The Big Glou, New York’s first fair dedicated wholly to natural wines, made its debut in February at the Wythe Hotel. Guillhaume Gerard (of Selection Massale) and Lee Campbell (wine director at Reynard) wanted to host a New York–based wine event akin to Dive Bouteille in Saumur, France, or Vini di Vignaioli near Parma, Italy. Thus, the Big Glou (that’s French for “gulp”) was born.
Throughout the weekend, a hundred vintners showcased their selections of natural wines at the Wythe. Icons of the natural-wine world — like Pierre Breton from the Loire Valley — were on hand to pour their goods and interact with wine lovers. The two-day affair drew sold-out crowds to the hotel, with long queues of enthusiastic oenophiles curling around the event.
Natural wine is generally derived from organic, biodynamic, or (at the very least) sustainable vineyards. Vintners eschew most modern technology in favor of doing vineyard processes by hand — from pruning to picking. Instead of adding commercial yeast, fermentation kicks off spontaneously, and wines are treated with minimal handling. The ethos of “nothing added, nothing taken away” is key, but if you’re still confused about what’s a “natural wine” and what isn’t — you’re not alone. Not even the French can arrive at a satisfactory definition.
Gerard describes the Big Glou as “controlled chaos,” comparing the festival’s vibe to that of a crowded bar where you can still manage to have a conversation. “I like to think that every table and every producer enjoyed a crowd for a certain amount of time,” he says. “Then the crowd moved on — like bar-hopping.”
Attendees were given tasting glasses — a festival souvenir worth keeping — and sent on their way through a maze of rooms to sample dozens of wines. Afterwards, natural-wine-friendly venues around the city, like the Ten Bells, filled up with winemakers and bons vivants gathering post-Glou to keep the party going.
Gerard was thrilled by the event turnout and considers the first-ever Big Glou a success. So will there be a part two?
“We certainly have plans to do it again next year,” Gerard says. “It would be a mistake not to keep this going. For now, though, Lee and I just need to rest a little. Pulling this off was quite exhausting. For me, as a wine importer, it basically meant three weeks straight of entertaining winemakers and clients.”
Winemakers from around the world came to the Big Glou, and according to Gerard, they were pleased with the event, too. “It is a very European thing, what we did,” Gerard says. “It wasn’t so much about taking wine tasting notes and having a meaningful conversation with a winemaker — it was more of a big party where one could taste the newly released wines and discover new producers.”
A few years ago, the natural wine category was much like the Supreme Court’s once-infamous characterization of porn: it lacked clearly defined parameters, but you knew it when you saw tasted it. Wines were funky, textured, cloudy, yeasty, and unpredictable. They were often fraught with bottle variation, fizzy when they shouldn’t be (or did the winemaker intend for the juice to referment?) Colors came in shades of Lipton tea, obscuring the wine’s identity as white, red, or rose.
The wines at Big Glou bore little relationship to the experiments and inconsistencies of the past. They were well-made, fresh, and deeply enjoyable while interesting. But mostly, they tasted alive. They reflected a vigorous energy that’s often lacking in the dull matte of highly commercial, conventionally-produced wines. Are they better? For the moment, that’s an insoluble idea; they are just different.
If you missed the fair or are new to natural wine, here are six producers who poured at the Big Glou and have natural wines available in New York City:
Jean Foillard of Beaujolais, France
A familiar name to longtime natural-wine enthusiasts, Jean and Agnès Foillard’s wine practically quivered with tension. In Beaujolais, the two own a large portion of old vine gamay (a type of purple grape) parcels and sites on Morgon’s renowned Côte du Py. Their Morgon Corcelette 2014 revealed a heady perfume of violet florals and red fruits underscored by a stony, mineral character. In short, it was absolutely beguiling. A single sip will summon memories of your first kiss. Or your first heartbreak. Importer: Kermit Lynch
Foradori of Trentino, Italy
Elisabetta Foradori’s focus is on teroldego, a red Italian grape, which she farms on biodynamic vines in the Northern Italian valley of Trentino. Foradori brought three reds to the Big Glou, and one of them was a true showstopper: the Granato 2011. Derived from her oldest vineyards, the wine had layers of savory earthiness over a pristine layer of bramble fruit and spice. The Granato 2011 is a winning argument to acquaint yourself with teroldego grapes. Importer: Louis Dressner
Enderle & Moll of Baden, Germany
Spätburgunder (or German pinot noir) gets far too little attention in the U.S. — perhaps because very little of it reaches our shelves. Those who can find it are rewarded by a Burgundy-like wine. Much of Germany’s pinot is produced in Baden, one of the country’s warmest growing regions, and that’s where Enderle & Moll is based. While the operation is small and fairly young — Sven Enderle and Florian Moll’s first vintage was in 2007 — it has already established a reputation for achieving the elusive taste balance between power and elegance. Enderle and Moll work everything by hand, turning out pinots (such as the Liaison) using an old basket press. Importer: vom Boden
Breton of Loire Valley, France
Pierre and Catherine Breton have been working on organic and biodynamic wines in the Loire Valley since 1990 and effectively spearheaded natural-wine production in the region. Just don’t call Pierre a legend. “That term is reserved for dead people whose portraits hang on walls,” he jokes. The Bretons make an extraordinary, site-sensitive cabernet franc and chenin blanc from eleven hectares of vines in Chinon, Bourgueil, and Vouvray (though only their leafy-fresh and fragrant cab made an appearance at the Big Glou). Importer: Kermit Lynch
Andi Knauss of Swabia, Germany
Swabia sits in the southwestern corner of Germany, and within its boundaries lie the territories Württemberg and Baden, the latter of which gets recognition for its pinot noir (like Enderle & Moll’s, above). Despite being one of the largest grape-growing areas, the designation “Swabian” has rarely been applied — until now. Andi Knauss hails from the Württemberg side of Swabia, producing wines typical of the area: namely lemberger (also called blaufränkisch) and trollinger. He makes several versions of lemberger, which he calls the pinot noir of his area, but Knauss only brought his “Lemberger G” (a Swabian beaujolais and one of his “estate” wines) to taste at the Big Glou. The wine’s mouth-tingling acidity showed freshness and liveliness with a core of fruits and tannins as fine-grained as Mexican drinking chocolate. Meanwhile, Knauss’s trollinger (a/k/a his “breakfast wine”) clocks in at only 9.5 percent alcohol — which means you can have a sip or two with your eggs benedict over brunch. He’s also turning out an excellent young vine riesling with 35-year-old young vines — a commodity that American vintners would love to get their hands on. Importer: Selection Massale
Montesecondo of Tuscany, Italy
This isn’t your parents’ Chianti. Silvio and Catalina Messana — formerly New Yorkers — run Montesecondo just outside of Florence, Italy. The family brought six wines to the Big Glou, including their Chianti Classico DOCG and Toscana Rosso IGT. Each selection had its charms, but the clay-amphora-aged Sangiovese TIN stood out against the rest. The Sangiovese TIN delivered an unusual harmony, with hints of earth, fruit, and acid. If this is the new face of Tuscan wine, we have a lot to look forward to. Importer: Louis Dressner