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Digging deep into the stories behind natural wine: Choi Young-seon talks to winemakers about their love of the craft

Mar 06,2020
A hand on a tree in a vineyard at Domaine Gerard Schueller based in Alsace, France, whose wines are made by Bruno Schueller. [HANS MEDIA]
Book cover
Left: A view of the vineyard of Chateau Le Puy based in France’s Bordeaux. Right: A wine made by Philippe Jambon in a glass. [HANS MEDIA]
For those curious to learn about natural wine, one of the hottest trends in the local restaurant industry over the past couple of years, the newly released book “Natural Winemakers” will answer all of your questions in an easy and approachable way.

The book, available at local bookstores since last week, explains the ideas behind natural winemaking through the stories of 15 winemakers and industry experts including Pierre Overnoy, Marcel Lapierre, Yvon Metras, Olivier Cousin, Dominique Derain, Jean-Pierre Robinot and many others. The book also shares how they fell into the world of winemaking.

Natural wine, which has become more familiar to customers in Korea in the past three years, usually refers to wine that is made with minimal human intervention. Natural winemaking ferments grapes with natural yeast rather than yeast created in a lab, and uses natural compost to nurture the soil instead of chemicals. The wine is rarely filtered and that often results in natural wine having a murky white or red color. The book delves deep into why and how these winemakers started to adopt more nature-friendly winemaking processes through interviews with winemakers and industry experts.

Author Choi Young-seon, who’s been active in introducing natural wines through the annual Salon O event that she has hosted since 2017, has put together the stories that these winemakers share through many meetings she has had with them over the years. Choi, based in Paris, has been connecting these winemakers to local wine importers here so that more of their wines can become available in Korea. The book, instead of trying to juxtapose technical information, goes on with human stories that make you feel like you are visiting some uncles and aunts in the neighborhood who make wine that you have always wanted to meet and talk to.

“I wanted to show readers more of the ideas winemakers have, not all the technical information one can find in books and stories that are already published” Choi told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “I wanted to delve into the stories of legendary winemakers from the 80s and 90s [whose wines are now too popular to find on the shelves of a store] and how their philosophy of winemaking has impacted those who have become popular recently.”

What got Anselme Selosse of champagne Jacques Selosse into the world of winemaking was his “questions and curiosity” about theories of agriculture, Choi writes in her book. Pierre Overnoy, also of Jacques Selosse in Jura, France, also remembers that winemaking experts in the past were curious about the new style of wine made without a certain chemical.

“I started in the wine business in 2008, and also became curious to know why some winemakers’ wines are different from what I was already working with, and I continued on to meet them through tasting events in Paris, or even go all the way to the wineries to knock on their doors,” said Choi.

“I hope more people get curious about natural wine, and say ‘Oh this is not bad’ after their first sip, so that the market in Korea gets bigger.”

For other references on natural wine in Korean, “Natural Wine” by Isabel Legeron and “Amber Revolution” by Simon J. Wolf have both been translated and are available at local bookstores as well.

Salon O, the annual tasting event that brings many popular winemakers to Korea for a chance to meet with local consumers, originally scheduled to happen this month, has been canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Choi is planning to have a “Rose and Pet-Nat (sparkling wine)” event in June, as a spinoff to the annual event. Next year’s Salon O is scheduled to happen in late February.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]