Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for the juice. The juice finds you.
On a recent trip to Denver, I did what I usually do when I first arrive: grab a cup of coffee at Amethyst, peruse the wares at the nearest recreational dispensary, and head over to The Source—an artisan food market in the RiNo neighborhood—for a quick quaff or two at Crooked Stave, inarguably one of the best and most sought-after sour beer brewers in the United States. Upon exiting, arms full of a variety of sours aged on all manner of fruits, I peered into the shop next door, a little wine and spirits shop called The Proper Pour, and spy a few boxes of Jenny & Francois’ From The Tank. Then over by the counter a bottle of Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68. The siren song of dog-whistle natty wines quickly claimed another victim.
Further inspection revealed more than just big-name natural wine producers—your Sebastien Davids, your Frank Cornelissens, your aforementioned Arianna Occhipintis—but a host of interesting bottles poised to introduce a city unfamiliar with natural wine to the fullness of its bounty.
The space itself is no-frills, following suit with the more industrial-chic theme set up by The Source itself. Wherever there can be bottles, there are bottles. Hundreds of them. “Enough to party,” as wine curator Mary Allison Wright (and wife of owner McLain Hedges) puts it. The offerings aren’t curated in the traditional sense; this isn’t a list of 50 or so selections staged in some minimalist, California-cool flagship. The offer sheet at The Proper Pour feels more wild, more ecstatic, as though chosen by someone with an unbridled enthusiasm for minimal intervention wine and access to a wholesale account. And indeed, that’s pretty much the buying strategy. “Our philosophy starts with the way we choose anything for the shop—only things we want to drink and think deserve a space, and that we'd be excited to sell,” Wright tells me.
And indeed, the deep selection is worth perusing, rewarding those willing to look past the vast (and no less worth inspecting) French and Italian offerings with a bevy of unfiltered, cloudy goodness. Lurking in the back shelves are bottles like Martha Stoumen’s Post Flirtation white blend, a lively mix of Marsanne, Muscat Canelli, and Roussanne whose sessionable 10% ABV makes for perfect outdoor quaffs during the dry heat of Denver summers. Or maybe you’ll find the super intense, eating-a-raspberry-off-a-forest-floor reds of Louis-Antoine Luyt and Bichi, of Chile and Mexico, respectively. Perhaps the bottle I was most pleasantly surprised to see was the Fairygarten Shiraz by South Australia’s Jauma Wines. Growing up drinking the cheap, mass-produced offerings typically associated with Oceania, finally getting my hands on a bottle of real wine felt like a small triumph (we don’t get a lot of Australian wines round my part of the world in case you couldn’t tell).
Yet even with The Proper Pour out here flying the nat-nat flag, Denver is just now catching on, which is somewhat surprising given that the city is always on the leading edge of modern beer trends. And it is even more surprising when those beer trends—low-ABV flavor bombs, super fresh hazy IPAs, wild fermentation and high-acid sours (of which Denver has two of the best expressions of in Crooked Stave and Black Project)—all align one-for-one with what is happening in natural wine. But Denver IS a beer city.
“Denver is slow to not only take to trying natural wine, but drinking more wine in general. We are definitely a beer and spirit town and it feels like a constant struggle against those categories,” Wright says. “I don't think the trends in beer will directly affect consumption of natural wine, but people caring more about what they're consuming, how it's made, what's in it, its impact on the environment, etc. is a change in how we think that I believe will trickle down to more people caring about their wine.”
But Wright and Hedges are doing everything they can to allow an already adventurous drinking city to apply those same principles to wine. This includes RiNo Yacht Club, a bar in the center of The Source owned by Wright (but not Hedges), that serves exclusively natural wines, with a rotating list of eight or so by the glass and another 10 by the bottle. And if a guest likes what they are tasting, they can always pop over to The Proper Pour and pick up a bottle to take home. The pair have also signed on to lead the beverage program for the recently-opened Morin, a modern French eatery replacing the now defunct Wazee Supper Club. They will of course be bringing with them a list full of natural wines, marking them as one of the few eateries in the city to have any minimal intervention wines on their list (shout out to Mercantile and Hop Alley).
It is slightly surprising to find a city like Denver still so early in its wine journey. Their coffee scene is one of the best in the country, food culture has made some massive strides over the past few years—especially towards local and organic, knowing what is being consumed and where it comes from—and I don't think we need to go over the beer again. All these things point in the direction of an exciting natural wine city. And maybe they aren't there yet, but Denver is a natural wine powder keg right now. The Proper Pour may just be the match.
Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas.