The juice. It’s what brought you here. It’s what brought us here too. The rainbow erotica of beverages. The pink, golden, red, luminous glasses of grapes that you may have seen floating around on Instagram, and even in a few bars and restaurants. That stuff, that’s Natural Wine.
Natural wine is something thats been in the area for a few years now, and in the country for that little bit longer, but, only now, is it receiving the traction and praise that in our opinion, it deserved a lot sooner.
The three people who contributed to this article, myself Richard Farthing, photographer Jack Surplus, and beverage journalist Eoghan Neburagho are all into our food and drink. And I’m not just saying we’re takeaway aficionados, or simply eat vegan food and drink kombucha. All I mean is that when we sit down for a bev, for a meal too even, we like to know what it is, where it came from, and who it came from. All driven by curiosity and being nosey bastards. And that’s a combination great for an EatMCR article. This piece is about natural wine, and how it found itself in the beautiful city of Manchester that we call home. We found out where it came from, who brought it, where you can find it, and maybe, just maybe, what the future holds for what we believe to be much more that just a drink.
I’d also like to point out that we’re best fucking mates, housemates, work colleagues, and serious drinkers. So you best believe while we were researching, writing, and editing this piece, we were having a bloody good time doing so. And that’s what the best journalism is right?
Where It All Began
It all started back in 2015 with the arrival of Caroline Dubois, a very special lady who comes from Montreal – a city known for its Jazz, festivals, food, and now deemed “a minimal-intervention wine haven”. Caroline moved to Manchester after travelling the world for 10 years (save the best for last ey), befriending many natural winemakers along the way and as a result, came back with a plan to revitalise Manchester’s bellow-par natural wine scene. Maybe she was trying to replicate what’s so tantalising about the natty scene in her home city of Montreal, maybe she wanted to change the entire landscape of drinking good wine in the North West of England, or maybe, just maybe, she just wanted a GOOD glass of wine.
What Caroline did not realise about Manchester five years ago is that there wasn’t a whiff of natural wine in the city. She had her work cut out for her…
After searching high and low, in just about every nook & cranny of Manchester, Caroline consistently came up short. Nobody was interested in natural wine and there were zero importers in and around the city. So she did what all pioneers do, went straight to the source, tapped into her network of natural winemakers she met along her travels, and ordered some wine. All that was left was to find where to sell it.
Inevitably, two journeys met in the middle. Caroline heard of Sam Buckley, an established restauranteur receiving a fair amount of media coverage and praise for his new up and coming venture – A Restaurant Where The Light Gets In. WTLGI was pushing the boundaries both on and off the plate before the doors had even opened. After a quick meeting, 30 minutes to be exact, it was obvious Sam & Caroline would make a cracking team – Natural Wine and Natural local-based Food, a true match made in heaven. They both had ideals and goals that resonated around the same thing – Storytelling by creating a narration through food and wine. They wanted the products to speak. And in turn, they together went on to create what is now regarded as one of the best menus in the city.
“It was more about the experience itself, so, how these two things gotogether (natural food + natural wine) can bring people on ajourney” Caroline Dubois
Where It Is Now
Fast forward a few years.
That general mumble of the words ‘natural wine’ has turned into a whisper. A few people know of it, and some people stock it…thankfully!
But that is not to say that it has became popular, just yet. A few indie restaurants across Manchester have began to showcase the holy juice you and I formally know as natural wine. Even a few cafes too.
The dining scene in Manchester is continuing to evolve daily, it’s a proper force to be reckoned with, and the wine scene follows by the hair of its nose. We’ve seen such restaurants like Erst (our personal favourite) pop up over the last few years, showcasing seasonal dishes at their very best. Minimal-intervention cooking paired with minimal-intervention wine in the North West of England are taking the country by storm. It’s a wonderful sight to see and an even nicer one to taste.
And this is where our boy, our wine guru, our natural wine shepherd takes over. I could tell you to drink this juice here, or that juice there. But, experience talks. So we sent the man known online as ‘NaturalSwill’ aka Eoghan Neburagho out to give us his best spots, the selection that tickles him the most and one that might tickle you too …
Natural Swill – Let me start by filling you in on some of the most insightful advice I’ve ever received with regards to natural wine and how best to enjoy it, courtesy of Caroline Dubois herself.
(I got this gem of knowledge upon one of many trips to Carolines funky, yet quaint natural wine bar/shop based in Levenshulme, Manchester.)
Natural wine is subjective, and the whole point of drinking natural wine is to be apart of an experience you may never have had before.
The sweet nectar we love to call natural wine beholds a unique experience with each and every mouthful you take, which will differ based on the person drinking it i.e you could be blown away with feelings and emotions of excitement and curiosity upon your first sip, based on the sheer integrity of that wine and its compelling background story.
Whereas I could experience something completely different to you – something more refined that brings out specific tastes and flavours I’m somewhat used to trying like a mineral, acidic kinda vibe simply because of my experience with natural wine.
That’s the true beauty of natural wine – the subjective experience each and every mouthful brings to the table, no two glass’ will taste the same for two different people!
Anyway, before I get carried away with the sentiment of natural wine and all that ‘snow-flake’ type talk, which I easily could do… I am going to provide you with 4 of my favourite spots in Manchester broken down into two different recommendations – the first will be 2 of my go-to spots for a smashing glass of wine, somewhere you could sit by the bar and fuck the world
off for a couple hours, go on a romantic one on one date or to simply just indulge in the finer things in life…natural wine.
