RAW Wine Fair returns this weekend for a fifth year running, with over 200 growers bringing more than 1,000 wines to the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.
We talked to Isabelle Legeron MW, the first female Master of Wine in France and founder of the RAW Wine, about her plans for the fair this year and why it’s such a unique event.
What are you most looking forward to about RAW Wine this year?
I’m excited to see lots of old faces and lots of new — there’s a raft of growers and wines coming to the fair this year that have never been tasted before in the UK. We’ve even got a Mexican producer coming for the first time, a delicious new Chilean and a host of Brazilian low-intervention wines as well.
The Italians and Portuguese are out in force (including Nuno Mendes’ Taberna do Mercado that is involved on the food front), as are the gorgeous Georgians who are always a firm favourite with everyone since they’re genuinely some of the most hospitable people you’ll find anywhere (particularly after a couple of toasts and glasses of chacha). Plus they’re doing a competition giveaway so some lucky devils will get to go home with a bottle of wine grown in the oldest wine-producing country in the world.
We’ve also got so many French producers attending that we’ve dedicated an entire new room to them. So expect a brilliant collection of bottles from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, the Rhône, the Languedoc, the Roussillon, the southwest, Alsace, the Jura… there are nearly 70 growers from France alone. Olivier Cousin, one of the natural wine world’s cult heroes is even bringing a barrel of his Loire gamay to the fair which he and his wife Claire are going to bottle onsite using bottles recycled from the tasting. It’s a limited edition bottling just for us, which is very exciting, and we’re selling it for half what it would cost in a shop (if you buy it online when you buy your ticket). Plus if you fancy having a go yourself, I’m sure Olivier and Claire would be game.
Why is natural wine something you're so passionate about?
Because that is what I personally drink. Plus I’m a green at heart and I like simplicity and an earthiness in everything I do — be it foraging, hiking with my doglet or drinking a bottle of great wine. I’m also a stickler for purity and great flavour, and since natural wine is all of those things, I couldn’t ask for more.
Many restaurants and bars have embraced natural wine in the past few years. Do you think there's still room for improvement?
Yes! What we’re still missing is that wine bar vibe that you find in Paris nowadays — where there aren’t enough seats, people stop by for a great glass of something or a bottle to share, and it really is about the drinks, not the food. I also can’t wait for the day when, like in Paris, you can find natural wine on every other corner. In London, even though we’ve definitely made tracks, natural wine lovers still have to plan ahead and seek out specific spots. There’s an ease in the Paris scene that we haven’t yet got to in London, although I’m sure it’s really not far away.
What would you say to someone who is about to taste natural wine for the first time?
Don’t worry about it! Forget what you know/think you know about wine and just go for it as you would anything you were curious to try. Be open to different looks, textures and flavours, and who knows — you might not like the wine or you might just love it.
There are such different examples from all over the world, I guarantee that at some point you will find both. Just remember that when you work without any sulphites, and you don’t fine or filter your wine, you can end up with very different (and in my mind preferable) expressions of a grape variety or a place.
Tell us why RAW is the best wine festival!
There are over a thousand low-intervention wines to taste from all over the world. We’re also the only wine festival in the world to champion full-disclosure on winemaking practices. Every grower who comes to the fair has to to declare how their wines were made — including total sulphites, whether or not they were fined or filtered and if so using what, whether or not they are suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians, whether or not they have been manipulated in any way and again if so using what. It is giant labour of love and we do it because we think there should be much more transparency in the world of wine. In fact, we think it is utterly ridiculous that wine is one of the only things that we ingest that isn’t required by law to declare its ingredients.
Best of all though is that while we are one of the top in the world at what we do — professionals from the industry worldwide turn up to taste and meet some of the world’s most exciting wine producers (last year, for example, it was a little like a Who’s Who of Michelin-starred restaurants), we’re also open to the general public. So we get a huge range of people visiting. At a single table you might find a Canadian importer, hanging out with a top UK sommelier, rubbing shoulders with a Bordeaux-drinking-blazer-wearing West Londoner and a tattooed-pink-haired east Londoner dabbling their toes in wine for the first time. Stereotypes galore I agree, and what’s great is that the reality is even better. I absolutely love it and I think that it’s probably our loveliest asset.
RAW Wine fair, 15-16 May 10am - 6pm. Old Truman Brewery, 83 Brick Lane, E1 6QL. Consumers: £35 in advance, £45 on the door.