It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a friendly wine community to support a small wine company, especially through its first uncertain steps on a new path, one leading towards importing, distributing and talking about natural wines with confidence.
As we approach our 1000th blog post (more on that later), we take a few posts to honour some of the most longstanding members of La Famille de Les Caves. (See Part One for more)
Christina Pickard? I could write a whole blog devoted to her! At some point, she became “wine family”, integral to the company and loved by the Cavistes. Having become a de facto Londoner, she’s now back near her family, living in the mid-Hudson valley with her hubby Tim and two gorgeous daughters. Christina writes perceptive pieces for Wine Enthusiast, her specialties being Australia, New Zealand, UK and – keeping it close to home – New York State. She is our social media maven and has helped enormously in getting the Real Wine Fair, in particular, into public consciousness. We are always delighted to see her when she comes over and helps out for this event. On a personal level, I would describe Christina as my wine-sister and the best of friends; she has a very similar perspective and instincts to me. We also share the same irreverent sense of humour!
In Christina’s words:
The year was 2009. Britain was in the throes of its worst recession for decades, Barak Obama became America’s first Black President, and I discovered natural wine. It’s a story I’ve told before, on these pages and elsewhere: A tale of “almost”s and “could’ve”s that landed me in the basement of Terroirs late one night after my work at London’s tourist attraction-cum-wine museum, Vinopolis, with a rising star Barbaresco producer named Luca Roagna, a spirited Italian named Carlo Lupori, and a charmingly dry-witted Frenchman named Didier Cappa. And then there was the mysterious bald man in the t-shirt and jeans with the bright, mischievous eyes who kept our glasses full with a kaleidoscope of wines that tasted like no wine I’d ever poured at Vinopolis or tasted elsewhere. That same man seemed to have the power to keep wine flowing long past closing time. When I finally asked his name and how he was related to Carlo and Didier (who I’d learned that night worked for a wine importer called Les Caves de Pyrene), he said his name was Eric. “I work for these guys,” he said, nudging Carlo and Didier and grinning broadly. Their laughs told me this was not the case. I later learned it was quite the opposite arrangement. Eric Narioo was the founder of Les Caves de Pyrene, the UK’s first natural wine importer. He was also a part owner in Terroirs, London’s first natural wine bar. That explained everything. All but one thing.
“Natural wine?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“It’s what you’ve been drinking all night,” Didier told me.
That evening at Terroirs in my mid-twenties was a turning point in my career (which was, at that point, as a starving actor). My experience at Vinopolis and with the WSETs had taught me that wine was a drink to be taken very seriously; that it was a vocation that required years of rigorous study, dedication and industriousness to master, but that involved little fun. It was a subject I felt I could perhaps master with time but one I wasn’t sure I actually enjoyed. That night with Eric, Carlo and Didier and their rainbow of liquid, I learned that there was another side to wine, one that was casual and convivial, and, frankly, cool. If this was natural wine, then I wanted in.
A few days later, thanks to a tip from Carlo, I found myself at a trade tasting at Lord’s Cricket Ground, shaking the hand of Doug Wregg, Les Caves’s Marketing Director. Doug and I became fast friends, me the bubbly student eager to soak up his vast knowledge of all things natural, and him, I think, happy to have an apprentice.
By the end of 2011, the first Natural Wine Fair in London was done and dusted, wine blogs were all the rage, and podcasts were just starting to gain ground. I was immersed in all three, deep down the natural wine rabbit hole at that stage. None of these endeavors, however, were earning me actual cash. I’d quit my job at Vinopolis, and, with the recession showing little sign of easing, much of my presenting and event work was slowing. Meanwhile, Doug’s famed newsletters arrived regularly in my inbox, virtual tomes of doorstop proportions packed full of interesting facts and witty observations of the wine world. But all that text was hard for even the most dedicated of students to ingest in one sitting.
“You need a blog,” I said to Doug matter-of-factly one day. “And I can build you one.”
