Revisiting RAW

Raw Wine Fair has always been a must on my spring tasting itinerary. The huge natural wine fair in the Old Truman Brewery in the east of London has brought some of that continental flair and camaraderie to the big city, and not least brought together some of the best producers that the alternative wine scene has to offer together with artisan food and beer producers, great coffee and tea and fantastic sake.

But last year I missed the fair due to a restaurant opening, and from talk earlier this spring I gather that the rift between RAW Wine Fair and Real Wine Fair have widened even further.

(Read about how it started here but don’t miss Isabella Legerons answer in the comments field, and some banter on the definition of natural wines here.)

It’s not just that the two former collaborators have fallen out, it seems that now a days even the common sommelier is judged on his or her choice to go to either Raw or Real (I tried to go to both, but a death in the family got in the way of Real).

After being sniffed at a few time for saying I was going to RAW I gathered that;

  1. The fair was getting too commercial, letting wines that didn’t really fit the profile in.
  2. The fair was getting too rigid, refusing producers that had partaken in earlier fairs but who’s wines were now judged “too clean”.

Now I was brought up to believe that one cannot have the best or worst of both worlds at the same time, so the question is: Is RAW getting to broad-minded or too narrow-minded?

Or are they just right, is it perhaps the sign of a successful enterprise to be accused of both extremes?

If I compare this years Raw Wine Fair with the earlier editions that I have visited (2012, 2013 and 2014) there is a definite difference in both the quantity and quality of the producers. The number of producers from nations as widespread as Croatia, Canada and Brazil are more present than ever. Some of the new producers are definitely a bit more ‘straight’ or ‘clean’ than most RAW producers, but it doesn’t seem like a lapse in principle – rather it’s a sign that wineries that were hesitant earlier to be branded as natural now feel that there is less stigma surrounding the whole thing. I spotted one or two producers who made me wonder what on earth they were doing there, but on the other hand I encountered several other new producers that definitely had enough funk in their bottles to satisfy even the most aggressive vin natural agitator,

So both sides are right. Or wrong, depending on how you see it. I didn’t have a chance to find out if the allegations about shutting out producers who had formerly participated was true. Some stands were missing. But as to why one simply cant tell.

One thing’s for sure. The painfully warm indoor temperatures of 2014 had not been seen to, which is sad considering as wines like those from Terroir al Limit and a few others who simply cant handle being iced were highly compromised. The high temperatures also led to a build-up in humidity and general lack of oxygen in the area. It’s easy enough to get light headed when you’re tasting wine – there is no need to help the process along. The food however was divine as always, and the coffee a life saver.

All in all Raw is as Raw has always been, but I still sensed tension in many of the producers. Most natural wine fairs I’ve visited have been places of cooperation and a sense of community. One wonders if the producers are being sufficiently included in the process behind the fair, and what is going to happen if this mumbling and grumbling continues.

But enough about politics.

Swartland producers Mother Rock Wines had a more than strong line-up. This is the third time I’ve tasted their wines in two weeks (last week in Norway and in Spain) and the wines are stable, transparent, borderline brilliant. One of my favorites today was actually the mourvèdre, a wine which might need some aging before it peaks but that shows great promise.

The Pet Nat from quirky Adeleide Hills producer Lucy Margaux was decidedly difficult to spit, and the pinot noirs continue to shine, although my personal preference has always been for the Lucy Estate rather than the Jasper Estate.

New cuvée Roc’h Avel from Clos d’Elu  showed a lovely grip and presence, although on the whole his wines were a bit too young and nervous, they’ll probably reach a better drinking balance after summer.

Shobbrook Wines were a joy to taste; dense, rich fruit but with a lightness that was wildly appealing, as was the winemaker to many of the fairs visitors.

Luca from Carussin gave a sneak peak of the 2014 vintage of Sisto and San Felice. The tannins are exquisite, but the wines of course need a few years before they can be fully understood and appreciated.

Aside from the above both Terroir al Limit and Matassa dazzled as always, but there will be more time to write about them later. First another day of tasting at the old brewery awaits, hopefully with cooler temperatures and more optimism across the board…

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