On Sunday 12th March 2017, we were thrilled to be able to touch base with Isabelle Legeron, the founder of RAW WINE London. Her approach to wine encapsulates everything that’s great about the event itself.
Incredibly down to earth, she was chatting to every other person she passed as though they were old friends or beloved family members. This feeling of inclusion is one that we experienced throughout the day, whilst talking to a huge number of growers. We really did not want to leave.
Wined Up: What prompted you to start Raw Wine London and how has it developed?
Isabelle: I founded the Raw Wine Fair in 2012, in London. There was nothing really going on in the city when it came to bridging the gap between the restaurant trade and consumers, and the winemakers themselves.
The idea sprung from the fact that I was having to travel to Europe a lot (France and Italy in particular) in order to meet the growers and I felt that it was time for London to be hosting something like this, for Britain.
I was also very keen to start spreading the message about transparency. Looking at the event catalogue, you’ll see that we’ve included information about every wine, whether it’s been filtered or refined in any way, any sulphites that might have been added are listed.
It was a big passion of mine to encourage people to start that conversation and take an interest in how wine is produced.
One day , hopefully, we’ll actually have an ingredients list on the back of a bottle. When you think about it, it’s a bit weird that we don’t have any ingredient listing on wine, when you compare it to food production.
It’s also really nice that we’re able to host this event for trade and consumers! Usually this kind of fair would just be for food and drink professionals but it’s obviously really important for the people who are actually buying the wine in the end to be able to meet the growers and gain access to the information that’s available. It doesn’t really happen very often…
WU: Yeah, you’re definitely more invested in a brand if you’ve met the people behind it. We’d be far more likely to pick a bottle from a supermarket shelf if we’ve had a 10 minute chat with the grower.
WU: So, for those who might be wondering, how would you sum up biodynamic winemaking?
IL: The growers here will be able to give you a much more thorough explanation but, in basic terms, it’s reverting back to the ways in which our ancestors would have farmed.
That means paying more attention to the effects of the lunar cycle, animal husbandry, growing your grains to make bread… Essentially, the farm is a very holistic and complex environment in which you grow many different types of crop.
It’s a way of farming that is a polyculture rather than a monoculture. Having diversity in what you’re growing means that your soils are very alive, they’re very rich.
Biodynamics is also very much about increasing the life of the vineyard. It’s a movement that was coined by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s – definitely look him up!
WU: Now we know where to start our research, thanks! Have you noticed a change in the popularity of the event, and the wines themselves, with the rise of interest in craft beer, gin and other spirits?
IL: Yeah, of course! There’s been a huge increase in terms of the consumption of craft drinks, artisan drinks, natural wine, low intervention wine. You know, I think, as a society we’re thankfully reverting back to being very appreciative of things that are well-made and well-sourced.
All of the work that we do here, the PR and education, I’m sure that it does have an impact. A lot of it is trendsetting and reaching more and more people. However, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario because, at the same time, there does seem to be this natural rise in consciousness.
People do seem to want to be more careful. They care more and more about what they are eating and drinking, basically.
But you can definitely see the growth from the first fair. We had 3000 visitors in our initial year and the crowd was very London-centric. Now, we have people flying literally from all over the world to attend the event, it’s got much more of a following and we’re running similar events in both Berlin and New York.
WU: Wow! Do you have plans to expand to any other cities?
IL: That’s something we’re currently working on actually… something to keep your eyes peeled for.
WU: We’ll definitely stay tuned. Now, we’d love to learn a little more about you and your career specifically – is it right that you’re still France’s only female Master of Wine?
IL: Yes, I am. Yeah… I’m waiting for someone else to arrive on the team! I guess it’s an English-led qualification so sometimes, when you’re in France, it’s not so easy to qualify.
It’s a global certification, so you have to be able to taste lots of examples, there’s a lot you need to access and travel is essential. It’s an amazing qualification and I’m really happy that I did it. It was very hard work. I passed in 2008, and it took me 4 years.
But wine is my second career; I was brought up on a vineyard but then went to study business at university. I came back to wine in 2000.
WU: Whereabouts in France are you from?
IL: Cognac, in the south west.
WU: And are you glad that you took the wine route rather than the brandy route?
IL: Yes. Well I’m not a big spirits consumer so really, for me, it made sense to just do something in the wine industry.
My parents ran the vineyard and now my brother does. They distil and then they sell on, they don’t mature the spirits, they’re just a distiller.
WU: Finally, for people who are just discovering wine and want to throw themselves in, what advice would you give them if they’re feeling intimidated?
IL: I think you just have to try not to worry about what people think. Attend events like the fair, meet people, travel, enjoy the wine, visit farms. Just look into people’s eyes and see what their hearts are made of, have a chat and then learn as slowly as you need to.
I don’t think people should be held back on not knowing enough. It’s nice to have a lot of the knowledge but I think it’s just as important to hear the growers’ stories and learn how they make the wine. Acquire the knowledge that way, I would say.
WU: *Both Lily and James swoon* That’s amazing to hear. Thank you so much Isabelle and congratulations on the success of the fair.
To keep up to date with the Raw Wine fair, in its numerous locations, follow @rawwine on Twitter and check out www.rawwine.com.