How are natural wines different from raw or clean wines? Why do natural wines provoke furious debates in the wine world? Why will you want to read our guest’s new memoir that’s hot off the press (pun intended)?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Rachel Signer, who has just published a gripping, addictive memoir, You Had Me at Pet-Nat.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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- How did a trip to the Loire Valley give Rachel the impetus to start her magazine?
- What was it like to meet one of the most famous natural winemakers, Nicolas Joly?
- What role does sulphur play in winemaking?
- How does ageing differ for a no-sulphur-added wine?
- Why was living in Spain a life-changing experience for Rachel?
- Do you need formal training to be a serious wine professional?
- What is Rachel’s approach to wine self-education?
- What are Rachel’s top tips for getting the most out of your visit to a wine region?
- Why does natural wine provoke such strong debates in the wine world?
- How is Rachel helping bring new people into the world the natural wine?
- What makes the natural wine world a movement and a culture?
- Which criteria does Rachel use for natural wine in her magazine?
- How did a wild bus ride on a Georgian wine trip lead to Rachel meeting her winemaker husband?
- Why aren’t Rachel’s wines certified organic?
- Why does Rachel always have her copy of Ernest Hemingway’s memoir with her?
I usually summarize my take-aways, but today I’m going to share some reviews of Rachel’s new memoir with you as I recommend it highly:
- “From Paris to Australia, Signer takes us on a gripping journey to reclaim her sense of self through the medium of the natural wine she loves so much. You Had Me at Pét-Nat is a reminder of the importance of rebirth, the restorative power of love, and the invigorating gifts of nature. A must read for bon vivants and explorers alike.”
— Victoria James, author of Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier
- “I lean more toward Champagne than Pét-Nat, but Rachel Signer’s addictive memoir drew me deep into the world of natural wine and into the company of its eccentric, obsessive and hedonistic citizens. Ultimately, though, it is Signer’s personal journey, her search for love and identity, which makes this such a compelling and moving book.”
—Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar
- “Signer… takes readers on a movable feast… In this love letter to not only natural wines but also the community and ethos that sustain them, Signer shares her wine experiences, from working in a restaurant and wine shop to wine journalism and harvesting grapes, emphasizing both the traditions and environmental impact of vineyards and wine production…Her extensive journalistic experience shines through, and readers will learn never to look at a glass of wine again without considering the people pouring their hearts into every bottle.”
- “You Had Me at Pét-Nat was like my favorite bottle of wine; I consumed it in one sitting. Dive head-first into the natural wine world with Rachel Signer to discover why these wines will deepen your pleasure as you meet the witty oddballs who make them. This is also the story of how one woman found healing and love when she finally let go of who she thought she should be and started living fully, wildly alive, as much as the wine in her glass.”
—Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over and Unquenchable!
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
For us, drinking a wine that is really, truly alive, the excitement of that outweighs the potential risks or the possibility that there will be some flaws. - Rachel Signer Click to tweet
I think wine is very, very exciting when no sulphites have been added. - Rachel Signer Click to tweet
We make wine because we love eating and drinking and we love making things and enjoying them with people. - Rachel Signer Click to tweet
Certificates are not the be-all and end-all of a wine career… You can learn in other ways. - Rachel Signer Click to tweet
The hospitality that we were shown by Georgians is unparalleled. They eat very fresh food, and they have incredible recipes, beautiful dishes, such a great place and the wines are wonderful. - Rachel Signer Click to tweet
About Rachel Signer
Rachel Signer is a wine writer originally from Virginia, now living in South Australia. She’s written for numerous publications, including The Guardian, Vogue and Eater. She’s also the publisher and founder of Pipette Magazine, an independent magazine about natural wines sold in over twenty countries. She makes natural wines with her husband in the Adelaide Hills under the labels Lucy M and Persephone Wines. Her fabulous memoir, You Had Me at Pet-Nat, has just been published by Hachette Books.
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Rachel Signer 0:00
standardisation has actually taken the place of tradition. That is the debate raging around these Appalachians and winemakers who are kicked out. For a lot of natural winemakers. It’s insulting to be told that because they don’t add things to their wines, they’re not going to have the place name on their label. We often don’t go through the channels, the chord of master songs, and here we are. Some people don’t like the way that they taste quite honestly, I don’t think that everyone needs to like natural wine. I do think there are a lot of very classical tasting natural wines that don’t get enough attention. I think there is a natural wine for everyone.
