Current Affairs

Refelctions on the Natural Wine Movement

There's an industry wide argument over an emerging movement called "Natural Wine" happening right now.  Some people think Natural is the only real wine, others think it's a mass hysteria and it's all bad wine, and more people are somewhere between. 

First a definition: Natural Wine is usually taken to mean wine that is made from at the least organically farmed grapes, fermented with the wild yeasts on the grape skins, and then not manipulated with coloring, acidity, sugar, water, or other things added in the winery.  About less than 10% of commercially available wines can make those claims.

Wine is such a personal and subjective thing, but that's never before stopped people from trying to argue over what's right or authentic.  The emergence of Natural Wine is an interesting situation and dilemma. On one hand most changes and new movements are at some early stage a fad.  The philosophy of natural wines in general is an extension or evolution of the desire for wines with terroir and sense of place, but taken further and paired with a reaction against modern chemical technologic wine making methods.  Natural, or maybe better called wild, wines have been around as a commercial movement for maybe 15 or so years, but it's just in the last 1 or 2 that the movement has gained enough momentum to break out of exclusively wine geek circles.

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I don't think that I would call the Natural Wine movement as a whole a fad; however it may be experiencing a fad right now. If anything the arguments and attention are evidence of this. Louis Dressner was one of the first importers to go in this direction and Zev Rovine was one of the first to carry the terroir movement to it's more extreme elimination of chemical intervention and wild wine making extension, but the fact that now large established prestigious companies like T Edward wines are in the market is proof that it is no longer a niche and has crossed into the mainstream.

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As with any new movement experiencing a surge in popularity and attention many new people will jump into the arena; not all will last.  It's rare for any business to last for decades.  Market conditions (what people want to drink, exchange rates, what wine makers think people want to make) all constantly change and it's devilishly hard for a company to continually adapt.

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As some people try to challenge the legitimacy of natural wine making it's good to remember too that natural wine making is unusual in that it started from the supply side.  The movement started with wine makers who were fed up with modern conventional wine making and decided that it was worth risking their livelihoods to experiment with something new and unknown.  That's how bad wine making with pesticides and chemical fertilizers had gotten; natural wine wasn't originally created to sell wine.  Natural wine making started as an uprising against the status quo.

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Natural wine is a new development and as such many winemakers are self-taught. Self taught only happens with mistakes.   I'll be the first to admit that there are many flawed examples out there; however there are also people making really transcendent compelling wines from this method. Natural Wine is a new thing that is still developing and defining itself, but I'm sure that this type of wine is here to stay.   The Natural Wine movement has a lot of value for the wine industry in reminding people that wines are living fragile agricultural products.

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Spending a whole day in a Pie Suite for the Preble St Resource Center

The Portland Pie Council has talked me into dressing up as a slice of pie for a whole business day in order to raise money for the Preble St Resource Center!  If I can raise a minimum of $500 for Preble St in the next week I will wear a giant brown and purple slice of pie suite for an entire day as I go about my business.  I'll wear it to the bank, in the supermarket, moving wine around in my warehouse: everywhere.  And I'll post pictures all over the Devenish Wines Facebook page so you can see me looking ridiculous.  In fact, here's a picture of me with the suite on so you can see what it will be like. 

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Please email me back at devenishwines@gmail.com for how to donate.  Donations to Preble St are way down right now but more and more people in our community, our neighbors, need help. The Rosemont Market has already given me $100 towards the goal of $500, so just $400 left to see me spend a whole day in a pie suite.


