Getting into natural wine can be daunting, especially for those of us who don’t live in major US cities, where you can pop into a bottle shop and anything you grab will fall squarely under the (oft ill-defined) descriptor that is “natural wine.” For most in search of their first minimally intervened experience, the best bet is a local boutique wine shop, and even then finding a bottle that meets the true criteria is like finding a needle in a haystack… without knowing what a needle is or how to pick it out of a lineup. There’s usually no “natural wine” section at these boutiques, and if there even is a one-off bottle of Brendan Tracey, it sits unceremoniously amongst all the other wines of France.
Luckily, thanks to the power of the internet, the natural wine-curious no longer have to worry about putting themselves out there only to be upbraided by the snooty shopkeep who tells you “natural wine isn’t a thing” (this in fact happened to me once and I won’t let it go). There are now a handful of different e-commerce sites that proudly trade in natural wine only, making the barrier to entry all but not. There’s More Natural Wine in Berlin, touting an astonishing 700+ bottles. There are brick-and-mortar shops like Uva Wines in New York or LA’s female-producer-focused Vinovore that also offers impressive online selections.
And there’s also Primal Wine, a Los Angeles-based natural wine e-commerce site that has taken all the guesswork out of discovering your new passion. With an easy-to-use interface that lets you filter down to all natural wines or even to just low-sulfite wines, to reds, oranges, or rosés—or get even more particular by winnowing down to country of origin and grape variety—Primal Wine is trying to be a natural wine retailer for everyone, including the noobies.
The driving force behind Primal Wine is the creator and sole proprietor (and web guy and buyer) behind Primal Wine, Guido Cattabianchi. After earning his sommelier certification in his home of Verona, Italy, Cattabianchi moved Stateside where he worked for an Italian wine importer before striking out on his own with Primal. To learn more about his latest venture, I sat down via digital communiqué with Cattabianchi to talk about how Primal came to be, who it is for, and how wines make it onto his virtual shelves.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Guido, thanks for talking to us. Seeing how Primal is really a digital embodiment of your expertise, can you tell us a little bit about your history in wine?
I was born and raised in Valpolicella (Verona) and wine is a big part of our culture. I grew up friends with kids whose families own big and small wineries in the area or are involved in the wine industry. My summer job was harvesting grapes, so wine is deeply ingrained in my upbringing. You can say that I was never “into” wine like people get into stuff these days; wine exists and it's part of our everyday life where I'm from. In 2012, as my passion grew, I decided to get a sommelier certification—in Italy AIS and FISAR are the biggest organizations for sommelier diplomas—and so I received mine from FISAR Verona. I was “exposed” to natural wine in those two years of classes only to realize that natural wine, in reality, had always been around. It was a new old thing. In the Valpolicella area, people had always made wine naturally really. A friend used to work at the Enoteca della Valpolicella and still is a big advocate for natural wine. He now runs his own natural wine distribution company. Through him, I was exposed to publications such as Porthos and Pietre Colorate.
When did Primal Wine first start?
When I moved to the US five years ago, I started working as a wine rep for an Italian wine importer (West LA) which also had a wine e-commerce site. I was repping for about a year and then I took over the website. I taught myself how to code and how to do pretty much everything to run a wine [website]. The idea of starting my own site dedicated to natural wine had been developing for about two years prior to when I actually started Primal Wine, which was at the very end of September of 2018, and we've been growing very quickly ever since.
What is the elevator pitch for Primal Wine?
It's simply: Primal Wine—Natural, Biodynamic, Organic Wine. I'm aware it is a simplification of what I do, but then again, wine is just so complicated! And I don't want to sound like a marketer or say things that I think are just a little weird like “health-focused” wine, “clean” wine, which I noticed are more and more being associated with natural wine.
Primal seems to help break down that barrier by allowing users to filter for just natural wines. Was Primal created with natural wine newbies in mind?
I created Primal Wine because I strongly believe in natural wine and I want to bring it to places where access to natural wine is very limited. I didn't create it with LA, San Francisco, or New York in mind—plenty of local natural wine shops here and they should all stay in business, otherwise, LA will become a gigantic suburbia and there's nothing that frightens me more. I created it with the whole US in mind really. As a matter of fact, I have clients from all over, from newbies to natural wine aficionados. I don't think about natural wine in a sectarian way, quite the opposite. On the website, I have a “What is What” section under the “Writings” tab where I try my best to explain what natural, biodynamic, organic, vegan, and low-sulfites mean.
What do you look for in a wine and how does that affect what shows up on Primal?
I like wines with higher acidity (red/whites/rosé) and that are “crunchy”—that don't crumble in your mouth but have a good mid-palate. Some examples for reds could be Rosso Conestabile della Staffa, Jauma's red wines, Cantina Indigeno's Montepulciano; whites could be Ciro Picariello Fiano, Il Folicello Pet Nat; rose' Andi Knauss, Mariotti Bindi.
Most of the wines I sell tend to be like that, although I also like other wine styles, but acidity is for me the most important element.
When I'm buying, I have to like the wine but I don't think that should be the only criteria. I can also draw the line to, “ok, this wine is not my favorite but it's well made by honest people and so I will carry it.” I want the producers to be the focus, not me and my idiosyncrasies.
Right now, unfortunately, I don't have time for tasting on a regular basis, but I actually prefer to drink two or three glasses of a particular wine with food or friends and family, that's the best way to “taste” and understand a wine I think. When you taste with a rep there are so many variables that can jeopardize your experience (I know very well the drill from my rep days).
Are there any wines you have available or that will be available soon that you are really excited about?
I will have the entire new lineup from Cantina Indigeno and I just got four red wines from Farnea (Marco Buratti is the winemaker, from near where I'm from in Veneto). They are just so uncompromising and ever-evolving. But there are two wines I'm super fond of on the site which no one buys: Amerighi Syrah 2015 and Ciro Picariello Fiano 2016. They are 100% natural wines by master winemakers, but a bit outside of the “scene” and don't have pretty labels. I wish anybody would taste these two. You have probably noticed that I like Italian wine.
All photos courtesy of Primal Wine