Natalie MacLean 0:49
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine, the love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations. That’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now personally, that bottle please and let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 151. How are natural wines different from raw or clean lines? Why did natural wines provoke furious debates in the wine world? And why will you want to read our guests new memoir that’s hot off the press. And yes, pun intended. You’ll get those answers and more wine tips in my chat with Rachel cygnar, who has just published a gripping addictive memoir called You had me at Pat net. in the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, links to where you can buy Rachel’s book, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. And where you can find me on zoom Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie maclean.com forward slash 151. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, I’m getting ready for my regular segment on CTV is the social today. These days we seek out wines because of how they’re made. Whether that’s sustainable farming, organic viticulture, or ethical Fair Trade Practices. we vote with our dollars. We do the same on we’re conscious about who makes the wine, which is why I’m highlighting some of our country’s best wines on the show today that are owned or produced by black, indigenous or people of colour. We’re starting with intimate sellers, the first indigenous owned winery in North America. intimate means bottom land, because the vineyards are planted at the southern tip of the Sonoran Desert, the warmest, driest part of Canada, ideal for creating wines of concentrated flavour. winemaker and osoyoos Indian band member Justin Hall’s connection to and respect for the land where he was born is evident in the wine he produces. Justin first thought he wanted to be a mechanic that after only a few days as a seller hand at incognita, he discovered a passion for winemaking. And then after completing the viticulture programme at Okanagan University College and a postgraduate diploma in enology at New Zealand’s Lincoln University. He’s now a state winemaker. We’re also featuring another bc winery today. Howard soon is the head winemaker at Vanessa vineyard in bcws similkameen Valley after spending 37 years at another terrific bc winery sand hill. Howard is the grandson of a shopkeeper who emigrated from southern China to BC in the 1880s. Our was the first winemaker in the province to receive a gold medal at Chardonnay of the world competition in France, and in 2019 was named to the Order of Canada presented by the Governor General to honour people who service shapes our society. These innovations ignite our imaginations and whose compassion unites our communities. He is a special focus on single vineyard wines to showcase how very special particular vineyards are, such as those FNS of vineyards. I’ll share more of the people in wines we’re highlighting with you next week. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:55
Rachel cygnar is a wine writer originally from Virginia. now living in South Australia, that’s quite a journey. She’s written for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Vogue and eater, among others. She is the publisher and founder of pipette, an independent magazine about natural wine, which is sold in more than 20 countries right now. She makes natural lines with her husband in the Adelaide Hills, under the labels of Lucy m. m, per Stephanie wines. And her fabulous memoir, you had me at pet net, which I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of just wonderful, has just been published by Hachette books. And she joins us now from her home in Australia. Hello, Rachel.
Rachel Signer 5:38
Hey, Natalie, thank you so much for having me.
Natalie MacLean 5:40
I’m so glad you’re here. And we’re connecting. I mean, this is your morning, this is my night. But I’m so glad you could make the time. And I’m just so interested in what you’re doing. Because as I said, I had a taste of your writing through your memoir. And it’s just so wonderful. We’re going to talk more about that as we get on into the conversation. But first, let’s start with some of the travel stories that you’ve had throughout your career. Let’s talk about the time you were in the lower Valley. Tell me a bit more about that.
Rachel Signer 6:08
I love talking about that trip. And Originally, it was part of my book, and then it didn’t make it in I think when you’re writing a book, there’s lots of prewriting and then you eventually find the story that you actually need to tell. So that was I think 2015 and I had been enjoying press trips to Europe. But I was filled with this feeling of like frustration because every time I went to Europe, I desperately wanted to visit natural winemakers. However, as you probably know, press trips generally do not feature natural winemakers for various reasons,
Natalie MacLean 6:49
is it usually because they don’t have the budget or they’re not part of these big wine councils. They’re not
Rachel Signer 6:53
part of the Appalachians generally, in France, they make like Vonda France or in Italy, it’s like outside of the DRC. And we can get into why that is.
Natalie MacLean 7:03
So they’re not playing by the rules, the laws, they don’t play by the rules. They’re
Rachel Signer 7:07
rejected by the tasting panels. And so they’re these like outsiders, basically. And I did occasionally get a few natural winemakers on the itineraries. And so I was getting these tastes of what I wanted. But finally I realised I was just going to have to do it on my own. So I was in Europe for a press trip. And then I just tacked on a week, invited a friend with me, I spent a long time making contact with winemakers in the lower Valley. And I did the region in like seven days. And it is enormous. And it was a very good learning experience. I think afterward I had this like insatiable desire to keep doing that. And to tell those stories, it was the impetus for starting my magazine as well, because I was having a really difficult time placing these stories.
Natalie MacLean 8:02
And why was that? Why wasn’t mainstream magazines wanting them? I just think that
Rachel Signer 8:07
natural winemakers, then less so now but I think they were seen as like not to be taken seriously.
