Natural wine demystified by Vincent Sulfite

If you are interested in wine, particularly plain wine, the name Vincent Sulfite may ring a bell. Author of the weekly newsletter What are we drinking?, sommelier at the Candide restaurant and columnist in his spare time, he is launching two projects these days: the TV series Supernatural – eight episodes offered on Club illico – and a book that accompanies the show and introduces us to passionate winegrowers. The author takes the opportunity to explain the basics of natural “juices” to us. Meeting with an energetic young man who has made it his mission to democratize the world of wine.

How did you get into the world of wine?

I worked at the restaurant Le Contemporain d’Antonin Mousso-Rivard during my studies and I interacted a lot with the sommelier, Bastien Bouffet, who, instead of bragging about his knowledge, really introduced me to wines. We often drank late at night chatting. Then, I got to know sommelier Emily Campeau and this meeting was very important for me. She took me under her wing. The fact that I did not study in sommellerie is a driving force. It forces me to always go further, to improve myself, to ask questions. As for the name Vincent Sulfite [un jeu de mot que tout le monde ne comprend pas toujours du premier coup], it was a friend who started him one day in a Facebook conversation, because I was known to be the one who brought good wines to suppers. Maybe I should write him a check … [rires].

How was the project born Supernatural ?

The actor Marc-André Grondin subscribed to my newsletter. He met me with the producer Jean-Philippe Massicotte. They’ve been thinking about doing a wine show for a long time. They liked the fact that I was a popularizer, that I didn’t necessarily come with a background of wine knowledge. With Magalie Lépine-Blondeau, we went to meet winegrowers in Europe [Autriche, Italie, France, Allemagne]. The show also features vineyards in California, Vermont, and of course Quebec. The book is a companion to the series and a complement too, because it allows me to tell the stories of the winegrowers we visited. Wine is also travel, personal and family stories.

What exactly is natural wine?

The first rule of thumb: it comes from sustainable agriculture. Often, we will say organic, although there are some who have chosen for philosophical reasons not to be certified. So, it is a wine made with good quality grapes, which comes from a vineyard where no chemicals were used, and to which no exogenous elements were added. In a way, it’s a throwback to the old way of making wine. It allows a variety of tastes. A plain sauvignon will not taste the same depending on the region where it comes from, unlike a more industrial wine where the tastes are standardized. We come back to the notion of craftsmanship, it requires great rigor. It’s done on a smaller scale and at a smaller volume. Producers want to keep control over the quality of what they do.

Do we taste it with the same criteria as the other wines?

I always ask people to be open-minded. It tastes different, but it’s not something pejorative. People who are ready to take the step are opening up to a world. I look at my parents who agreed to take this first step, to taste different wines, today they no longer want to go back. They find that before they drank still wines. Drinking plain wine means accepting to be surprised, disappointed once in a while, but more often than not charmed. It requires re-educating our palate. You have to put yourself in active mode, in discovery mode, rather than always falling back on the same wine you know.

What do you say to those who say that natural wine lovers are snobs?

It may be a slightly founded judgment [rires]. I prefer not to hide it… It’s easy to deny your past and what you drank before. This should not be taken too seriously. When you start to develop a passion, it’s hard to go back. It’s the same as if you have a passion for artisan cheeses and someone brings you a P’tit Québec. On the other hand, I am very active in promoting the democratization of wine. I want us to stop seeing it as a super luxurious product in front of which we are embarrassed not to know a lot of business. This is what was introduced by Emily Campeau at Le Candide and which I continue to do, which is to speak about wine in a way that is not intimidating. We will talk about the people, the regions, we make the person travel to the table. I would like the word “snobbery” to disappear from the world of wine. For an equivalent budget, we can often drink better.

Along with these projects, do you also cultivate vines?

Quite quickly, I got interested in the making of wine, in the way of working the vines. I have always oriented my research and my reading towards that. It led me to try it myself. With a friend, we squat a land on which we have planted 400 vines. We learn from our mistakes. And we are looking for a land to settle in the next few years. I will be 29 years old in two weeks and I ask myself the question: what do I want to do with all this knowledge about wine? I don’t want to be a sommelier all my life, and making a career in the media is not easy. If I plant the vine within two years, I will watch it grow for a long time. And then, there is a whole network that is setting up in the regions, people who have worked in restaurants and who have become market gardeners. I think of the Cantouque project [un projet d’hospitalité agricole en Estrie], for example. There is a return to the land that I find truly inspiring.

What are we drinking? Vincent Sulfite’s weekly newsletter

> Read the newsletter

On TV : Supernatural, a series in eight episodes (by subscription)

> Consult the series sheet

Supernatural: immersion in the world of natural wine. Vincent Sulfite. Illustrations by Simon Roy. Les Éditions de l’Homme. 208 pages.

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