So this week should have been coined Natural Wine Week perhaps? I spent Monday at the RAW Wine Fair, a smorgasbord of natural wines gathered together by Isabelle Legeron MW, and Tuesday at the Real Wine Fair, where Doug Wregg was holding court. Much has been made of the existence of two fairs with such similar themes, held on the same few days, seemingly dividing the world of natural wine down the middle. You know the old adage, divide and conquer? Or maybe, divide and be conquered, in this case? It seemed to many as though the world of natural wine was about to shoot itself in the foot.
As it happens, I don’t think that was the case at all. For a start, it seems as though there are plenty of natural wines to go around, and plenty of winemakers ready to pour and talk about these wines, more than enough to fill two such fairs. In the end, although some who would rather promulgate the romance and mysticism of natural wine (or real wine, or whatever you want to call it) might not like to admit it, where the diving line between the fairs was drawn reflected the fact that, no matter what your methods and philosophies are, natural wine is still a product that needs to be commercialised and sold. The Real Wine Fair was, naturally, stuffed to the gills with producers who sell their wines through Les Caves de Pyrène. Whereas at RAW there were a host of individuals and domaines associated with other UK merchants, including Aubert & Mascoli, outspoken advocates of natural wine, and others new to me such as Wine Story, run by Thibault Lavergne who I met on the day, or Dynamic Vines. That just about sums it up. The ‘battle’ between the two ‘rival’ fairs was overplayed and excessively talked up by some, I think.
Second, if the two fairs continue as separate entities (as I suspect they will – both seem to have been sufficiently well attended to justify repeat performances next year), I hope they continue to ‘clash’ in the manner that they did this year, partly for selfish reasons, partly for the good of the fairs. Separating out events such as these may well be fine for local Londoners and those who live just a short distance from the capital, so if those are the customers and clients you care about go right ahead and hold the fairs on separate weekends, in separate months even. But as we saw with this year’s Salon and Renaissance tastings in the Loire (which are usually sequential, one Saturday-Sunday, one Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, but this year the Salon was a week later than usual) visitor numbers may well fall as a result. For me, two days tasting in London was a viable proposition, even though it meant two four-hour train journeys (and the first, thanks to technical problems, stretched out to seven hours), because what the two fairs offered (in terms of exposure to the wines of the Loire) was worth it. But I find to do all that for one day’s tasting is increasingly too exhausting, and also expensive. Might I choose to come to just one of the fairs if they were held at very different times? Perhaps, tiring as that would be. Would I come to both, travelling twice to do so? No. And I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in that; there were attendees at these fairs from far afield, including some international travellers. The two fairs together could become a star attraction in the tasting calendar.
So I hope organisers of both RAW and Real liaise with one another over next year’s fairs, realising – as I hope InterLoire have realised (Virginie Joly told me the 2013 Salon des Vins de Loire has moved back to its usual slot, and will thus follow on from the Renaissance tasting) – that it is better to co-ordinate and co-operate, for mutual benefit and for the good of all potential visitors, than it is to try and best one another, or disrupt the other’s activities.