For her fourth natural wine tasting event, Vif Wine|Coffee owner Shawn Mead didn’t trust the notoriously unpredictable Seattle spring weather. So rather than hosting it in Vif’s Fremont neighborhood parking lot, as she had the previous three, she chose the indoor safety of the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, a former church turned performance space some 500 feet away.
Dubbed the Spring Soif, this iteration was also to be the first evening event, and one dedicated mostly to growers hailing from, Italy, France, and Germany. A chance to catch them during the rare moment they were able to slip away from their farms as this year’s wines slept, fermented, and prepared for their future debuts.
“It’s a really special experience to get to know someone whose wine you already love,” Mead tells me. “It’s like meeting an artist. If you are a wine geek or wine nerd, you’re a little star struck when you meet them.” Her first event, La Petite Soif, was held in September of 2016, and attracted 150 attendees eager to taste over 50 wines from natural wine importers and local distributors like drinkOKwines, and Walden Selections. The following year, riding high on the popularity of the inaugural event, La Petite Soif was held again, this time selling out at 200 attendees, and spurring a Summer Soif the following July, which subsequently sold out as well. This year’s event also sold out at 200, maxing out the Abbey’s event cap with the producers, growers, and Vif staff added into the equation.
Mead’s inspiration for these events began when she was working with natural wine importer Louis/Dressner Selections in France and Italy. She recalls helping host “salons,” tasting events open to the public, where average folk could meet, taste, and purchase wines from producers directly. “They were always really cool, really open, the atmosphere really convivial,” says Mead, “and we wanted to create something like that here. Despite Mead’s fears, the weather for this year’s event turned out to be nothing but trustworthy. The March 26 forecast boasted clear blue skies, temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, and an early-spring buzz that makes people high five strangers and skip in glee.
I tasted a lot of wine over that marathon two and a half hours, all of it alongside a human connection. I don’t pretend to recall with precision every sip that passed over my tongue (over 100 in total), but I do admit to having favorites. These were wines that made me sigh, giggle, wax poetic, and turn teary-eyed to my fellow tasters with shared appreciation. They made me linger at the tables, eager to know them and their methods on a deeper level. Here are a few of those standouts.
Domaine Fillatreau 2016 Saumur Chateau Fouquet
This 100% Cabernet Franc wine was both serious and adventurous. A pop of strawberry, followed by rich tannins, and amazing structure. Frédrik Fillatreau was similar to his wine, serious and professional, but with an adventurous spirit and gleam in his eye as he excitedly explained the conversion of his father’s estate first to organic, then to biodynamic farming in 2017.
Maria Ernesto Berucci 2016 Rosso Frusinante
Maria Berucci’s fiance Giminiano Montecchi was running the table at the Soif, and we talked a lot with our hands, my Italian not being what I wish it was. Maria and her brother worked together to help revive their family’s winemaking roots, and produced their first wine in 2009. They revived strains of grapes local to their hometown of Piglio, and this wine is a blend of the Cesanese d’affile and Cesanese Comune grapes. It was delicate, but also so balanced that I could taste the special care and time that Maria puts into her wine. She uses homeopathic methods, and allows the grapes to learn how to defend for themselves and become what they will become each vintage.
Federico Orsi 2016 Pignoletto Sui Lieviti
This was the first winemaker Mead directed me to try, and Orsi’s wines were definitely worth highlighting. I especially liked this lightly effervescent blend of 97% Pignoletto, and 3% Albana and Riesling. Cloudy in the glass, but light, simple, and lovely in taste. I wanted to take this one out into the sunshine and sip it all day.
AmByth Estate 2016 Sauvignon
The Hart family’s wines were some of the last ones I tasted, and just when I thought my palate was dead and buried, they helped bring it back to life. There was an audible buzz of excitement surrounding this table, manned by winemaker Gelert Hart (who makes the wines with his father, Phillip), and for good reason. All of his wines, and the Scrumpy Spritz cider he brought along, were just so heartwarmingly fun to drink. I especially liked his 2016 Sauvignon, which tasted like pineapple and peach, and is aged 10 months on skins in terra cotta clay Amphora. The Harts make their wine biodynamically in Templeton, California, out near Paso Robles.
Les Vins Contés 2018 R18, and 2018 “Pow Blow Wizz”
I was absolutely enamored with Cecile Lemasson, who with her husband/winemaker Olivier, runs the Loire Valley winery. She is a spunky firecracker, and I quite literally felt her energy in a wine like Pow Blow Wizz. It is a dynamic, exciting, effervescent, and incredibly stylish pet nat made from 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Côt (although the blend varies from vintage to vintage). I was also fascinated by their 2018 R18, saved in my notes as “a co-fermented strawberry dream.” It is 50% gamay, 20% côt, and 30% cabernet franc, and the fermentation process involves fermenting each grape separately, before layering one on top of the other. It was juicy, and interesting, but also straightforward, and just plain fun to drink. This was the one wine I ordered at the Soif, and I regret not ordering 10 more bottles.
Domaine du Closel 2006 Savennières “Clos du Papillon”
Pauline Lair was representing the Domaine du Closel winery and I spotted her from across the room. She was wearing a bright floral shirt, map in hand, perched on the table, and commanding a crowd of tasters like that fun substitute teacher you always secretly wanted to emulate. Her energy was enthralling, and she made you feel excited to taste each and every one of the wines from Domaine du Closel. The 2006 Clos du Papillon (100% Chenin Blanc) almost made me weep. It had a rich, floral sweetness, and tasted of time and care. It felt like a wine to be savored and held, sipped slowly, but also enjoyed fully.
Ariela Rose is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Read more Ariela Rose for Sprudge Wine.