Natalie MacLean 8:16
And what do you think that is? Or was I think maybe
Rachel Signer 8:19
distribution wasn’t quite as good at that time. I think the boom in natural wines was like just about to happen. But I think also there was just a bit of snobbery looking down toward natural wine from the establishment, which includes like seasoned editors at wine magazines. I do think it has changed. I think maybe younger people have come into editorial positions. And there’s just natural wine, like everywhere. And so it’s a different landscape. But back then I was not getting traction on my pitch about winemakers in the lower Valley being the first in Europe to use Georgian cabri to make wine. Not those big clay vessels. Yeah, buried underground, imported from Georgia fascinating, like incredible. But whatever wasn’t getting any traction.
Natalie MacLean 9:14
And one of the most famous natural winemakers is there isn’t Nicolas Julie are
Rachel Signer 9:18
That’s right. And I did visit him on that dread. Okay, yeah.
Natalie MacLean 9:22
So what was that? Like?
Rachel Signer 9:24
I briefly mentioned it in my book only if to set a contrast to the family that I work harvest with later, who is in the same region, but very, very different. Yeah, Nick allegedly comes from a fairly aristocratic lineage. And, I mean, he was revolutionary. He did so much to really put biodynamic viticulture, I think on the map and he still does that with his association. He has this global Association and they have tastings and they used to travel and have like coffee. Prince’s all of his books, I think, and they’ve been translated into many different languages. They’ve touched a lot of people. I mean, it’s a small ish property which is its own appellation because it’s so historic. And he makes like three wines.
Natalie MacLean 10:15
Oh, wow. Wow, that sounds like sassicaia being its own Appalachian it
Unknown Speaker 10:19
is. Exactly. And you tried
Natalie MacLean 10:23
the wines, what were they like? Like, how would you describe them?
Rachel Signer 10:26
I think that they’re very, like powerful and they definitely require ageing. But you know, something, my palate has changed so much in recent years, I would not probably be able to drink them now because they have a fairly to me a high level of sulphur additions. And I’ve basically stopped enjoying wine with more than like a very small dash of added sulphur. I’m happy to talk more about it. It’s not like a judgement. It’s just my personal taste has really shifted in that direction.
Natalie MacLean 11:02
Well, let’s talk about that. Now, since you’ve mentioned it. So just like in non technical terms, why do many winemakers add sulphur in the first place? What are they trying to achieve there?
Rachel Signer 11:12
Yeah, it’s definitely worth going over because I don’t think it’s very understood. And I really learned a lot when I wrote an explainer about sulphur for the fourth issue of pipette. So there’s different times when sulphur can be added, or sulfites, as someone makers prefer to say, and you can add it to the grapes, you can add it to the fresh juice, you can add it after malolactic fermentation or you can add it at bottling. We might say that probably the least invasive, the lightest touch would be to add it at bottling because then you’ve basically let the wine go through its whole fermentation journey to the point where you’re adding sulfites to kind of make sure it doesn’t re ferment and bottle and to protect its sulfites are antibacterial, anti microbial agents, so they’re going to kill bacteria that’s like alive, and they’re going to basically ensure that your wine kind of stops where it is, and doesn’t continue. And obviously, from a commercial perspective, that’s extremely desirable. However, I think winemakers who don’t add sulfites, and that includes me, and also my husband and winemakers, I admire, I think that we take that risk because it’s this exciting anticipation of what the wine will become. And the wine does keep transforming. And I think most of the time, it has like really exciting, incredible results. And I think wine without added sulfites does get a bad reputation, because there can be faults that occur. However, I think that for us drinking a wine that is really truly alive, the excitement of that outweighs the potential risks or the possibility that there will be some possible flaws.
Natalie MacLean 13:12
And when you say alive, you said still evolving? Is it because they’re still live bacteria in it? Or what do you mean by the wine is alive?
Rachel Signer 13:20
Yeah, it continues developing and maturing. Absolutely. And I think we, it’s generally believes that all wine continues ageing and maturing, right? That’s something people love about wine. But it’s very different in a no sell for added wine. It stays light, it stays fresh, but it develops complexity, I guess that would be because of the presence of bacteria that are allowed to thrive. So yeah, I don’t understand it from an illogical standpoint, because I didn’t attend winemaking school, and I have no actual training, but it’s alive to me the same way. You drink kombucha, and it’s very clearly alive. And it’s just more like nourishing is a word that I find myself using and I don’t mean to sort of say that it’s healthier, but it feels more nourishing to me.
Natalie MacLean 14:17
I mean, most of us are in the mainstream think of sulphur as giving it shelf stabilisation. You mentioned that in a commercial sense, that stability of that consistency is important. But when you’re talking about wines with great diversity or flavour, you’re not going for consistency, then of course, it doesn’t play an important point. But do you have any idea of how long and no sulphur added wine can age? I mean, generally, are they shelf stable, or are they sort of 5050 it could go off it could be beautiful.
