The inaugural weekend of Budburst, Wellington's coolest little natural food and wine festival is happening at Prefab Hall this Sunday. In order to find out a little more about natural wines, what they are and how to establish a dialogue about the craft among New Zealand drinkers, we looked to Dan Gillett, owner of Wine Diamonds—New Zealand's only solely-natural wine importer and distributor. Through his operation of Blenheim's Scotch Wine Bar (widely agreed to be the best spot in Marlborough for a bite and a few glasses from their immense 300-bottle collection), he became introduced to natural wines—and has been one of their biggest advocates ever since.
CP: What grabbed your attention about natural wines? What makes them interesting to you/those involved in Budburst?
I remember drinking my first bottle of natural wine (a Grenache from Basket Range, South Australia) and being amazed by the life and energy in the wine – it had texture, fruit and purity unlike anything else I had ever tried. I ordered more and more of this wine at the bar until the distributor ran out!
For me natural wines have an energy in them that you will never find in anything industrial, homogenized or large-scale. These are small producers who farm their own land and produce their own wine with as little intervention as possible… What could be better?
Budburst is about introducing these wines to anyone who hasn't seen them before. You simply have to try them to understand just how different they can be. Drop any preconceived ideas you have and recalibrate. Come and try them. NZ hasn't seen much decent natural wine till now, producers are only just dipping their toes and the best wine bars and restaurants around the country are only just starting to pour these wines. We are at the very beginning and this is a chance to be first.
CP: For anyone who isn't aware of the nuances of natural wine, what makes a wine "natural" in the first place?
Organically farmed fruit made without any intervention, additions or removals.
To me a wine is 'natural' when the source of the fruit is good and pure, and all winemaking processes in the winery are centered around retaining that purity, freshness and fruit profile found only in that vineyard, in that vintage. So this means the wines are naturally fermented (so without any added yeasts, tannin, enzymes, acid, sugar, etc) and left unfiltered and unfined (so sometimes slightly cloudy). The environment and sustainable process go hand in hand within the natural winemaking process.
CP: Where do you see natural wines fitting into the NZ wine industry/what is their place now?
Budburst is coming about now as it seems we finally have enough people from around the world who have experienced natural wine, and are keen to introduce it to New Zealand. I reckon we're about 7 or 8 years behind Australia in this respect but we will get there.
Natural wines will become a bigger and bigger part of the NZ wine industry as consumers become more informed and shy away from pesticides, herbicides, and anything remotely industrial or manufactured... just the same as we have done with meat and produce. At the moment it seems only the best wine bars and restaurants are pouring these wines (where their staff are generally more educated and more exposed to good wine), but this will gain momentum over time.
CP: What does Budburst aim to achieve? What are future plans for the festival?
Exposure. I think the purpose of Budburst is to shed light, entertain and inform people about a really fun bracket of wine which is commonplace throughout the world. For example, in France most people don't even realise they're exposed to it – it's simply wine. As with most of these festivals I think the idea is for it to become an annual event and grow in size with every year.
For more information on Budburst, visit their website here.