On the weekend of June 17th in Pigalle, a formerly-sketchy-now-chic neighborhood on the Right Bank of Paris, the streets were filled with people wearing sunglasses and yellow soccer jerseys printed with the motto “À la natural,” chugging directly from magnums of Frank Cornelissen’s “Contadino.” While a DJ played salsa and funk on vinyl, plates of Maldon oysters made their way around the crowd, many of whom were clutching dearly to another bottle, autographed by one of natural wine’s most vocal celebrity acolytes: the larger-than-life, tattooed, constantly cursing, rapper-chef-Vice sensation Action Bronson.
And Bronson himself? Having the time of his life, never without a glass of wine in his hand, and thrilled to be releasing a special cuvée made in collaboration with Patrick Bouju, a small négociant producer working sans additions in the Auvergne. Bouju, who makes a couple of wonderful wines—perhaps most notably the off-dry bubbly pink “Festejar,” as well as a hyper-mineral, slightly oxidative Chardonnay that I purchased recently at Septime Cave—was also at the party, wearing a denim cap emblazoned with Bronson’s famous low-brow motto: “Fuck, that’s delicious.”
Celebrity wines are nothing new: NBA athletes, hedge fund managers, and Hollywood names from Brangelina to Drew Barrymore have been slapping labels onto wine and using their fame to brand it for a long time. But as natural wine’s popularity pushes into popular culture in new and weird ways, we have a recent phenomenon: hipster celebrity natural wine. Bam Bam Baklava’s new wine isn’t even the first: “Tim and Eric” and “Master of None” actor Eric Wareheim just dropped a limited-production rosé made in collaboration with California vintner Joel Brut.
On this sunny Saturday afternoon in Paris, Bronson & Bouju’s slightly chilled “À la Natural” wine tasted pretty much perfect. A blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah from different organic vineyards, vinified without sulfites in stainless steel tanks, it’s what the French call a vin de soif, or “wine of thirst”—fruity and acidic wines best serve cold, made to go down easy without massive tannic structure or high alcohol content. For the next vintage, Bouju and Bronson plan to add a bit of Gewurztraminer from Alsace, although Bronson doesn’t seem too convinced. The pair also has plans to release a special hand blown wine bottle made in Japan.
Savoring a slice of cherry clafoutis—the classic French summertime custard pie, brought to Bronson by the pastry chef at Les Arlots—the New York based rapper recounted his “aha moment,” where he fell in love with natural wines. A Parisian wine distributor named Clovis Ochin first introduced him to the iconic natural wines of Frank Cornelissen in Sicily, and Bronson immediately (and later publicly, on camera) swooned for their wild, unapologetically rustic character. Ochin was also the one to make the intro to Patrick Bouju. In making the collaborative “À la Natural” wine, Bronson was involved in the process of assemblage, the blending of the three different grapes. “We were piss drunk,” Bronson shared with Sprudge Wine. “I don’t know what we were doing.”
So you’ll forgive my skepticism at first blush about Bronson’s collaboration with Bouju. It takes a lot of education and experience to understand winemaking; I personally find it a little pompous when celebrities say they “made” a wine, just because they slapped a label on someone else’s juice. But speaking with the winemaker Bouju at the event, he seemed really happy about the whole thing. “Action tastes like a chef; he notes the minerality, and the fruits,” he said. It makes sense: Bronson worked as a chef before taking on music and media, and chefs have highly trained palates, so giving advice about winemaking seems like a natural extension of cooking.
During the week before the wine’s release party, Bronson was moving around Paris, guest chef-ing at all the natural wine hotspots: Verre Volé, Septime, Le Servan, Yard. Then, he and Ochin traveled down to see Bouju’s vineyard. The Instagram Stories footage of their visit showed Bronson and company head-banging and dancing to loud music while clouds of pot smoke filled the room; Bronson is effectively never without a spliff in his hand—and drinking in a vineyard. At one point, a bottle got broken, and there’s Ochin, flat on the ground, attempting to lap it all up with his mouth.
Is it all a show, to make sure nobody thinks these guys are too serious about wine? It’s not cool to be serious about anything, right?
Most of us overreact in the presence of a celebrity; a decent glou-glou wine becomes a collectible treasure once his signature is etched on the label and we’ve photographed ourselves with the wine. Hashtag #fuckthatsdelicious. In other words, there’s a lot of hype. But the thing about Action Bronson, and Eric Wareheim, and what may be a new generation of celebrity icons for the natural wine-guzzling hipster crowd, is that they really do love the natty, sulfite-free, cloudy stuff. They go out and drink it. They love these bars and winemakers. And in the world of natural wine—where sommelier pins are basically irrelevant—the only marker of expertise is drinking and loving the wine. That’s kind of the beauty of this scene right now.
You’ll find Action Bronson’s wine around Paris (definitely at Faggio and Pacchio, sister restaurants, the former with killer pizza, and the latter serving small plates), and Bronson himself will be importing it to the U.S., so look for more distribution info soon. Is “À la Natural” any better than other, similar French natural wines? Not really—but it has a cool label and a celebrity behind it, and it has already become an Instagram sensation in Paris, at least. Chances are, we can expect more of these sorts of collaborations. I mean, why hasn’t Aziz Ansari come out yet with his own natty Lambrusco? How about a weed-infused Pinot Noir from Chelsea Handler?
Of course, the oft-repeated winemaker cliché is that wine isn’t made by individuals; it’s made in the vineyards. If there’s one central contradiction to celebrity natural wine, it would be that we obsess over the face attached to it more than the terroir behind it.
But on a warm summer afternoon in Paris, with Bronson in a top mood, his fans happily clutching their autographed bottles and sporting the yellow soccer jerseys, everybody just perfectly tipsy and relaxed, the only thing that mattered was that the wine was, indeed, fucking delicious.