Devenish Email Newsletter 9.21.11

Greetings Wine Enthusiasts, Aficionados, and Imbibers,

"This is my favorite time of year!" I said to myself as I drove down the highway appreciating the clean crisp light of the end of summer and the gold tinge it lent to the still lush grasses and trees. But my inner dialog immediately kicked in and answered in my head "You say that about every season!". Well, my inner dialog has a point; I find things to appreciate at each time of year. Wine plays into that. I just wasn't in the mood for Chateauneuf du Pape and other big smoky, gamey, reds all through the summer. Now that the nights are a little cooler and drier, a little crisper, coming back to some of these deep, contemplative reds is like meeting up with a good friend who's been away for months.  I'm working on a list of autumn wines that I'll have out soon, but also take a look at all the new wines I have listed below. Many of them are particularly suited to the autumn.

Now that summer has ended and Devenish isn't totally devoted to delivering Pinot Grigio we're getting back to the more exciting parts of this job, like hosting cool wine events!  Devenish has been so busy I don't even know where to start!  I guess I'll start with our involvement in the Portland Museum of Art's fund raiser auction last Saturday and our involvement in the 20 Mile meal coming up on October 2nd.  I love the PMA and Devenish has done a lot of work with them over the years.  If you were there at the auction you probably drank some of our Henry Varney sparkling wine and you may also have bid on the private wine tasting and consultation with me that was auctioned off.  I'm really looking forward to the 20 mile meal too.  Cultivating Community is a great cause and it's an opportunity for me to eat a lot of great food made by fantastic local chefs from very local ingredients.  If that sounds good to you check out this link: and I'll see you at the 20 mile meal in Cape Elizabeth!  In other news Devenish has picked up a really gorgeous, authentic new Italian portfolio.  I'll send a whole other email about the wines and their provenance later, but there are some events with the wines below.  Now, on to the events:

Events

Thursday September 22
Wine Flight at Havana
This Thursday I'll be at Havana South from 6-8pm pouring ten wines from Italy.  A lot of these will be from the new portfolio of my friend Warren Fraser.  The theme is the other 95% of Italian wine that's not from Tuscany and Piedmont.  For no really good reason (ok, Brunello, ok Barolo.....alright there are a few good reasons) Tuscany and Piedmont get all the attention.  So I'm showing ten gorgeous, authentic, unique Italian wines from the rest of Italy.  $10 for 10 wines and platters of food, stop by any time between 6-8.

Saturday October 1st
Bow St Freeport Wine Tasting
Brendon Pringle will be pulling out some of his favorite autumn wines for a tasting at Bow St on October 1st.  If you're in the area stop by and check it out.

Tuesday October 4th at 6pm
Wine Appreciation seminar at Back St Bistro
I'll be doing a wine seminar at Back St Bistro in the very beginning of October.  We're going to taste through 6 wines, paired with food and run through some tips and tricks that will improve your enjoyment of wine.  The wines will come from around the world and cover some of the predominant grape varieties.  It will be a fun, casual time with food and some cool wines to taste.  $20 per person, call
(207) 725-4060 for reservations.

Thursday October 6th
Downeast Beverage tasting
October 6th Brendon will be hosting a tasting at Downeast Beverage.  We don't have a clear plan for this yet, but Brendon always talks Downeast Beverage into doing some cool wines.  And it's so conveniently located!


Harvest on the Harbor

This October will be the fifth year that the Convention and Visitors Bureau has held the Harvest on the Harbor festival.   Celebrating Portland as a food and wine destination is something Devenish is on board with 100%; however, at times in the past I've felt that the festival has missed some of the very local and colloquial things that make the Portland food community great.  I could complain and mope, but that's not really my thing, and anyway, Devenish Wines is an involved part of the Portland food scene has a responsibility to be involved and do it's part to improve things.  So we are!  This year I'm hosting a serious of dinners and a large wine tasting to coincide with Harvest on the Harbor and broaden it's reach.  Hopefully these events will draw some of the attendees out into the community and expose them to more of Portland.  Here's a run down:

Tuesday October 18th
Cotes du Rhone dinner at the Eastender

On Tuesday night of the 18th I'm hosting a four course dinner at the Eastender.  Doing all Cotes du Rhone might sound boring to you; well, all I can say is you should have your hearing checked.  Cotes du Rhone is a huge appellation that incorporates many other finer AOCs.  So the Cotes du Rhones we'll be showcasing here come from wineries located in totally different regions and will include: Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras.  As inspired by the 20 mile meal (which they are participating in) all the food will come from within 20 miles of Portland.  And it's only $45 per person!  Call 879-7669 for reservations.

