The dates will be Sunday 28th (public and trade) and Monday 29th April (trade only).
As well as roughly 180 organic, biodynamic and natural/low intervention producers pouring and talking about their wines, there will be street food vendors, a wine shop, and seminars and masterclasses hosted by experts in the trade.
Before the Real Wine Fair settled in Tobacco Dock in 2013, it underwent a few wet runs. Several annual Les Caves de Pyrene trade tastings had begun to incorporate a natural wine theme with artisan growers coming over. They were relatively small-scale, but then natural wine itself was in its infancy. There would be 30-40 in total, and the vignerons would be from France or Italy. There was always a big boisterous dinner afterwards, with mounds of food prepared by a leading chef, lubricated by lashings of wine, and accompanied by incoherent speeches and noisy rugby songs.
In 2011, we collaborated on an event called The Natural Wine Fair, which took place in Borough Market in the middle of May. This was an ambitious al fresco affair, taking place over three days, offering an alternative (or antidote) to the London Wine Fair. 115 producers participated, attendances were terrific, and there was a lot of interest from trade and media alike, and even a fair amount of controversy too. This year and successive ones were instrumental in putting natural wine on the map. One of the important elements of the fair was a promotional period called Real Wine Month, in which restaurants, retailers and wholesalers were encouraged to advertise and sell natural wine in as creative a way as possible, by taking advantage of sharply discounted prices from the participating merchants. It worked! With over 200 outlets taking part in the promotion each year, from one end of the country to the other, natural wine became the hottest topic in the trade over the next few years.
The impact of Real Wine (and RAW, the other major natural wine fair) was enormous. Not only did these artisan fairs bring the growers to the trade, but they also invited consumers. They were informal, animated, dynamic. In short, they set a new standard for all trade tastings.
With its buzzy, friendly pop-up shop, the Real Wine Fair allowed you to literally “try before you buy”. It was also the sort of tasting where you didn’t have to rush but could pace yourself and take a break. We invited restaurants and suppliers to provide food over the two days and ensured that there was enough variety for all tastes. The seminars and masterclasses were a great addition to the event, providing opportunities to interact with growers and commentators discussing various aspects of farming and winemaking.
During the first two iterations of the fair, we had a pop-up restaurant called The Unfiltered Dog. In the second year, it hosted a Georgian supra, replete with toasts and polyphonic singing. The eve of fair growers’ parties at Terroirs in central London became the stuff of legend, always lasting until the wee small hours even into the later slightly larger hours!
The Fair changed from being an annual event to one held every other year. It now feels like a family affair; many growers have become veterans, although we are also delighted to welcome natural wine newbies. Good partnerships are key – we work with other passionate small importer/merchants to bring variety to the event. The feedback (each year) regarding the quality of event been amazing and gratifying – for which my colleagues must take enormous credit. Seamless organisation is invariably the result of masses of planning and downright graft!
The venue with so much natural light flooding through the windows and bursting with repurposed Victorian-era appeal, is superb, of course, surely the best in London for a big tasting of this nature. We have also been (very) fortunate to have been blessed with excellent weather over the years. A top-quality event depends on the communication between the office team and the growers (and the visitors), and the help given on the day, particularly when it comes to going that extra mile! Our aim is always to organise a fair that is easy to negotiate, that’s busy without being ridiculously crowded, that’s comfortable for producers and pleasant for visitors, that is mutually respectful and displays a generous and friendly spirit.
Over the next few months, we will be furnishing updates about which producers, wine merchants and street foodies will be exhibiting at the fair as well as the roster of seminars. Although it is a full four months away, we’re already incredibly excited. Mostly, it is that anticipation of meeting old friends and making new ones. Partly, it is working out the little refinements that will help to improve the Real Wine Fair. Partly, getting the message across to growers and visitors what an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding event that it is.
We hope to you in April 2024!