Rachel Signer 14:50
Yeah, I’ve had several experiences with 10 year old nose hole for added wines. They were very specific and very surprising. So I remember exactly which wine so one was patapon, which is a Pinot donees from the war Valley by the late Christian shows our domain delivers Oh, and I had an other natural wine bar and the Paris suburbs and it was just stunning. It was incredible. The other was dinner below from the northern Italy region, the pH Enza hills. So that was a skin contact white wine. I suspect that skin contact white wine making does help with the longevity and the protection It seems that the skins add a kind of protection when there’s no sulphur added. And the other was South Australian wine, Jama and I’m not sure that was actually 10 years old but close definitely close. And notably, those ones are under a crown cap. So they’re in clear bottles undercrown cap and no sulfites added so by all definitions, it should not be a wine that ages but it absolutely and they emerge like pristine and so fresh. I do think storage is probably more important. If there’s no sulfites to protect the wines, they really need to be away from sunlight and in cold temperature.
Natalie MacLean 16:19
Yeah, and just one last clarification, but correct me on this. sulfites exist in nature. So even though a winemaker might not add any or very low sulphur, the wine is still going to have sulphur because it’s just it’s there. It’s natural in its state. So there’s no sulphur free wines, right?
Rachel Signer 16:40
Not exactly. So sulphides appear, for example, in volcanic soil, so probably most wines from volcanic regions would have higher levels of naturally occurring sulfites and then they also seem to emerge in the fermentation process. At the same time when we analyse our wines just at the Institute in Adelaide, which we have to do for export. They come up as no detectable sulfites so lower than four milligrammes per litre, that’s as low as it can get. So I wish more people understood that because often you hear people saying, well, there’s sulfites. Anyway, so who cares if they’re added? And I think the argument gets a bit convoluted and the point gets lost when we kind of go in that direction or people talk about how dried fruit has so many sulfites added to which I reply, maybe find some that doesn’t have any added. But the point is not that they are quote unquote bad for you, or that winemakers who put them in their wine or trying to poison you or anything like that. I really don’t want to make those points. I just think wine is very, very exciting when no sulfites have been added. That’s all. So it’s a positive versus a negative. Yeah,
Natalie MacLean 17:58
that’s very helpful. So let’s talk about one more trip that you took. Let’s see, you told me about the lore. Then you had, oh, a trip to Spain, you visited Spain and you were impressed with the lifestyle there. There’s What have you tell us about that.
Rachel Signer 18:14
So I was funny. I actually started out as a Spanish language major. And then I later switched to cultural anthropology. But I lived in Spain for six months in the coastal town of Valencia. I lived with a family of Valenciana family. And it was just the most life changing experience. For me. That was definitely my first time in Europe. We didn’t go abroad much as a family. So I’m living with this family and just the decadence and the way, like enjoying things was celebrated and built into life. And part of the family structure really struck me. So every Sunday, my host mother, Susie would wake up really late because she would go out partying the night before and Spanish people party from like 1am till 6am. And then she’d get up super late, have a cigarette and start making Paya and her relatives would come over and they would all start drinking rum and coke and smoking. And around 3pm we’d all sit down to this massive pile. And then they’d all unzipped their pants, sit down on the couch. They’re having coffee, and like it was a lot definitely a lot for like a young American girl to take in. I mean, things are a bit more gentler. We’re like seeing retirees in a mountain town having black olives and red wine for breakfast. I mean, that’s mind blowing, but I think I was like this is it. This is what the whole point of life is. You know the quality of things in Spain is so good even like table wine. Like I was amazed that you can Go into a grocery store and get wine for three euro. And the appreciation is so sincere and coming from an American culture where like work is highly valued. Obviously we don’t even get paid vacation in the States. So you’re kind of conditioned to believe that work is the highest form of being. And that was just unravelled for me. And I’ve never gone back. And I think that has led me to this life of making wine. We do it. Because we love eating and drinking and we love making things and enjoying them with people.
Natalie MacLean 20:36
That is lovely, very holistic. Wonderful. We will need to go to Valencia. That sounds like a beautiful coastal town. Wow. All right, let’s jump to one more story that will take us closer or back to natural lines, you you, you had a bit of a debate or dust up online with a wine writer, British wine writer, tell us about that what happened in 2017, I guess well
Rachel Signer 20:58
better. That was when I still had a blog, which I only used kind of sporadically. So it’s a writer who I at the time wasn’t aware of, but he has authored several books. And, you know, it came to my attention. And it was something about why all the songs have become hipsters, and why it’s the death of wine. So obviously, the songs who have become hipsters, and with their beards and their tattoos, they are all pouring natural wine. And so it’s the death of wine, very sensationalist. I just couldn’t help and I still can’t help but respond when people write things like that, because I think it really does a huge disservice to very serious hardworking winemakers who make natural wine, and the professionals who have devoted themselves to these wines. And professionals who pour natural wine often do not have sommelier training certificates. And I would hope that after some of the things that happened in 2020, and regarding the court of master songs, that people would finally start to see that those certificates are not really the be all and end all of a wine career and that there’s absolute dignity to being a professional without having ever done a course and you can learn in other ways. And I think that to call a sommelier a hipster just because they don’t wear a suit. And they didn’t spend $10,000. To learn all the different appellations of hirez is really missing all the time and work that people do put in. And natural wine, it’s a little bit more of a culture like a whispering culture. So you learn by talking to people, you learn by visiting winemakers or finding out when they’re in town and going to see them like they often used to come through New York and they pour their wine at the 10 bells, and you just go. And that is real work to take the time to know people’s stories and talk with them. So I just have to push back against any kind of discourse like that, because I just think it’s wrong. Yeah.