Wednesday October 19th
Dominio do Bibei dinner at Bresca

Dominio do Bibei is one of the most exciting wineries in Spain right now.  They're in Galicia and grow heritage grape varieties on Roman terraces.  The winery is sending us six bottles each of several extremely limited bottling of grape varieties that are nearly extinct and never seen outside the region.  Krista at Bresca is super excited and is getting a smoker just for this dinner.  And I'm going to stage short puppet shows in between courses and introduce the wines through Socratic dialog between puppets.  This will be so awesome it might kill me.  Five courses and $75 per person.  Call Bresca at 7721004

Thursday October 20th
Hatzidakis wine dinner at Trattoria Athena

I love Trattoria Athena; I've had some really fantastic food there.  You can taste just how passionate about the cuisine the two chefs are!  I've got Josh Lavis, the importer of the Hatzidakis winery coming to Maine for this dinner.  Hatzidakis is a tiny winery on the isle of Santorini and really a back breaking labor of love by Haridimos Hatzidakis.  Here's a link to a more in depth article: Mind Blowing Greek White.  To sumarize though, Harry makes lush, rich, very complex white and red wines from heritage grapes grown in wind swept volcanic sand.  His winery is a cave/hut that he rebuilt himself.  The wines are amazing.  The food here is amazing.  This will be a really good time.  Five courses and $65 per person.  Call (207) 721-0700

Sunday October 23rd
Rising Stars 20/20 Charity Wine Tasting at the Falmouth Sea Grill

And to round out the Harvest on the Harbor weekend I'm resurecting the 20/20 charity wine tastings!  I'm working with John Dietz from Easterly, Scot Hudson from National, and the lovely Tabitha Blake from Crush Distributors to pull this off.  The Falmouth Sea Grill has just been totally renovated so we are taking advantage of their beautiful space over looking the water to hold an killer wine tasting.  $20 gets you in the door to taste 20 wines.  This time around we're all just pulling out our favorite unknown wines; the stuff that all of us love, but that no one knows exists yet.  This will be an opportunity to taste the wines that we think will become popular in the next couple years.  And the money all goes to Mensk.  Mensk is a local non profit that focuses on empowering creativity and building community.  They're involved in public art and creative events.  Check out the website for more info on them.

As you can see I've been busy.  And will continue to be so!

New Wines:

Midsummer Cellars Fowler Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Old school, brooding, powerful Cab.  336 cases made and under $30.  They don't get much better than this

Baudouin Champagne Prestige NV
A grower produced Champagne that's 100% Pinot Noir for less than that mass produced Veuve Cliquot swill!

Hippodrome Ventoux Rouge 2009
Grenache based, biodynamic, smooth and excellently balanced medium bodied red.

Amizade Mencia 2010
Super bright and vibrant Mencia from Galicia for $20.  Really fun wine!

Malot Roero Arneis 2009
This Italian white is great for autumn.  It's a little fuller and under it's green apple and wild flowers it's got some hints of nuts and the woods.

Dewey Kelley Pinot Noir 2007
A very limited production (600 cases) hand made OR Pinot.  This is smoky, earthy, and enticingly smooth.

