Food & Drink

Table Talk: Interview with Isabelle Legeron, Founder of RAW Artisan Wine Fair

Isabelle Legeron talks about natural wine ahead of the RAW Wine Fair (18-19 May).

Taking place at The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane 18 - 19 May, RAW is an artisan wine fair that promotes the most exciting natural, organic and biodynamic wines from around the world. Founded three years ago by Isabelle Legeron, France’s first female master of wine (otherwise known as “That Crazy French Woman”), RAW aims to lead the way in better labelling on wine, so that any processing and additives involved in the wine-making process are clearly communicated to the drinker. We caught up with Isabelle to find out more.

My family have a vineyard and a farm... Growing up, I was always working for my mum when she was tending the vines and always in that culture. My family have been involved in the production of wine for generations.

My first job in London had nothing to do with wine and I began to miss the farm and being close to nature... When I joined the wine industry in 2000, I was working on the business side. I realised there was only a very tiny part of the wine industry that was about the land and farming and being close to nature and those were the wines I became interested in.

Natural wine really starts in the vineyards. It’s a wine that has been farmed organically... It is also a wine that is made very naturally in the cellar. If you make more conventional wines, a lot of stuff happens like adding the yeast, dusting sulphate on the grapes and adding enzymes and vitamins or gum arabic. Natural wine is wine that has been made without any additives apart from very small amounts of sulphate, or nothing at all.

Because natural wine doesn’t use any additives or any temperature control..., its expression is different to what people are used to drinking and you do have a lot more vintage variation.

The fact that natural wine can be completely different from one day to the next is what I find fascinating about it... It is completely alive in the bottle. We’re so used to wines that taste the same – we need to rediscover the broader range of flavours that are available with natural wines, as we have with organically produced coffee, tea and bread.

Over-drinking is over-drinking... but I have noticed that you don’t get the same pounding headache if you drink natural wine and I think that your body does cope with the alcohol better. There are some studies that are beginning to show that wines without sulphates are more easily digested and assimilated in your body.

I created RAW because... there was nothing happening in the UK like what is going on in France. If you go to France or Italy, most months you will have a natural wine fair happening, but not in the UK. I wanted to provide a place for the UK where trade and drinkers alike could come and meet the growers. I also wanted to create an event that was all about transparency in terms of the ingredients.

If you go into a supermarket or wine shop, there is no obligatory labelling to tell you what ingredients are in the wine... It’s the only foodstuff where that is the case. I want to communicate transparency at RAW. Afterall, there is a big difference between something that is made with 100 per cent grape juice and something made with lots of additives.

Young British chefs are beginning to take their wine more seriously in terms of provenance and ethics, for sure... If you go to Paris though, every district has it’s own natural wine bar, so London has a long way to go.

I see two main challenges for the natural wine industry... The first is that the production is tiny and not necessarily very scaleable, so it will always remain a niche market. The second is that we need a definition of what natural wine is. This is what I have tried to do with my book (Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally) coming out in July. Natural wine needs to be defined so the phrase doesn’t become bastardised and used if the wine is not organic.

Natural wine is about the people who make it... Artisans really come through in their wines and if I don’t really like them, I don’t end up liking their wine. My ideal wine producers are people who spend a lot of time in their vineyards, who understand all the plants and insects, promote biodiversity and who make natural wine for the right reasons – not because they are trying to get into a different market, but because they have a plot of land and they will do everything they can to preserve it.

This year at RAW... there are lots of small producers coming who do not have any representation in the UK and who are coming to meet people for the first time. I always work really hard to discover new growers and this year we’ve even got people coming from California, so that’s exciting.

My goal for this year is that I want to open my own place in London... a completely natural wine bar. I’m looking at sites central/east at the moment, so that is going to be my next project.

FAIR INFORMATION

RAW takes place between 18-19th May at The Old Truman Brewery, 83 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL.

Sunday 18th May (10am to 6pm)
Trade: Free
Public: Advance tickets £25 (on the door £30)

Monday 19th May (10am to 8pm)
Trade: Free
Public (limited spaces): advance tickets £25 (on the door £30)

Buy tickets here.

BUY THE BOOK

Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally by Isabelle Legeron is published by CICO Books. Priced at £16.99, it is available from July from all good bookshops, or call 01256 302 699.

May 2014