Author's Note: Tomorrow marks the beginning of the tenth annual Natural Winemakers' Week, a weeklong celebration of wines that go above and beyond the classifications of organic and biodynamic. We sat down with wine importer Jenny Lefcourt of Jenny & François Selections, one of the founders of this yearly event, to learn a little bit more about natural wines and some of the exciting events that are happening in the coming week.
Can you explain the concept of Natural Wine vs. the wines that many of us are familiar with? Natural wine is more than organic and biodynamic. We import from Europe where there are currently organic certifications for farming practices but not for production. This means that grapes might be grown according to organic standards but any number of additives can be added after harvest. We're not sticklers, but we try to keep the additives to a minimum—most wines contain 200 milligrams of sulfites whereas our are usually under 20 milligrams, most of them naturally occurring.
How did you get your start in wine importing? While in Paris finishing up my PhD studying French cinema and literature, I was looking for a job and realized that I wanted to work with something I felt passionately about. The academic path wouldn't guarantee that I would be able to stay in New York or France, but wine importing meant that I could split my time and work with something that I loved.
Was there a specific bottle or experience that sold you on the concept of natural wines? While drinking wine in France and getting to know the winemakers I realized that all of the wines that I gravitated towards were naturally produced. They were all complex, terroir-driven real wines.
Tell us about some of your favorite producers: Picking a favorite wine is like trying to pick a favorite color, there are different wines for different situations. For a hot day in late August, a rose from La Grange Tiphaine is perfect, but for a big hearty dinner on cold winter's night I'm looking for something big and rustic like a Clos De Camuzeilles.
How did the idea of Natural Wine Makers' Week come about?Trade tastings are generally for restaurant and wine professionals but my thinking was that, why should these events be so exclusive? With my background as an educator I thought that it would be much more beneficial for the winemakers who are able to speak so passionately about their wines to meet, dine, and interact with the people who were drinking their wines.
What are some of the events that we can look forward to during this year's Natural Wine Makers' Week? Rouge Tomate is hosting a dinner on Tuesday, March 9th, featuring wines from Bordeaux, Tuscany, and Sonoma. The sommelier is a young French woman named Pascaline Lepeltier who introduced an entirely natural wine list. She loves to introduce people to naturally produced wines that match the fresh, seasonal, and local fare that Michelin-starred Rouge Tomate serves.
The biggest event of the week is being held at the Astor Center where the producers of many of our wines will be available to chat, taste, and of course, all of the wines will be available for purchase.