Ned Swain
Devenish Wines
http://devenishwinesgeek.typepad.com/wines_tasted/
207 939 3052


Devenish Wines' Wine Crusade

I'm getting deja vu and feel like I've started off a couple emails from the past few months with "boy, Devenish has been really busy", but, well, we still are.  All of us have been working grueling hours trying to get in front of restaurant and wine shop managers to show off all the fantastic new hand made wines we have.  I've gotten so into this that it's starting to feel like we're on a wine crusade.  A crusade for hand made, personal wines that have something to say; also a crusade to say "Hey, you don't eat Kraft cheese singles, you eat organic food, Spam isn't your favorite meat; then why do you drink the wine equivalent of Spam?  The $3 and $4 wines with names that sound like generic sub-divisions are Spam in wine form.  It's juice from anywhere that's selling for cheap, all processed, artificially flavored, and then spit out of a huge industrial refinery. 

A lot of the other distributors right now are locked into a fight over who can find the cheapest artificially chocolate flavored wine.  Choco-Divine, Chocovine, Sweet sunset, all kinds of chemically created crap.  In total contrast Devenish is staking out opposite end of the market.  We want to have the most exciting, unique, naturally made wines out there.  We want  have the wines that you pick up as you walk through a store and think "Oh, wow.  I don't recognize that; it looks really interesting."   To that end we've been stepping up our game over these past months.

Devenish Wines always been focused on wines that taste like where they come from, wines that have passion in them, generally from smaller producers.  In the past few months we've become even more focused on the context of wine; the idea that it's not just the taste of the wine that matters.  I believe that the person making the wine, why this person is there making wine, who presents the wine to you, where you experience the wine; all this matters.  Context.  You don't go to fancy restaurants and take the food out back into an alley to enjoy it with out the distractions of fine service, linen table cloths, and candle light; why would you ignore all the details about a wine, such as the climate of the vineyard, how long the winemaker's family has been there, their culture and relationship with their land; when all these things have a big impact on the wine and your experience of it?

To me wine can and should be art.  Wine is a medium that can express the winemaker's philosophy, relationship to their land, history, the environment......on and on.  Plus the perception of wine is extremely personal because it's influenced by all your past experiences and tastes, much like fine art or theater.  They're forms of communication that we can all consume, yet we will all perceive the same wine or painting differently.  I love this, it keeps wine fresh and exciting for me and over comes all the petty politics that can sometimes enter the wine industry because it's so personality driven.  I want my wine to speak to me, wine that has spirit to it, wine that someone has poured passion into.  The mass produced industrial wines with flashy labels are made to not have any uniqueness or character; they're completely impersonal.

I feel a big responsibility both to the people buying my wines and the people who make them.  On the one hand I want to find cool, unique wines people can afford to enjoy; on the other I need to promote the wines of these small family producers.  The knowledge that some of my producers families have been on the land working it for longer than anyone knows, investing themselves and spending their lives there, makes me feel a heavy responsibility to represent them well and make a case for them.  That's what really motivates me to work 12-14 hour days doing this; the idea that I'm not just selling a fun luxury, I'm representing hand crafted pieces of art.

 


Maine Wine Industry Update (We have it pretty good in Maine)

Sometimes I tell people that in Maine we're so far behind the curve that we end up ahead of it; like with local food and farmers markets.  In other states with big dense populations super markets totally replaced farmers markets and put a lot of family farms out of business.  In Maine we have such a low population density that in a lot of places the big super markets didn't move in, preserving the farm to table connections that were there.  Now we're reaping the benefits with delicious local pork, greens, squash, you name it.

Wine in Maine is in a similar situation.  Yes, sometimes our helpful state legislators make laws like David Webster of Freeport's protecting impressionable children from seeing adults responsibly tasting wine.  Doing shots at a restaurant bar was ok, tasting wine was a no no; it might turn them communist?  His excuse?  He thought it would be selectively enforced, which of couse makes it all fine.  Maine's, ehem, eccentric legal environment for alcohol has helped to keep large corporate behemoths out.  In recent years the rest of the country has seen a consolidation in the wine business.  Huge companies such as Southern Wine and Spirits have the deep pockets to pay off restaurant owners and give kick backs to control what gets sold.  Luckily, Maine is too small and weird a market for them to bother with us!