The other two recommendations will be my go-to spots for a take away bottle of wine. With this ever changing economical climate and COVID-19 etc there has never been a better time to simply grab a bottle to go and enjoy in the comfort
of your own home – a place that’s safe, sound and definitely warmer than the winters here in Manny!
For a glass of
@Erst_mcr – Erst has probably got one of the grandest natural wine selections by the glass and by the bottle in the whole city, there’s just no denying it. And their wine selection sits perfectly with the ethos of the joint ; only use natural/organic products and ingredients local to Manchester. When you’re looking for a harmonious experience between food and a glass of natural wine Erst has to be your go-to spot, without a doubt.
@Iscawines – Isca was started up by two ladies who are well-equipped to delve into the natural wine world, Caroline Dubois and Isobel Jenkins. Call it a hole in the wall, a wine bar, a natural wine shop, a deli, you name it and they’ve successfully managed to cover it in the quaint yet intimate space they’ve got based in Levenshulme Village. The experience in Isca is like no other, their wine selection (by the glass especially) is O F F . T H E . C H A R T S thanks to Caroline’s say euro connections and possibly the most unique, ever-changing selection in the country. If you haven’t already been, get your arse up their because like the entire essence of natural wine, it’s a subjective, special experience at Isca.
For a bottle to-go
@idlehandscoffee – Idle Hands Coffee in the NQ of Manchester is one of the true hidden gems of the city if you’re looking for bottles of natural wine. As you can tell by the name, Idle Hands is mainly a coffee shop by trade, with some of the most delicious vegan cakes and bakes you’ll ever taste. But, if you take an immediate 90 degree turn whilst at the cash register, you will find yourself two very special stand alone units displaying bottle after bottles of unique natural wine, it’s so low-key and un-advertised – I love it! With a seasonal-changing, stunning selection of natural wines this place deserves more credit then it gets. The coffee/bottle shop model is a thing of the future and in my opinion, Idle Hands have nailed the concept on the head.
@anotherhearttofeed – The green tropical-like plants surrounding the area, the ranging from punk-rock to deep-house music in the background, the fantastic service and needless to mention, the amazing natural wine selection are all on point in this new spot based in the city centre of Manchester. I’ve been here a few times now since first writing about them and I’m more and more impressed every time I go in. There’s no denying this is a classy joint for a glass of wine, I struggled to keep it out of the above list if I am honest, but it’s their bottled wine options that impressed me. They are nothing short of mouthwatering. They’ve got Australian natural wines, French natural wines, Italian, South African and every other country in-between, like Georgian natural wine! Do yourself the favour and pop into these guys for a bottle to go, the friendly, knowledgable staff will guide you in the right direction suited perfectly to your natty needs.
I’ll hand it back over to Rick for his final take on the future of natural wine in Manchester, the opinions of future natural wine advocates in the city and where we see it going in the next few years.
The Future Of Natural Wine In Manchester
Now I’ll start by saying this is all speculation. We could be right and we could be wrong. It’s like we’ve got a tip on a horse that’ll win at the races. Tips are helpful but you never know which way the world will go anymore, shit could go tits up at any given moment.
The first thing we think is that the ol’ natural wine will be popping up in places you never thought it would. We give it two years before you’ll bag a bottle of natty in Booths…
But for now, you can see the initial signs.
Two worlds are naturally joining together – Manchester and natural wine. People and business’ are opening their hearts, and shelves to natural wine and it’s a joy to be apart of in these early stages. It’s an ethos, that turns out, isn’t too different to others.
We spoke to Chris Bardsley of Batch Bottlestore, a highly regarded craft beer shop and bar, and now newly opened deli and wine bar about why they wanted to be apart of the natural wine movement here in Manchester ;
“We’ve focused on craft beer for a long time now and we love the general ethos and community feel to it and this is something we see similarities within the natural wine world – Independently run breweries/winemakers putting love and care into a small batch of beer/natural wine for us, means a much higher quality product. It just felt natural (pun intended) to delve into the natural wine world. We’ve seen a few great places in and around Manchester have a wine list dedicated just to natural wine and we wanted to bring the energy to south Manchester and particularly Altrincham with batch deli.”
In our opinion (opinions are a beautiful thing – they can never be wrong) it wont be long before you’re getting a round in of gooseberry IPA’s and a carafe of an Italian skin-contact natural wine all on the same card payment. Craft means care, and maybe the craft beer world might be a perfect partner for the craft wine world too. It’s all love for a beverage.
Next up for us is Le Social – This place, to put lightly, is fighting for wine. It’s run by Jérôme Boullier who’s passion for grapes is unmissable, like many of the other people we’ve spoken too.
“We select wines based on their social credentials and potential. These are wines which make a positive social impact throughout the supply chain, from the people working in the vineyards to the friends and families who will live a special moment sharing them.”
Having opened in November 2019, in simpler times I might add, Jérôme set up shop out of a shipping container in New Islington, selling wine right out of it. Yes a shipping container…
Not a restaurant, nor a cafe. A bottle shop, a HQ hidden away in a steel shipping container no different from the one next to it.
Since lockdown they’ve been selling in-house, online, and even delivering by bike. A modern day milk man supplying modern day juice. We’re at a point now where you can get a bottle to your door within 24hrs.
Jeff Bezos has missed an opportunity because just like everything else in the world, natty is going digital. Zoom call tastings, wine subscriptions and even an influx of passionate, knowledgeable social media-ers like @naturalswill , @sosolidcru and @petnatposse just to mention a few!
If you look for natural wine right now you will find it, but in the future – next month, next year, maybe even tomorrow, we can guarantee it’s going to find you. This is a drink, a movement, a lifestyle that isn’t slowing down.
And Manchester is almost certainly up next.