wine Fair was a game changer for him.