Natalie MacLean 23:15
Yeah. And you yourself kind of learned on the fly. I’m a big believer in that, by the way. I mean, I don’t have a master sommelier or master of wine. But you took a few workshops, but you learned by reading and tasting and drinking and talking. Were there any things in your approach to learning about wine that helped you along the way?
Rachel Signer 23:34
Yeah, I totally believe in the autodidact approach and self taught. Yeah, I think that the best thing is to like connect to your senses. So have a glass of wine and just look it up and read about it, or have the jancis Robinson book handy. And the grapes one, I think that’s amazing. Or any book, you know, you’ve written a wine Bible, have one or two or three of them near you, and just flip through them and read about the region read about the grape variety, if the producer is well known enough that there’s something about them, which by now there should be there’s Isabella Sharon’s book, which has quite a few profiles in the back. Any kind of encyclopaedia like that, if you read about it while you’re drinking, you just connect. And then you Yeah, you developed like a more innate sense.
Natalie MacLean 24:28
Yeah, I do think because we layer things due to emotion wine, of course, the smell goes directly to emotion. But if you’re reading about it, at the same time, I can see how that sort of neural networking would wire up that way. If you can combine the two at once. It’s almost almost as good as being in the place where the wine was made, and laying down a memory of learning that way.
Rachel Signer 24:48
Exactly, which I was just kind of leading into. I mean, we’re just getting to the point where I think people can travel safely. So if you can make your next vacation To a wine region that you love, I mean, it’s just life changing. So it’s definitely worth it.
Natalie MacLean 25:07
It is. And so for those who aren’t professionals, but who are avid wine lovers, what is your best advice for visiting a wine region like the laoire, or pick another one. But what’s a good strategy for really getting the most out of a visit?
Unknown Speaker 25:21
Rachel Signer 25:23
my experience is mostly with natural winemakers. So I’ll offer a little bit of advice for people interested in that because those wineries, there’s no tasting room. And there might also be no staff at all, they probably do have help, but they’re not going to have like someone wearing a name tag, greet you. So you’ll probably be greeted by the winemaker and their partner, maybe their children, you’re visiting a family at their home, and their winery is probably next to their home. So I would just be really conscious of that. It’s quite personal. So when you contact them, it really helps if you can let them know who you are, and why you’re visiting like very specific. So I’m not in the wine trade. I’m just really obsessed with Cabernet Franc. I’m very interested in visiting summer, and I love your wines. And I’d like to taste in your cellar, very specific, or I would like to see your vineyards because I’m learning how wine is made, the more specific, the better. Because if you’re an importer, they know what you want, they know you’re probably trying to buy their wine. But if you’re just coming to visit to learn, they’re like, tell me more, tell me exactly what you want. And they need to know how much time you might spend. Because they’re fitting you in between managing sales, bottling, maybe they’re trying to print the vineyards, winemakers are busy year round, because these are not corporate structures, they’re doing everything themselves. And my other suggestions would be if you can bring like a very small gift, I think it’s a really nice gesture, it could be a small bouquet of flowers, it could be like a loaf of bread, something in the like 10 $15 range or something from home, it’s a very nice gesture, because these people are probably going to open bottles of wine for you. They might also go out to the market in the morning and get some really nice local cheese because they want you to see the best of their region. And so I think being conscious of that is great. And the other thing is, do not expect them to know English, maybe learn. So definitely learn a little bit of the language or consider bringing someone who speaks the language with you. Sure,
Natalie MacLean 27:47
I don’t know if Google Translate is up to that task yet.
Unknown Speaker 27:49
But that’s a great point. That the language,
Rachel Signer 27:53
it’s pretty frustrating for a winemaker who has taken two hours of his day. And he’s standing there with you trying to explain what’s in the barrel. And you don’t understand. So I think it is definitely worth if you can just bring someone that knows the language. And everyone’s happy
Natalie MacLean 28:11
now those are great points. And I love the gesture of the gift. That’s nice, very nice. And then just on natural wines. Why do you think they provoke such strong debates in the wine world? I just think some of the most, I don’t know fiercest debates have been around natural lines. And why is that?
