Where is the “center” of the wine world these days? Once it would have been a toss-up between New York, Paris, and Copenhagen—but now, it is everywhere and nowhere. This is evident in the continuous spreading of the natural wine movement: every few months, there’s a new event dedicated to unadulterated juice in a city where, just five years ago, it was a rarity. Chicago, San Diego, Oakland, and L.A. have all either launched their own natural wine salons or opened doors for Isabelle Legeron’s landmark RAW Wine Fair.
Natural wine culture, once fairly niche and localized, is now diffused all around the world—even in places more famous for whisky. Indeed, I recently traveled to the dramatically beautiful city of Edinburgh to attend Scotland’s first natural wine fair. Wild Wine Fair was held in the ample, naturally lit restaurant Timberyard, once a logging yard and now a world-class restaurant run by two best friends and their families, with a cutting-edge drinks program to rival any place in Copenhagen or beyond. The crowd was a mixture of locals and Londonites, with a few visiting winemakers from Italy, France, and Australia.
Although this was Scotland’s first natural wine fair, by no means was the selection limited. The market for these wines may be somewhat young, but it has moved quickly. “There has been a growing enthusiasm in Scotland for this style of wine for a few years now,” says importer Nicolas Rizzi of Modal Wines. “The fact that Wild sold out in a matter of weeks only reinforces the fact that this is certainly not a fad, and far from being London-centric.”
At Wild, I was able to taste several cuvées from the legendary (read: expensive and rare) Burgundy estate Prieuré Roch; as well as the fascinating, skin-contact Slovakian wines from Slobodne Vinarstvo; and a few bottlings from Rennasistas, a new label from a duo of sisters in Burgenland, Austria that’s starting to make waves. I also got to meet the husband-and-wife team (and their cute pug, who goes everywhere with them) of Le Grappin, a micro-negociant label whose cru Burgundy and Beaujolais wines I discovered at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco last year—and, more importantly, who have coined a whole new wine word with their “Bagnums,” bagged but good quality white and red Burgundy, available in the UK. And my longtime heroes, Antonio and Daniela De Gruttola of Cantina Giardino in Campania—one of the first natural wine producers I really loved—were also in attendance, with their two rambunctious small children.
The fair was organized by Timberyard owner and manager Jo Radford and his wife India Parry-Williams, who run the restaurant alongside Jo’s longtime best friend, cocktail guru and wine lover Jack Blackwell. Timberyard opened in 2012 and was the first restaurant in Scotland entirely focused on natural wine. After a late-night, wine-soaked dinner last year with pioneering Australian natural winemakers Anton Von Klopper and Tom Shobbrook (who were also pouring their wines at Wild), inspiration seized India and Jo, and they began planning the event, imagining it as a way to bring more people to appreciate natural wines.
In addition to whisky, bagpipes, and tweed, Scotland is known for its hospitality, Parry-Williams explained—yet its adherence to tradition can make the restaurants here somewhat “strict, forced,” and stuffy. Radford and Parry-Williams have attended France’s La Dive Bouteille and London’s RAW Wine Fair, and saw that an event could be welcoming and warm—a “chance for people to let their hair down,” they explained to me.
“Natural wine doesn’t have to be intimidating, challenging or too esoteric,” said Parry-Williams. “It should be fun and make you feel something—either excited or interested or intrigued.”
I felt all of those things during Wild, especially when I encountered oddities (to me) like Welsh producer Ancre Hill. Young winemaker David Morris apprenticed in France, at Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy and cult Champagne producer David Léclapart, before taking over the family’s biodynamically farmed four-hectare family estate. His 2014 Pinot Noir reflected his training; made with 100-percent whole clusters, it reminded me of great Village-level Burgundy.
Maybe because I’ve been drinking so much French wine lately, I gravitated toward offerings from other parts of Europe at Wild—such as the sulfite-free Rieslings of Staffelter Hof in the Mosel, and a fantastically saline and textured Gruner Veltliner from Joiseph, in Austria’s Burgenland. Both were knockouts with the creamy, tart Crassostrea Gigas oysters originally from cold Pacific waters, served from Timberyard’s fermentation room in their shady back patio. I also liked tasting the unfiltered, imaginative expressions of newish Scottish brewery Six Degrees North, especially the barrel-aged cherry-infused Chopper Stout.
It’s worth mentioning that it cost a humble £5 (about $6.50 U.S.) to get into Wild Wine Fair—about the same as you’ll pay to walk into La Dive Bouteille. Although the wines poured weren’t necessarily cheap, the price of entrance made it possible for anyone who was curious about wine to drop in and taste.
The plan is to hold the event again next year: you should follow Wild Wine Fair on Instagram to stay tuned, and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to go to Scotland, this could help you orient your trip. Don’t miss natural wine bar Good Brothers and the bottle shop/cafe Henri Raeburn while you’re there. Also, a proper meal at Timberyard is a fantastic experience of pairing natural wines with elegant, seasonal food, and top notch hospitality. It’s so good you’ll need to buy some Scottish tweed and sip some whisky—The Blue Blazer and Bow Bar are classic local boozers—just to balance out all the pét-nat and tattoos.
Rachel Signer is a Sprudge Wine contributor based in Paris, and the co-founder of Terre Magazine. Read more Rachel Signer on Sprudge Wine.
Photos by Isabel McCabe.