Introducing Fermentations, a Column on Natural Wine in New York

Tasting the wine rainbow. Photo by Kendal Kulley.

This month kicks off our new monthly column Fermentations, where Katherine Clary of The Wine Zine and author of the forthcoming book Wine, Unfiltered (Running Press Books, 2020) will be exploring all things natural wine in New York (metropolitan and beyond!) 

As a relative newcomer to the world of wine, I wanted to use this first column to explain a bit about how I plan to approach this task of covering all things natural wine in New York…admittedly, a big ask. I figured that I could only get there by asking myself my own set of questions. What about this thing attracted me to it in the first place? What inspires me about it? Who is doing interesting or important work? Who is changing the way systems have traditionally operated? How does something like this evolve?

Part of what makes natural wine and its community so exciting to me is a real willingness to experiment: to question its very nature, to go back to square one when everyone is doing otherwise, and to embrace newcomers and new ideas. Whereas more traditional or conventional aspects of wine have always been somewhat off limits to, well… a lot of us, there is a lot surrounding natural wine that suggests a breaking down of barriers. A willingness to flout the rules that, in the past 40 or so years, have dictated what wine should look like, how it should be made, and who gets to talk about and taste it.

To me, New York has always exemplified and honored that spirit of experimentation and fuck-it-ness. And yes, before you think I’m crazy, even New York now. Maybe especially New York now. 

Of course, many will point out that New York has had the natural wine thing covered for plenty of time. This is true: journalist Alice Feiring’s seminal piece about the growing homogeneity she was witnessing in wine, and essentially an exposé on highly manipulative winemaking came out in 2001; importer Jenny Lefcourt started bringing natural wine in her suitcase from France just before that; and everyone’s favorite living room, The Ten Bells, opened in 2008. 

Having moved to New York in 2005, I wasn’t here to read the early articles or sip the first wines poured. That being said, I’m particularly interested in exploring what natural wine means to New York right now, at the dawn of our next decade: the Twenty-Twenties. Maybe it always felt this way, but natural wine in New York right now feels equal parts exploratory, communal, and engaged. It’s also moving fast—always an interesting time to observe a moment and try to capture its essence.  

So, while some people are lamenting the loss of old New York, I’m trying to toast to the new. I’m thinking of Alexis Schwartz, who hosts a series of “discreetly educational” wine tastings called Thirsty Thirsty, or Doreen Winkler, a sommelier who just launched a monthly subscription box focused on skin contact (orange) wine called Orange Glou. On the winemaker side, I’m excited to explore things like the quiet revolution happening on Long Island with cider and winemaker Erik Longabardi of Floral Terranes, and dig deeper into what’s happening with grapes up in the Finger Lakes and Niagara. And let’s not forget the spate of bars, shops, and restaurants focused on natural wine that opened up in the past year alone—I think I last counted 11 new spots I hadn’t been to yet. Wine lists inspired by the Adriatic Sea, shops blurring the line between the retail and wine bar experience, more places to drink natural wine with pizza than one thought possible: We have an embarrassment of riches, and I’m here for it.

Beyond metropolitan New York, there are beautiful things happening with low-intervention farming and fermentation on Long Island, in the Catskills, the Finger Lakes, the Hudson Valley, and Western New York—and yes, it all has that same infectious energy surrounding it. It begs you to ask questions, to tell a friend about what you tried, to pick up a new book about some unknown grape you saw a bespectacled shopkeeper reading. I’m excited to give you even more reasons to escape the city and support the growing contingent of smart, future-focused farming, shopping, and drinking beyond our five boroughs. 

It’s a good time to be thinking about better wine in New York, and, if you ask me, perhaps the best time to be drinking it. I hope you’ll like Fermentations; email me at hello@thewinezine.co if you have questions, complaints, or tips.

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