Rachel Signer 28:28
Yeah, definitely. I think it is almost strongest in Europe. And I think that is partly because of the appellation system and the way that natural winemakers don’t fit in. So you’re created this appellation system supposedly to protect traditions. And then the irony is that if you don’t add yeast to your wine, you’re probably going to be rejected by the tasting panel. So do
Natalie MacLean 28:51
you mean sulphur are used?
Rachel Signer 28:53
I mean yeast. I mean, the very, very basic first kind of a part of making natural wine. Natural wine is made without commercial use. Okay, so
Natalie MacLean 29:05
it’s wild yeast. Yeah,
Rachel Signer 29:06
you’re starting with just great and letting them ferment. And those wines get rejected from tasting panels because, quote, unquote, they don’t taste typical. And that to me is super ironic, because you’re making one the way the grandparents, probably the great grandparents, pre World War Two would have made one. So why is it rejected because standardisation has actually taken the place of tradition. And that is the debate raging around these Appalachians and winemakers who are kicked out or kept out or whatever. And I think for a lot of natural winemakers, it’s insulting to be told that because they don’t add things to their wines that they’re not going to have the place name on their label. And conversely, I think to people that fit into the appellation, it feels like a threat So I think there’s a lot of tension around that kind of problem. I think more in the trade, I think it goes back to this idea that songs or professionals who work with natural wines, sort of are outside the box, and that we often don’t go through the channels. So we didn’t go through the court of master songs or some other kind of association. And here we are. And some people don’t like the way that they taste, quite honestly. And I don’t think that’s a problem. I don’t think that everyone needs to like natural wine, necessarily. I do think there are a lot of very classical tasting natural wines that don’t get enough attention. So not all of them are like wild and racy, and so on. So I think there is a natural wine for everyone, so to speak. But yeah, does that make sense to you? I don’t know. What do you
Natalie MacLean 30:57
think? I’m not aware of the European debates, but I see a lot of what happens in North America. And people just get sometimes almost religious about the natural lines, their purity. And then sometimes it’s the hipster business. And is it a way of keeping people in and out? Like, who are the cool kids? Like, I’m coming at it from a different perspective.
Rachel Signer 31:20
Yeah, so we call that if you know, you know, and when I was coming up a natural one, that was the thing if you know, you know, if you don’t know, sorry, and I was like,
Natalie MacLean 31:33
so it wasn’t like a clicky club. Oh, absolutely. People like I say
Rachel Signer 31:37
that, I do that now. But I’ve created a magazine so that you can know. Because I didn’t really like that kind of if you know, you know, sorry, if you don’t know what Radek con is, I’m not going to tell you. I don’t think that’s great. People are going to do that with everything. People do that with music, people do that with clothes, with art, whatever. But that’s not how I am. I’ve loved like educating people about natural wine and just like sharing information as much as I can.
Natalie MacLean 32:10
It’s beautiful. We’re going to talk about your magazine in a minute. So is there any official definition or regulation or law or anything about natural wines anywhere?
Rachel Signer 32:20
Actually, France has created a new certification, and it’s called van method Neptune. So wine natural method. So there has to be from certified organic vineyards and there’s a limit on sulfites and it should have no fining and filtration and indigenous yeas. And so obviously, they would like analyse it, and someone would come inspect the vineyards. And that’s great. But no, there is no definition. It’s really like a movement. It’s a culture and it’s very loose. And I think some people feel strongly about it not being defined, because they don’t want to be told what to do. It’s an iconoclastic thing in the first place. And so it’s by nature sort of difficult to impose upon a definition, but there isn’t generally agreed upon and sort of what I define it as and how I run the publication which is organic vineyards. However, it is sort of widely understood that they might not be certified organic for various reasons. So then no added commercial yeas, no fining and filtration and minimal added sulfites and no anything else so no reverse osmosis, which is done quite a lot with like mass produced wine.
Natalie MacLean 33:40
And what does that do for the wine?
Rachel Signer 33:42
Oh gosh, osmosis
Natalie MacLean 33:43
does it remove alcohol does that do?
Rachel Signer 33:47
I think it removes oxidation? I do not know Natalie. I do not know what I don’t
Natalie MacLean 33:53
do it. So I guess you shouldn’t know.
Rachel Signer 33:57
I’ve never even like seen a reverse osmosis machine. People that went to winemaking schools would be able to tell you definitely what it does. We’ll look it up later. And yeah, like no added tannin that’s more kind of straightforward thing. No added mega purple. There’s lots of additives that go into wines. None of this and so it basically should be just grapes, and potentially a small amount of added sulfites. What’s a small amount, the raw wine fair accepts up to 70 parts per million. I think it probably should be more like 20 parts because after that, it starts to taste like a very conventional wine to me. So again, it’s all very fluid. It’s a spectrum.
