It’s 10am at the wine fair, and all I want is a spritz. Two friends and I made some backyard wine this year, and we were ridiculously lucky enough to pour in the Young Guns Room (a new addition) at Brumaire in March. Though our wine was made with only two ambitions—to be drinkable and to be what my bud calls a “proof of concept” that it’s possible, even easy, to make wine without additives—I was nervous. Pouring at the same fair as actual producers, idols of mine, our rockstars and saints. Over-caffeinated, I was at risk of slurping down half of our limited samples, and wine didn’t even sound very good. To center, I imagined being on a beach in Sitges, sipping a pint of Aperol spritz out of plastic, feeling internal conflict about finding teens hot.
It’s noon at the wine fair, and all I want is a glass of water and an arroz. H2O is the fair organized for the past several years by Catalan natural wine icons Laureano Serres and Joan Ramon Escoda. In summer 2018 it was held at Tossal Gros, Escoda’s place in Prenafeta, Catalunya. At elevation, hot and dusty, there was a time at which the melted ice in bus tubs holding bottles was looking more appealing than what was in the bottles themselves. The selection of producers at the fair was incredible but after a certain point… I watched the line for food maintain consistent and looked for a faucet. Too hard-headed to wait in line, my friends and I missed the food. Later on, like a mirage, pans of cut fruit appeared—watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew. Sugar, water, calories. Soon, sticky-faced, we were ready for more wine.
Palate fatigue happens. With natural wine specifically, acid comes heavily into play. The same component that we crave when just drinking, what gives wines lift, may be what drains the palate most at a tasting. Tannin, too—I find myself actively avoiding red wines at fairs. And the speed—for me, drinking is fast, tasting is slow. The producers in what I can only imagine to be a whole other level of exhaustion, from travel, from being shuttled around, from being “on” for hours on end.
It’s 4pm at the wine fair, and all I want is a shitty beer. Most of these events are crowded, loud, and inspire aggression. Would you drink wine while watching a soccer match? Tasting with Julie Balagny at the third Brumaire, I noticed that she was drinking a Miller High Life. Through my fangirl haze, I was able to spurt out—“Champagne of Beers!” To Julie, of course, this was a nonsensical emission. I pointed to the phrase on the label. She looked at it, looked at me with “How bout that?” eyes, then took a sip.
It’s 6pm at the wine fair, and all I want is a nap in the grass. Bojalien is the spring fair hosted at the domaine of Romain des Grottes, producer of singular, electric Beaujolais. The fair takes place outside, with a backdrop of vineyards, rolling green hills, mountains in the distance. When I attended in April 2018, it was warm, and there was a bluegrass jam happening for most of the day. The tasting took place under an open-sided tent, bottles were placed on upturned barrels, usually unattended by the vigneronne. We poured for ourselves, for each other. Spit buckets were available, but spitting was mostly into the grass, if it happened at all. Naked kids ran about. As the sun began to lower, so did the patrons, to the grass. A nap is a looming impossibility at most wine fairs, but here, it was a sensible option. I woke up in the field next to friends, who were sharing a bottle that they’d bought directly from a winemaker. An eight-piece brass band prepared for a sunset boogie. We danced in a crowd that ranged from baby to senior, the brass glinting light from the sunset sky.
Wine is a tool of conviviality. Natural wine is vital, alive. It’s easy to lose track of this at most wine fairs, where commerce comes to the forefront. Some wine fairs (Bojalien and H2O being the most stellar examples I’ve attended so far) are planned with the celebration of wine in mind. There is, of course, a benefit to well-planned wine fairs with less atmosphere—we’re lucky to have an abundance of wine within reach, often pleasurable, and to interact with producers who we may not be lucky enough to visit. It seems best to approach a big tasting as one would a long, difficult hike—drink water, bring snacks, and be present for, as opposed to tired by, the abundant textures of the experience.
Kara Fowler is a wine professional and writer based in Oakland, CA, and the publisher of Wine Shots, a small print zine dedicated to natural wine. Read more Kara Fowler for Sprudge Wine.