To my gratitude, even to this day, Doug had the humility and generosity to hear me out. As luck would have it, the Cavistas were toiling away behind the scenes to launch the very first Real Wine Fair, and Doug expressed a more pressing need on the digital side of things. I ended up building the fair’s very first website and launching/running its social media accounts. I was overjoyed to be putting my new-found natural wine knowledge to good use. Once the first Real Wine Fair—which was a roaring success—was over, I turned my attention towards the Les Caves’s social media (which was nonexistent at the time) and to the Les Caves blog, aka a new, more visual and easier-to-digest home for Doug’s wonderful pieces of writing.
I remember a sweaty-palmed meeting towards the end of 2012 with Eric Narioo at Terroirs, shakily handing him my proposal to work with Les Caves on a consultancy basis. Eric was kind and gentle, as always, but still, I was a nervous wreck, convinced he’d tell me to go packing.
To my great fortune, he did the opposite and took me up on almost everything in the proposal. Again, my timing was good. The Les Caves website was getting a much needed re-vamp. Natural wine was gaining rapid ground; Terroirs and Les Caves’s other venues were booming. Like so much in life, I was in the right time at the right place. Lucky me.
14 years on from my first meeting with that motley Les Caves crew in the basement of Terroirs, I continue to run the social media for both the fair and Les Caves itself (yes, that’s me behind the curtain!), and, with the help of my partner-in-crime, Elliott, to publish Doug’s prolific writing onto the Les Caves blog. I have read perhaps more of Doug’s words than anyone on the planet other than Doug himself, and I’m all the better for it. In my other hat, I am a wine writer myself —a reviewer and Writer at Large at Wine Enthusiast magazine in the U.S. I have lived in Australia and now New York, but wherever I am in the world, I still devote a slice of each day to Les Caves, as I have done for the past 12 years. It’s a routine that remains both comforting and beneficial. Not only does it keep a toe in the UK wine scene, it allows me to continue to learn from the master; the man with the golden pen and singular voice.
While I don’t get to see the crazy crew of Cavistas nearly as much as I’d like, I do make the trip across the pond bi-annually for the Real Wine Fair. I have only missed one RWF since it began as I was having a baby (a decent excuse, m’thinks?). If you see me floating around at the next Real Wine Fair snapping videos and pictures for the blog, do say hi.
I believe that it is the sign of a good company when it holds on to its people for many years, so long, in fact, that they’re referred to as family and not just clients, customers, producers or employees. Many of the people in Les Caves’s family have been there for decades, through thick and thin. This, to me, says more than words ever could.
It is both immensely satisfying and utterly staggering to have reached 1000 blogs, and I remain in awe of Doug’s industriousness and way with words. I’m proud to have played some small part in building a catalogue of natural wine resources that will benefit young, eager students such as I was. When I’m old and wrinkled and well past my sell-by date, I’ll look back to the time when a motley crew of Cavistas took a chance on a naive American newly in love with wine, and my cup will be filled with gratitude.
I met Honey Spencer for the first time when she was consulting for a restaurant near Old Street. We clicked then and there. Although the restaurant was short-lived, our friendship was not. She attracts like-minded people, swims in the same natural wine stream as us, and makes me laugh about the wine world’s many absurdities. Recently, she was contracted to write a book about natural wine (since finished), and even more recently, she and her husband Charlie opened a restaurant in Broadway Market called Sune. We are supremely confident that this will be a destination for good food, warm service, and a cracking classic Honey-inspired natty wine list.
In Honey’s words:
It’s difficult to overstate the influence of Les Caves on the UK wine trade over the last two decades (or, in this case, 1000 blogs!). While US had its Kermit Lynch and Louis Dressner bringing artisan producers from other than those from Bordeaux and Burgundy to their homeland, the UK was granted the somewhat unlikely duo of Eric Narioo and Doug Wregg.
Oft dismissed by the red trouser brigade as mavericks or fundamentalists (and often both) in their natural wine formative years, today these unlikely lads can sniff smugly into their glass of Miroirs, because, whether by accident or design, they have managed to capture the vinous zeitgeist.