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World’s top natural winemakers descend on Seoul: Fans of the trendy drinks will get to meet the farmers

Feb 15,2019
Some of the natural wines available in Korea have more eye-catching labels than the wines most people are familiar with. From left: Recrue des Sens’s Manon; Lammidia’s Sciambagn; La Sorga’s Chatzen; Pattes Loup’s Chablis; Charles Dufour’s Rosexpress. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Around twenty winemakers from around the world have descended on Seoul for Salon O, the annual wine tasting event focused on promoting natural wine.

The third edition of the event happens today at S-Factory in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul, bringing some of the top natural winemakers around the globe back to the city. Natural wine, which is similar to organic wine, is made with grapes organically grown and fermented without any additives that are artificially made. About 200 different types of natural wines are available to taste at Salon O. No prior reservations are necessary if you sign up on the spot after paying an entrance fee of 50,000 won ($44.38).

“When people are asked what wine is, they will answer that it is grape juice,” said Isabelle Legeron, a certified Master of Wine, on her first visit to Korea for the event to do academic-style seminars. She added that most people are unaware of how many additives are put into some bottles of wine easily found on supermarket shelves. Korea does not yet have its own expert when it comes to natural wine, so Legeron’s visit has excited many looking to learn more.

“Then, why don’t you drink the wine that’s really grape juice, [but] fermented?”

Korea’s interest in natural wine has rapidly grown in the past year, with more people growing curious in the new trendy item on local menus. Many newly opened restaurants have promoted themselves as places to taste natural wine, and even one luxury hotel has branded one of its restaurants as a hot spot for the drink. The trend began overseas, in Europe and Japan, and frequent travelers who tried natural wine overseas were inspired to import it to Korea so the market here could grow as well. Natural wines have exploded globally in the past five years, said Legeron, the author of “Natural Wine.”

The volume of natural wine producers can make is greatly affected by weather conditions and often turns out to be not much. With importers from different countries entering additional markets, allocations of some products for each country sometimes range from only 10 to 30 bottles. The scarcity has led people who are only familiar with natural wine via social media to move fast when they find out where they can get a taste.

The small yield from each winery is actually a great sign for the overall market, said Legeron, because it means people will continue to work, to discover new, hidden gems from different places. It also means young people may be inspired to try making wine for themselves because they can see the market making continuous growth. Although there is no data how much natural wine is being produced and sold - most natural wine makers call themselves farmers - Legeron speculates the natural wine market makes up 1 percent of the overall market. She expects that more growers will begin to emerge because making natural wine is one way to keep the environment healthy.

“Natural wine is living wine,” she said. “If you think about kimchi or kombucha, freshly fermented foods are alive. Natural wine is [the same.]”

At the moment, due to the low yields, the average price of a bottle of natural wine is more expensive than other wines available.



From left: French winemaker Yann Durieux of Recre des Sens pours wine for visitors at Salon O last year; Natural wine fans attend an Academy O seminar on Thursday at L’Escape Hotel in central Seoul; Isabelle Legeron, a natural wine expert and author, explains what natural wine is and how to feel the most when tasting it on Wednesday at Hyundai Card Cooking Library in southern Seoul; The cover of Legeron’s book “Natural Wine” translated in to Korean. [SUSTAINWORKS KIM JIN-HO, SALON O, HYUNDAI CARD COOKING LIBRARY]
This week’s hotspots

At Salon O, people can meet winemakers and ask the questions they have wanted to ask while tasting wine. There will be booths set up by different importers, and some of the wines currently available in Korea will be represented so visitors can taste them.

Throughout the week, winemakers are hitting different bars that serve natural wines to meet with local fans. As there is little information available online about these natural wine makers and the wines frequently change composition or bottles, local experts say meeting them in person is a chance to resolve all the curiosity one may have about their wines.

The majority of winemakers in Seoul for the event are from France: Antony Tortul of La Sorga, whose winery is in Languedoc, France, Charles Dufour of the winery of the same name in Champagne, France, Yann Durieux of Recrue des Sens in Bourgogne, France, and more. Some are from Italy, including Davide Gentile of Lammidia. Judith Beck of the winery of the same name is from Austria while Lorenzo Valenzuela of Barranco Oscuro is from Spain.

Today, Soi Yeonnam Mao, a Thai restaurant in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, will host seven winemakers at 7 p.m., including Italy’s Le Coste and France’s Domaine Pignier and Sextant. The event will cost 30,000 won to reserve a space at a communal table where you can sit with winemakers and order a bottle of wine from them. The restaurant will provide markers for the winemakers to use to sign bottles for those who want to take home an autograph.

Gastropub Mirror in Yeon-nam-dong, western Seoul, is offering dinner paired with wines from Domaine Pignier. Food and wine together costs 100,000 won per person. Four different glasses of wine and five different dishes will be prepared.

Underbar in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, will have a winemakers dinner with three different wineries. Winemakers from Italy’s Lammidia alongside France’s Vignes du Maynes and La Sorga will be present to explain their wines beginning at 8 p.m. Six dishes will be paired with six different wines and one special glass.

Bar Piknic on Mount Namsan, central Seoul, will have wines from Italy’s Le Coste ready to serve by the glass beginning at 9 p.m. so visitors will have easy access to the different types of wines the maker sells in Korea.

Restaurants located close to where the Salon O event is being held are offering a chance to drink as much natural wine as possible for 60,000 won per person. From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., TBD will offer fresh oysters alongside an unlimited flow of wine, while Txitxarro offers small Spanish-inspired dishes from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. FagP, known for its pasta, will offer lasagna to fill up your stomach from 6 to 10 p.m.

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



Salon O, the tasting event, runs today from 12 to 6 p.m. at S-Factory in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul. It costs 50,000 won to enter and try different wines. The event will be held in Busan Saturday. The Bay 101 in Busan’s Haeundae District will host the tasting event, similar to one in Seoul. The ticket price will be the same.

For more information, go to www.salon-o.org or search for @salono_naturalwine on Instagram.


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