Natalie MacLean 34:40
Yeah, yeah. And I think organic wines in the US is at 100 parts per million or lower.
Rachel Signer 34:46
Right. So wines that say organic wine in the US there probably is a sulfites limit. I have sort of lost track of that because I haven’t lived there in a couple of years, but it refers to organic vineyards and it doesn’t necessarily refer to the winemaking process that makes sense. So there can yet definitely still be sulfites. But I believe those elimite and demat are certified is another thing. So diameter is the biodynamic Association and you can have your estate certified by them, and they would also have a sulfites limit. Okay?
Natalie MacLean 35:23
Well, let’s also get back to your story, too, because here you are in South Australia, by way of Virginia, by way of New York, that stopped to Spain. And in the middle, look, tell us how you got to South Australia, making wine with your husband. I mean, that is a circuitous route, but an interesting one that you detail in your memoir. So
Rachel Signer 35:45
yeah, it is all in there. Well, we met in the Republic of Georgia, just to make things even more complicated.
Natalie MacLean 35:53
The home of many natural lines, yeah, I’ve sort of
Rachel Signer 35:56
stopped trying to explain my life fully to people because it starts with well, where are you from? And I’m like, do you mean New York? Or do you mean washington dc? Or are we talking about Paris, which is still kind of my spiritual home in a weird way, and I dream of going back there. So I was trying to move to Paris after years of living in New York City, but I met my husband, just before I went to Paris, and we were in the Republic of Georgia. And that is a chapter in my book, and the Republic of Georgia is a really amazing, I mean, just super culturally rich place. And every moment of that trip was just incredible. The hospitality that we were shown by Georgians is unparalleled. They eat very fresh food, and they have incredible recipes, beautiful dishes, such a great place and the wines are wonderful.
Natalie MacLean 37:00
So you are on the same trip with the man who become your husband. So how did you do you got to know each other on the trip lighting? What did you say? Hey, he’s cuter. Right? What’s your first impression?
Rachel Signer 37:10
Well, we all joke about the white bus. So there were two buses, and one was wide and one was grey, because it was a big group. It was like 20 people who that one looks good. We
Natalie MacLean 37:25
It’s evening here, but I know your breakfast time. I have an orange wine from South Korea, and it’s got lots of stuffings.
Rachel Signer 37:33
I can have a rosae it’s like practically lunchtime.
Natalie MacLean 37:38
And breakfast of champions. This woman and Sperling she farms biodynamically and she started the first orange wine appellation in the world. Like it’s based on orange wine, the Appalachian.
Rachel Signer 37:50
Oh cool. So it’s quite used.
Natalie MacLean 37:54
Just beautiful. Oh, yeah,
Rachel Signer 37:55
that’s a you’re having an age major wine right now.
Natalie MacLean 38:00
I am. I’ve got two wines with me. Oh, great. Yeah, hear more about them. It’s got so much, particularly I love it. Anyway, sorry. You were saying you were on the white bus.
Rachel Signer 38:12
Yeah, one bus was like very calm and docile. And then the other bus was wild. And it had the Australians it had the New Yorkers. It had udana this amazing Italian woman that makes wine on this tiny island off the coast of Tuscany. So our bus was wild. Alice fairing was also on our bus.
Natalie MacLean 38:36
famous author. Yeah.
Rachel Signer 38:39
Yeah. And she is not exempt. It was like adult summer camp. It was ludicrous. We were drunk. People were like dressing up in each other’s clothes. The men were wearing lipstick. We were telling dirty jokes and like weird stories and sad stories. Like I don’t know, I’ve got pretty Yeah, summer camp, adult summer camp. So and Han and I are on the same bus.
Natalie MacLean 39:03
It’s great. So did you sort of manage to get sitting beside him? or What was your strategy? Or did you have one?
Rachel Signer 39:10
Oh, my strategy. He came to me. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I did know about his wine. I had had his wines twice. And they had both been kind of incredible experiences. And I was just kind of curious to know more. And so I like struck up a conversation with him in a very journalistic way. I was like, well, there were also kind of rumours flying around about him, because people were saying, he’s not really organic. And I was like, This is my chance to ask him about this. And so I did. I mean, yeah, well, that’s the other thing with no certifications. Sometimes people aren’t sure are sceptical. There can be a little bit of scary scepticism and so you just when you meet someone in person, that’s kind of your chance to really find out. Who are you? And yeah, then we had an eight day conversation.
Natalie MacLean 40:12
The trip was a day. Was he organic?
Rachel Signer 40:15
Yeah. And the reason there was scepticism and the reason we still are not certified organic is that we work with like five different growers. And certification in Australia is very expensive. So to certify them all would be like a many, many, many, many $1,000 operation, and there just hasn’t been that kind of margin.
