There’s natural wine, and then there’s the avant-garde. The people who live on the edge, not because they want to profit off a trend, but because they believe in the power of what they can create. “The avant-garde is where you’ll find people who are taking a leap of faith and doing something different,” says Brittany Galbraith, our director of education. “It’s a scary place to be. It’s a brave place to be.”
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite risk-takers — people who make magic every year. There’s the only-slightly-mad scientist at Ganevat in the Jura, and the artful wizard of Hiyu in the Hood River Valley. We’ll take you there, and beyond, to Alsace then Friuli then to the Rhône Valley. Because this type of innovation knows no geographic limits. It can be found in regions with 1000 years of history, or places where history is just starting to be made.
Our friend Mathieu Lapierre might say that these winemakers are like great musicians. (Mathieu compares making wine to reading sheet music.) We would agree. And these wines are like treasured albums we want on repeat — symphonies, rock ballads, soulful tunes that remind us of why we fell in love with wine in the first place.
Jean-François Ganevat has been called an alchemist — someone who blends science and magic in the pursuit of mythic treasure. He’s located in the Jura, and farms just 8.5 hectares of vines that host 17 local grape varieties. From those, he creates 35 to 40 cuvées each year, a staggering number. And no two are raised in the same way.
But the sheer volume of his output isn’t what makes Jean-François avant-garde. It’s how he blends his appreciation of tradition with his distinct vision for his wines. Because while he utilizes local varieties, Fan Fan (as he’s known to friends), doesn’t always vinify them in the traditional regional style.
The Jura is known for its oxidative whites — rich, nutty bottles that have taken the wine world by storm in recent years. Jean-François opts for a more Burgundian approach. Rather than letting some of his white wines oxidize, as many of his neighbors do, he rigorously tops up his barrels, which results in a complex, lighter style of wine.
Additionally, he has a line of negoce wines — cuvées that are a blend of grapes from all over the country and Jura varieties. And, he does everything by hand. There are absolutely no machines in the vineyard, and for some cuvées, the fruit is cut grape-by-grape off the stem and into the vat. The attention to detail is just overwhelming.
Tasting a bottle from Ganevat makes you see the world differently — to appreciate endless possibilities, and how place and culture can show up in the glass together.
If Ganevat is an alchemist, then Nate Ready is a wizard, and the wines he makes are life changing. Alongside his partner China Tressemer, he runs a completely regenerative farm in the Hood River Valley, where Mount Hood rises up over his vines like a jagged primordial tooth.
Although the word “natural” is thrown around frequently in the world of wine, we don’t often hear the word “regenerative.” People who farm this way, like Nate, take nature’s lead. At Hiyu, you will find a completely closed-loop system. There are no machines used in the vineyards, instead, you’ll find ducks, chickens, cows, and pigs snuffling and scurrying between the vines. The philosophy demands that rather than taking from the earth, depleting the soil, that we give back. That we restore.
The effects of this practice can be felt in the glass. It’s almost as if you can see the landscape, taste the stone-blue skies, and smell the twisting flowers and grasses that weave between the vines with each sip.
Their unconventional approach extends to how their vineyards are planted as well — as a ferociously complex tapestry of field blends. Nate and China grafted Pinot Noir and Gris onto about 80 different varieties throughout the property, in a system of half-acre blocks, “each planted to a different field blend inspired by a place or moment in the genetic history of the grapevine,” says Jenny and Francois Selections. Come harvest, each parcel is harvested and vinified, separately, as a field blend.
In this way, Nate creates a staggering number of cuvées from his vines. Each one is distinct, each sings a song that you can’t get out of your head, once heard.
Hiyu Wine Farm, courtesy of Jenny & Francois Selections
If he were a winemaker in America, we would be more inclined to say André Ostertag makes wines that sing “a song of themselves.” Because the Alsace winemaker has a unique philosophy, one that evokes Whitman: he believes that a wine “should be only typical of itself.” Like no other. Uncommon, and grounded in its difference.
In pursuit of this self-song, André devised his own system of classification for his wines, one that he feels better speaks to their unique personalities and qualities. He creates “Vins de Fruit” which expresses the personality of the fruit more than that of the vineyard site; “Vins de Pierre” which speaks to the terroir; and “Vins de Temps” which shows the passage of time and weather through the effects of botrytis.
In other words, André looks for nuance in ways that we don’t often see. His approach is anything but safe, anything but standard. His unique philosophy and classification system place him firmly within the avant-garde.
Lorenzo Mocchiutti and Federica Magrini are nurturers. People who believe that there is an inherent harmony already present in the landscape and that their job isn’t just to create it, but to follow it. They work a few hectares in Friuli, in the Colli Orientali, where they craft some of the most exquisite minimal intervention wines out there.
One of Duline’s defining principles goes almost completely against the standard practice of other wine farmers: They don’t trim the shoots. Meaning, they let their vines grow as they need to each year, in response to the sun, the rain, the conditions of that particular year. As a result, the roots of their vines plunge deep into the soil, which is what Lorenzo and Federica credit their wines’ complex minerality to.
In addition, they use no herbicides. In fact, the vines that they inherited from Lorenzo’s grandfather have never been touched by chemicals. Their novel approach pays off with wines that exhibit both structure and restraint, that tell crystal clear stories of Friuli’s unique history and culture.
If you’re in the Rhône Valley, we imagine it must be hard to stand out from the large, delectable shadow cast by Hermitage in Saint Joseph. Herve Souhaut of Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet does just that.
While most of his neighbors work in the regional style — known for heavy extraction and full tannins, Hervé favors a lighter touch. He wants his wines to be immediately drinkable, less tannic but still structured. Still of the area, but apart from it as well.
It takes guts to deviate from regional styles, especially in a place with as much history and acclaim as Saint Joseph. We’re glad Hervé does just that, and that we’re able to share his wines with you.