I was running late. Strikes in Paris made it difficult but I did manage to grab a tasting glass and a seat in time for the first seminar of RAW wine Paris. Natural wines have been a hit in North America but what are the challenges for natural wine in France? Why aren’t we seeing more in a country known for wine?
I’ve been curious about the natural wine movement, especially how it will take form in France. Of course, there are bottles available, especially if you live in a big city center but then there’s the rest of the country…
As someone who is 45 minutes from Paris, I have noticed that natural wines are hard to come by for me. You might find an example here and there, but it seems reserved for those who are in the know. My local caviste was surprised when I knew what an orange wine was.
As I wandered the festival I started to blend my Canadian understanding with my French reality.
Initially, I had a goal of just trying as many international wines as possible. I’ve been living here for over 10 years and while I love wine, I also know how comfortable I am with what I know. The tastings in the initial seminar really piqued my curiosity but soon I was in the tasting hall. I was faced with a lot of different wines, completely unfamiliar to me.
Natural wines thrive in North America, they have an entrepreneurial spirit built into them. Custom crush facilities allow young winemakers to get started with minimal investment. It’s young, it’s exciting. It’s a North American dream to build it from the ground up. In Georgia, natural winemaking is built into their DNA. But what about France? What are the challenges to natural wine in France?
What are the challenges to natural wine in France?
France is built on tradition. Everyone stays in their lane. When I go into wine shops or grocery stores what do I find? French wine, with just a bottle or two from other wine-growing countries. Even still, I will usually find more wines from the regions closest to me and fewer examples from all others.
I have gotten to know FRENCH wines. FRENCH styles.
I have been in conversations where natural wines were seen as bad wine. Not natural wines as I know them to be, just organic or biodynamic wines (and yet some famous wines are biodynamic without them knowing.) Natural wines challenge the status quo. I even started to feel it as I tasted through the festival and it was grounding to try some French natural wines at one point. One producer from the Loire told me his goal is to help people see that natural wines can be made without fault and they can be aged just like traditional wines. This is where the average French wine consumer is right now. Teach me that natural wine is good, it’s familiar, it’s stable.
Part of the challenge is educating wine consumers but I see it happening in a more subtle way in France. The familiar is a powerful ally and while there will always be some cool natural wines to discover in France (and beyond,) I suspect it might come with more restraint here. It might take a little longer.
My hope is that there’s more of a bend toward nurturing healthy soils and thoughtful winemaking regardless of whether wineries want to be classified as “natural” or not. I love having the option of something different every once in a while.
Takeaways from the festival
I am so glad I went. I tasted some delicious wines and I also tasted some that weren’t my thing. Part of learning is exposure, it’s trying wines in succession to really understand what you like/dislike. Good wine is everywhere. I My biggest surprise was that my favourite wine of all was from Pinards et Filles in Quebec. Delicious, I even let out an “oh wow…” when I put my nose in the first glass. Gotta love that the surprise came from one of the more challenging regions in Canada!
So while there may be challenges for natural wines in France, there’s hope for more to come and that’s a good thing. Whether it be challenging the flavours (and colours) we know or just creating the classics in a more natural way. Sure there are going to be challenges but I’m glad that it’s creating more conversation around what we’re sipping. I definitely encourage you, should you ever have the chance to check out one of their wine fairs to try and decide for yourself.