LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - It started with one glass. On a trip to Tulum, Mexico, in 2017, Katie and Denny Culbert tasted a wine from the Baja California region. It was a natural wine, an increasingly popular style made without technology and additives. The couple was hooked.
“I feel like once you start drinking it, you can’t think about drinking anything else,” Katie said of natural wines. “I was chasing that flavor everywhere I went.”
Now the couple are launching their own wine shop, and all the bottles will be natural wines. Wild Child Wines opened Jan. 11, on East Vermilion Street between The French Press and Hub City Cycles. It will eventually stock 100 different wines.
“Natural wine” has no official definition, and some in the business prefer labels like “low-intervention” or “raw” wines.
“It’s a wine that doesn’t have anything added or taken away,” Katie said.
The grapes are grown without pesticides or herbicides, even if they are not officially certified as organic. They are picked by hand instead of by machines. They are then fermented with the yeast that naturally floats through the air instead of yeasts engineered for wine.
Natural winemakers avoid the additives, like large amounts of sulfur dioxide or extra sugar to amp up the alcohol, and technology the rest of the industry employs to control flavor and produce a uniform product.
“All the winemakers that we’re focusing on are small producers,” Katie said. “From the way they are growing their grapes to the way they’re making their wine, it’s a little bit on the wild side.”
That’s why the Culberts named their store Wild Child Wines.
The natural wine movement might be new, having started in France and then spread across the world. But it is really about returning to the way wine was made, without additives and advanced technology, through much of human history.
“It’s wine that tastes more alive than the wine you find in grocery stores,” Denny said.
Some natural wines are not that different from well-known styles. Others are light red wines meant to be served cold and drunk quickly, a style the French christened “glou-glou.”
Natural wines can also be complex with a barnyard funk that will be familiar to fans of sour beers. Another popular style of natural wine is orange wine, bold, often nutty and made by fermenting white grapes with their skins as you would a red wine.
Katie, a Lafayette native, is new to the wine world but knows how to run a shop. With her mother, she operates the Kiki boutiques here and in Baton Rouge.
Denny, born in Ohio, first came to Lafayette in 2009 as a photographer for the Daily Advertiser. He left in 2011 to become a freelance photographer. Today he almost exclusively shoots restaurants, food and farmers. His photographs frequently appear in national publications like Saveur, Imbibe and Garden & Gun.
The two also founded Runaway Dish, which hosted a series of dinners around town that paired up chefs and raised money for charity. Runaway Dish also published a magazine about local food.
Like many who champion natural wines, the Culberts are young and relaxed about what they drink. Natural wines, with their lower prices, sometimes curious flavors and often brash attitude on the labels, have excited a new generation of drinkers. The stories of winemakers, who are often young themselves, are part of the appeal.
“We’re all about the winemakers as much as we are the wine itself,” Katie said.
The embrace of natural wines has also led to wine bars popping up around the world. Wild Child Wines will also be a place to drink wine, not just buy it by the bottle. The shop will always have eight to 10 wines pulled from the bottles on the shelves, open and sold by the glass.
“It’s not pretentious. It’s not about tasting and being serious. It’s just delicious,” Katie said.
Wild Child Wines only sells wine. No beer, liquor and, at least at first, no food.
The shop is open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 9 p.m.
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