Unknown Speaker 40:37
Natalie MacLean 40:39
So an eight day conversation. Now why does he have the nickname wild man? Oh,
Rachel Signer 40:45
I think partly because of his hair, which is just wild. And yeah, like he and Tom shawbrook used to go around and get drunk and stand on tables and recite poetry. And I don’t know, they just started calling him wild man. It just somehow became his nickname. Yeah, okay. Got it.
Natalie MacLean 41:10
So you you took this detour to Georgia. your intention, though, was to go to Paris and write fiction and be like Hemingway, that sort of thing. That’s right. Just on that point. What is your favourite book and you apparently take it everywhere with you or you had been?
Rachel Signer 41:26
Yeah, it’s right here. A Moveable Feast my brother gave me Oh, I take it everywhere. That’s very important to me. My older brother gave to me when I was 20. So it’s Ernest Hemingway, his memoir of living in Paris when he was kind of getting his start as a writer, and he was sending short stories to magazines back in the States. And there was a 20s, which in France, they call it the zoning for sort of the interwar period. And it was a culture of decadence. And there was a lot of internationalism, as well in Paris in those years, people from all over the world, you’re just being Baker, I guess, is a famous example. We’re coming there to like be artists. So that was this idea that I had. Maybe a bit erroneously, I don’t know. I mean, so much has changed in the 100 years since then. But yeah, I was really after this romantic idea of Paris was like a bohemian place to be. I think I did sort of find that my way.
Natalie MacLean 42:33
Yeah, with your natural lines. And now you have the memoir. So you circled back you got there to your own Moveable Feast in another way. There you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Rachel cygnar usually summarise my takeaways at this point, but today I’m going to share some reviews of Rachel’s new memoir with you as I recommended highly. So the first one is from Victoria James, author of another fabulous wine memoir, called wine girl. The obstacles humiliations and triumphs of America’s youngest sommelier. Victoria says, from Paris to Australia, cygnar takes us on a gripping journey to reclaim her sense of self through the medium of natural wine which she loves so much. You had me at pet Matt is a reminder of the importance of rebirth. restorative power of love, and the invigorating gifts of nature must read for bonbons and explorers alike. The next review is from Jay McInerney, author of bright lights, big city and bogguss and me adventures in the wine cellar actually had a great dinner with him and made it one of the final chapters in my book red, white and drunk all over. So Jay says I lean more towards champagne than pet net. But Rachel signalers addictive memoir drew me deep into the world of natural wine and into the company of its eccentric, obsessive and hedonistic citizens. Ultimately, though, this is cygnar his personal journey, her search for love and identity, which makes this such a compelling and moving book. And book list says cygnar takes readers on a Moveable Feast and this love letter not only to national lines, but to the community and ethos that sustain them. Cigna shares her wine experiences from working in a restaurant and wine shop for wine journalism and harvesting grapes. emphasising both the traditions and environmental impact of vineyards and wine production for extensive journalistic experience shines through and readers will learn never to look at a glass of wine again without considering the people pouring their hearts into every bottle. And finally, this review from yours truly had me a pet that was like my favourite bottle of wine. Now you and I both know that’s Pinot Noir. I can see Founded in one sitting, dive headfirst into the natural wine world with Rachel cygnar to discover why these wines will deepen your pleasure, as you meet the witty oddballs who make them. This is also the story of how one woman found healing and love when she finally let go of who she thought she should be and started living fully, wildly alive as much as the wine in her glass. In the shownotes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class links to where you can buy Rachel’s book online, and where you can find me on zoom, Insta, Facebook, and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie MacLean comm forward slash one by one you won’t want to miss next week when we continue our conversation with Rachel cygnar. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 75, go back and take a listen. chat about orange and natural wines with an spurling. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Unknown Speaker 46:01
I think that’s really what I’d like to see happen with orange wines is lots of small batches and lots of engagement at a really foodie level, like right there with your plate of whatever, you know you’re local fresh vegetables and locally raised meats and things like that. And to really start thinking about winemakers, as farmers and as people that are making their meals more interesting.
Natalie MacLean 46:29
Absolutely. And you refer to yourself as a wine grower.
Unknown Speaker 46:32
Exactly, yeah. But in the engagement with consumer I think that we have some barriers to that with a big organisation like the lcbo distributing our wines and making it more distant from the consumers and sure it’s more convenient for everyone. But at the same time, I think we want to engage and realise that our wine and our food are coming from our local agriculture.
Natalie MacLean 47:00
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wind and trends we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your class this week. Perhaps a pet that as you read Rachel’s memoir.
Natalie MacLean 47:24
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie maclean.com forward slash subscribe. We’ll be here next week. Cheers.