While I’ve been stuffing my face and writing about Promethus Brown (of Blue Scholars) and his wife Chera Amlag’s monthly Filipino pop-up, Roll with Jen columnist Luke Wohlers has been busy drinking and writing about wine.
Not long ago a friend encouraged me to buy an old-fashioned record player. He said I was missing out on sound. I didn’t get around to it immediately but when my old school Technics finally sunk into the vinyl groove, it was a revelation. Listening to music played on vinyl is such a totally different experience compared to the crystalline digital medium. Even though it’s so much easier to press play on my smartphone, there’s something more lush and unpredictable about the sound of vinyl that draws me back.
Natural wines, like vinyl, can provoke a similar reaction. They’re often quirky and can take you by surprise. They demand your time and interest. And while there’s no standard agreement on what “natural wine” is, there are a few qualities that are often shared by this increasingly popular, yet broad category of wine.
In many ways, the recent interest in natural wines follows from the farm-to-table food movement. Advocates of natural wines agree that growing grapes in a low impact, sustainable way is healthy for people and the planet. There’s also the sense that a natural wine shouldn’t be excessively tooled with, which means out with the chemistry tool kit. Wine styles can be placed on a spectrum, with heavily manufactured wines on one end (often considered “conventional”) and “natural” ones on the other (sometimes labeled “organic” or “biodynamic”). These terms reflect radically different philosophical approaches to production.
Stereotypically, conventional wines are polished and consistent while natural ones are rustic and ever-changing – wine versions of jumping down the rabbit hole. In these, you’re likely to find a whole new set of aromas, flavors and textures. It’s for this reason that natural wines generate plenty of controversy. They’re often critiqued for being too inconsistent and sometimes downright funky. As it is with wine, these characteristics play out on a spectrum in the eye of the beholder. I find them exciting and inspiring.
Natural wines have been trending for several years now at an increasing pace. Recently, several consumer wine fairs dedicated exclusively to natural wines have opened in London (RAW), San Francisco (Natural Wine Week) and in other cities after the success of France’s La Dive Bouteille. Restaurants are also aware of the demand for diversity. At Betony in New York City, my winelist last year included some of my favorite producers like Jean-Claude Lapalu (Beaujolais), Arianna Occhipinti (Sicily) and Arnot-Roberts (California). Not all winemakers identify with the category so some wines are never marketed as “natural”. Importantly, there are no borders for natural wines so you can find them in Washington, Oregon, California, New York and just about every major wine-producing region around the globe.
Yet there’s actually no need to travel outside Seattle to enjoy natural wines. There’s an awesome shop that opened up in Fremont last year that’s devoted to them. Vif Wine & Coffee is an avante-garde, innovative business model that offers something truly unique. Co-owners Lauren Feldman and Shawn Mead have substantive previous experience in restaurants and selling natural wines.
Google Maps brief description, “cheery café for New American nibbles” only paints a tiny picture. In addition to offering sweet and savory foods prepared by Lauren, espresso and coffee from artisanal Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., they stock a dynamic selection of natural wines from around the world, including a few choice offerings from Washington and Oregon like Syncline and Bow & Arrow. Some are available by the glass. Recently I had a delicious Syncline rosé from Washington’s Columbia Gorge destined for a plate of warm olives and soppressata.
Vif is the only place in Seattle devoted to natural wines, named after the French word for “bright”. It could refer to the sun pouring in through large windows or a crisp white wine reflecting light in a glass. I think that Vif is a bright addition to the wine scene in Seattle and a beautiful location to learn about and drink natural wines.
Vif is open Tuesday to Sunday.
4401 Fremont Ave North
Seattle, WA 98103