Maine is one of the only states that has bucked this trend and seen a lot of diversification and proliferation in small, grass roots wine distributors.  Wine distributors such as myself, SoPo, Crush, and Easterly have built businesses built on unique quality wines and passion.  Mark-ups in Maine are also lower than in places like NY, both on restaurant lists and retail.

I have a feeling that this movement to higher quality, exciting, hand made wines has hit a critical mass.  There are enough of us passionate wine professionals and excited open minded consumers like you that Maine is starting to attract national attention as a great market for exciting, unique wines.  Most of the top importers in the country; the ones that really generate excitement and are sought after, are working in Maine now and sending their national sales people here to promote their wines.

My reaction: it's about damn time!  When I first started 8 years ago people couldn't even get their heads around the fact that I was independant from the big beer distributors.  Dry French Rose was still a rarity.  The times have changed and I predict that change will continue to speed up. 

To that effect I am re-focusing on doing more exciting educational events.  I'm planning more wine dinners, wine classes, and getting my hands on crazy extremely limited wines.  A couple weeks ago I held a private vertical tasting of a Cru beaujolais vineyard.  I had 4 vintages of Christian Bernard Fleurie that we tasted side by side; the 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009.  All the vintages tasted totally different!  It was a revelation; and this from an appellation that most people would never think to age!  (the Rosemont Mothership, RSVP, and the Freeport Cheese and Wine shop each have a few bottles of the older vintages and they're under $20)

I am planning on teaching a wine class specifically on ageing wine.  I've actually been in this business long enough to have built up multi-vintage verticals of a bunch of exciting wines.  More info on this soon. 

Devenish Wines has also moved into a new larger warehouse space to make room for all the new French, Italian, and Oregon wines that are comning!

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The new, larger Devenish Wines warehouse!

So in conclusion we have an amazing selection of wines in Maine.  Yes, there are some high end cult wines that you can't get, but I have news for you, you generally can't get them anywhere.  My Domaine de Bel Air 2003 organic Bourgueil, though?  You can only get that in Manhattan and here in Maine!  Check it out for $15 at the Rosemonts, or the Cheese Iron, or Provisions.

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Perfectly mature loire Cabernet Franc, Organic, and only available in Maine and Manhattan.

You ain't seen nothin' yet!

 

 


Successful Share Our Strength and 20/20 Fundraisers

So not to really toot my own horn, but I'm very happy that I pulled off two large fund-raisers in the past week.

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Share Our Strength at Evengeline

First, on Wednesday the 14; Bastille Day, I helped host an open house and wine dinner at Restaurant Evangeline to Benefit Share Our Strength.  The restaurant was sold out, to the point that I had to hurriedly eat my courses standing behind the bar whenever I could catch a moment.  I had a great time talking to all the people who came and the food really paired beautifully with my French wines.  I had taken the opportunity to bring out some less mainstream, rarer French wines.  I want to thank everyone who came out and collectively helped fight childhood hunger.  Thank You!

20/20 Wine Tasting to benefit Ingraham Youth Alternatives Spiral Arts program

Lisa Vaccaro Steve Souza

Steve from Wicked Wines and Lisa from Caiola's

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Scot from Davine didn't believe my Cahors was a bit cinnamony.

On Sunday the 18 I, along with Tabitha from Crush, Scot from Davine, and Steve from Wicked hosted the third 20/20 charity wine tasting on Caiola's back patio.  It was gorgeous weather and holding the tasting outside shaded by a big old maple allowed us to really take advantage of it.  We showcased 20 unusual wines from southern France and also managed to raise over $1100 for Ingraham's Spiral Arts program which focuses on engaging the elderly. 

I had a great time at both these events and will try to do more charities in the near future.  If you haven't already attended one you should consider it; events like this are more in depth and are a better way to experience and learn about wines than the quick free tastings that shops do each month.