I walked up to Jaja Wine Bar at 6pm, with a few thirsty patrons waiting outside before the doors unlocked. Situated on a little street in Berlin’s trendy Neukölln neighbourhood, Jaja no doubt already has a following.
Co-owners Julia Giese and Etienne Dodet were there to greet me that evening, and to chat about the natural wine scene in Berlin. Jaja is both a bar and restaurant showcasing an ever-changing menu, offering an array of wines of course, but a few beers and ciders that match their passion for small producers, select apéritifs and coffee in partnership with local roaster Bonanza.
She's originally from Hannover; he grew up splitting time between Paris and Marseille. This wine bar is also a love story, and Giese starts our chat by reminiscing about her time spent in Paris, where she and co-owner/partner Etienne Dodet had another bar, Düo—a place for lunch, wine, art, and books. She fell in love with natural wine—and perhaps Etienne, too—bit by bit. “My ‘a-ha’ moment was by coincidence,” she tells me. “I was living next door to Le Verre Volé, where lovely Cyril Bordarier taught me not to get diverted from your intentions by the grumpy formalities of Parisian cavistes.” So it was love by proximity, then; Le Verre Volé was just down the street from her apartment, which meant her local shop just happened to be an enormously influential hub for the natural wine scene in Paris. Her partner Dodet, on the other hand, very much did have that ‘a-ha’ moment.
“Etienne’s enlightenment with natural wine starts about 20 years ago,” she shared, “with a bottle of Marcel Lapierre Morgon at Jean-Pierre Robinot’s magnifique Bistrot à vin L’Ange Vin in Paris.” The legendary bar was sold in 2000, but its legend and influence lives on.
A move to Germany (the duo first visited there in 2010) meant discovering a new city together, and Didot—a denizen of culturally rich Paris—felt at home in the Neukölln area of the city. “It was a neighbourhood that pretty much resembled the one we lived in in Paris,” Giese tells me. “Nice, slow, and laid back.” But there was room for more wine here. The natural wine scene in Berlin is just getting started in many ways, and while the city does love wine drinking—there are local Weinhandlung dotting each neighborhood of this city—shops in Berlin focused on minimal intervention wines are still rare.
Hence Jaja, a Berlin wine bar that does not at all feel stuffy, but rather more like a beer bar—free and lively, and stocked with lovely, memorable bottles of wine from around the Europe, with a big focus on French and German wines. On this visit I tried a Riesling by Weingut Schmitt, a lively unfiltered white with grapes picked by hand, resulting in a wine reminiscent of tropical fruit with a bit of funk; the L’Ormeau de Deux Croix Chenin Blanc by Puzelat Bonhomme from Touraine in the Loire Valley — a white wine with lots of acid and apples, and a subtle aftertaste of popcorn; Sébastien Bobinet’s beautiful fizzy, elegant, mineral petillant-natural of Chardonnay and Chenin; and a lovely rosé, Virar, by Mas de L’Escardida that tasted of strawberry and watermelon.
Of particular note was a bottle of Brendan Tracey’s Wah-Wah—Giese calls him a “punk rocker” wine producer, and that bottle had notes of mosh pit. It was more cherry lambic than wine—I would say heavily sour, mouth puckering wine, colliding stage diving intensity in a Grolleau/Cot blend, so complex and completely memorable, and not for the faint of heart (or lame of palate).
Like other cities, Berlin is falling in love with natural wine. They’re not easy to find, but more wine bars are offering these eclectic wines to patrons. Giese believes it’s an inevitable direction. “Despite the nay-sayers, no one will stop the natural wine movement,” she tells me. “They have to embrace that the new wine scene is not just about consuming and trading; there is much more at stake. Natural wine gives great opportunities to look behind the scenes, to get in touch with the producers, to connect globally, to exchange.”
Speaking of exchange—a daughter of Hannover and a Frenchman fall in love, and open a natural wine bar in Berlin. This is one of the most exciting cities in Europe exactly because of stories like this, which feel like they can only happen here, though they are of course happening everywhere in the world right now. Maybe someone from your home town will fall in love in Paris next.
Tatiana Ernst is a Sprudge Media Network staff writer based in Berlin. This is Tatiana Ernst's first feature for Sprudge wine.
Tatiana Ernst (@TatianaErnst) is a writer based in Los Angeles.