New York’s Natural Wine Fair Invasion
Brace yourselves for The Big Glou and Vivent Les Vins Libres.
Long have American sommeliers and natural wine fanatics journeyed to Europe for fairs like La Dive Bouteille and Renaissance des Appellations in France’s Loire Valley and Vini di Vignaioli in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna. These events were the first of their kind to showcase small, artisan vintners who use organic farming methods and minimal-intervention winemaking to produce captivating and often avant-garde wines. Now, in the span of 3 days, New York will get not one but two such festivals, bringing a collective 122 winemakers to the city.
Vivent Les Vins Libres, a partnership of 6 producers (Bertrand Jousset, Emeline Calvez, Nicolas Grosbois, Laurent Cazottes, Florent Plageoles, Antoine-Marie Arena) and Parisian bistro Quedubon, under the leadership of Domaine de la Tournelle’s Pascal and Evelyne Clairet, will hold a public tasting on Sunday, February 28th at Racines in Tribeca and a professional tasting Monday, February 29th at The Ten Bells, with a party and a Grand Dinner to follow. The Big Glou, effectively New York’s first ever home-grown natural wine fair includes two days of tasting at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg—Saturday and Sunday, February 27th-28th—with two educational seminars on climate change and agriculture.
Food & Wine caught up with Lee Campbell, wine director for the entire Andrew Tarlow Brooklyn restaurant empire and one of two main organizers of The Big Glou, to find out what inspired this push for large-scale natural wine fairs on this side of the Atlantic.
How did the idea for the event first come up?
Guilhaume Gérard [of Selection Massale] and I had the first kernel of an idea about a year and a half ago. We looked around and saw so many of the wine celebrations that were open to the public in New York—it was things like La Paulée and La Fête du Champagne. But the thing that inspired me to get into wine was not, sadly, high-end Burgundy and fancy Champagne. It was meeting vignerons who had dirt under their nails…people who seemed super-approachable and whose wines were delicious but affordable. I’ll still take high end Burgundy if I can get it! But there’s this other current that my wine voyage has always been connected to and that has a strong voice now in this city.
If we didn’t put this together, somebody else would have. But for Guillaume and me, it was such a great marriage because we have similar approaches to wine, but we’re also two very different people. He’s French; I’m American. He’s an importer; I’m on the buying side. He’s sort of the bad boy; I’m a good girl… We have these two great points of view to round out the structure of the event.
And you got almost 100 winemakers on board… That’s impressive.
Well, right away we went to the owners of Chambers Street Wines and to Kevin McKenna, who’s the managing partner of Louis/Dressner Selections, and said, ‘If we do this, can you guys support us in whatever ways we need?’ They said, ‘Absolutely,’ so we felt like we had some real heavyweights saying we have your back. Then, we started talking to all of the distributors and importers in New York. 99% of them came in to the family, so the list of winemakers who wanted to participate grew from there.
“The Big Glou” is such a great name. Who can we thank for that gem?
That was all Jeremie Delon, who works for Guilhaume at Selection Massale and is also the manager for A1 Records in the East Village. He’s this amazing amalgamation—like, one of his parents is French, the other is American, and growing up, he spent half the time in one country and half the time in the other, so he gets the sensibilities of both cultures. We figured that at this point, people understand the meaning of glou in this country. And if they don’t, they’re going to learn it soon enough. It’s also a riff on The Big Blue, which is a movie by Luc Besson. And one thing I didn’t really think about until afterwards is the 7-Eleven Big Gulp; it’s kind of a riff on that too! It works on so many levels.
I take it the inspiration came from existing natural wine fairs in Europe like La Dive Bouteille?
Well, the spirit is very much the same. But we didn’t want to make it like anyone else’s wine fair; we wanted to take into account the market as it’s developed here, specifically. Brooklyn and Manhattan both have their own wine vibes. We’re not trying to highlight the wines that are big in Paris or Copenhagen; we want to celebrate the wines that already have some relevance here. Plus, we have this really interesting 3-tier system [importer/distributor/retailer] that they don’t necessarily have in Europe, so we wanted to find a way to get all of the players involved.
What about the overlap with Vivent Les Vins Libres? Will folks be able to go to both?
Clearly, everybody can’t be everywhere at the same time, but we’re supporting each other in these events. If you go to Angers [in the Loire] when there are fairs, there’s usually more than one event going on at once. This will be a great weekend to be drinking wine in New York. You can do it in Brooklyn; you can do it in Manhattan. If you can figure out how to do both, you can do it all. There will be lots of winemaker dinners, lots of parties… There’s a whole convivial spirit around these types of wines; it’s kind of the whole point. We’re excited it’s all happening.
Superfans will also be pleased to learn that Isabelle Legeron MW is bringing her famed natural wine show, RAW, to New York for the first time this year in November. This represents its first US appearance since the event debuted in London in 2012.