Because natural wine also stands for conviviality and sharing and a bottle tastes even better when drunk in nice company, we regularly invite friends of wine to taste the new vintages together. Impressions are shared and tasting notes become more versatile. On this occasion, a portrait of the guests is drawn through a cheerful interview and brings a few impressions from and about wine fans like us, professionals or amateurs. Our fourth guest is Sylvain Siproche, one of Berlin's most passionate purveyors of living wines. The lively exchange of knowledge about the peculiarities of natural wine is close to his heart. Convince yourself with a a visit to the Naturwein Shop of the stalwart wine shop Suff in the Markthalle Neun, which he is in charge of. Together we tasted the 2019 vintage of Cavarodes. Cheers!
Return: What detours did you take to get into wine?
Well then, I'm a Berliner by choice and something of a natural wine guru. I came to it via another career, from the theatre, I learned production management and was also a translator. But before that, I decided on Berlin, and only then on the profession. I was drawn to the big city for the first time 25 years ago, I had no plan, the main thing was Berlin, I was nineteen. At that time, however, I drank beer, during the time when I was assistant director at the Deutsches Theater and did productions and organization for independent dance and theater groups, in the circus. I loved my job, but not so much the milieu, which suffers a lot from egomaniacal and manipulative hierarchies.
On the side, I organized city tours, that is, I developed a program for city tours, because that was a lot of fun for me, to teach people something, to explain and to tell. I liked teaching so much that I thought, I'll stop doing theatre, I want to learn something new, in the field of teaching, but not as a teacher, because that was already my father. Actually I wanted to become a cook, when I was little I dressed up as a cook at carnivals, or I wanted to help my mother in the kitchen all the time, to taste and try everything. Until I discovered Germany at the age of thirteen. Then I preferred to become a translator and got involved with languages. When I had to deal with my professional future again in 2014, the taste came back to me. That combined with mediating, I thought, what can be made of this? At the time, I was in Nantes and I was thinking of a Croque Monsieur bike to go by the concerts and universities and sell funny Croque Monsieur menus.
But then something happened, on November 28, 2013, a special evening. It was the birthday of my best friend Vincent, whom I've known for almost thirty years and who has been drinking natural wine for ages. He was friends with Philippe Jambon and Jean-Pierre Robinot because he had developed such a passion for the subject. When I visited him, at his family's in the Alps, there was always Jean-Yves Péron on the table. I drank that, but didn't particularly enjoy the wine at the time. I was still on beer or Rioja with a lot of wood then. Vincent, however, didn't let up. When we met in Paris, there was always great wine, in a nice restaurant. Still, I missed the emotion, it was just a drink. On Vincent's birthday, that is, the aforementioned evening in 2013, that's when he invited me to La Rallonge in the 18th arrondissement. It was a long counter behind which Geoffroy Maillard cooked tapas, Spanish products processed in a French way. We'd already had some nice bottles when the boss said, "the next one's on me." And I had the flash I'd never had in my life regarding wine, so I couldn't remember ever experiencing anything like that while drinking, while eating possibly, but not while drinking. It was late in the evening, we had been partying properly, and I got a bit emotional, and said. "I want to meet the guy who makes this!" This was a bottle from Ivo Ferreira, L'Escarpolette, his blanc, one of those mash fermentation grenache. Totally crazy and complex, with curry notes and really everything I would never have guessed was in a wine. We asked where exactly the wine came from, Montpeyroux, that's near Montpellier, where Vincent lived. And as luck would have it, he had planned to move to Montpeyroux two weeks later, where he had already rented a new apartment. As if the wine had been sent to us! Vincent said, "come visit me there and you can meet the winemaker." That was the first magic with natural wine for me.
Six months later I moved to Lyon and before that I went to Montpeyroux, in April 2014. And there happened to be the wine festival of the village that weekend, where all the winemakers present their wines. So I went to Ivo and told him that I would like to work for him. "I'm unemployed, what can I do for you?" "Why don't you come for the grape harvest and see if you like it?" he said. Back in Lyon, my cousin took me to a wine bar where two super cool sommeliers were doing a pop up bar. We stayed the whole evening and when I mentioned that I wanted to orient myself in natural wine, they told me that they were also career changers and they had done entry level training in Suze-la-Rousse at the Université du Vin.
Thus, I applied for a general oenological training at the Université du Vin. In order to do justice to the necessary previous experience, I helped with wine harvests and assisted at the wine bar Le Vin des Vivants then the mecca of natural wine in Lyon, to ensure that my application would be considered. By then there were all the famous natural wine fairs in Lyon, Sous les pavés la vigne, Les Débouchées. There I started to approach the winemakers and ask questions. In March 2015, the school started, four months of theory and one month of internship. I spent two weeks with Philippe Jambon in the vineyard, really ploughing, mowing the lawn, pruning. The other part of my internship I helped to organize a wine fair, great winemakers were invited, like for example Kenjiro Kagami. But the studies were very conservative and classical and we tasted the most awful wines. It was like a new Abitur with all the learning material, long course days, learning from morning to night. On weekends I always escaped to visit the winemakers from the region or in the Ardèche, Daniel Sage, Mylène Bru and so on. Salvation after the bad tastings of the caves coopératives, at the weekend I was able to apply the knowledge I had gained to natural wine. In the thesis I worked out my project idea, a place with natural wine tastings and music in Berlin....
My first job with the diploma in my pocket was at an organic wine cellar in Lyon and again at the Le Vin des Vivants but I wanted to experience something more, to go abroad again, preferably to Bristol or Zurich and set up my natural wine music venue somewhere. I watched the scenes and then came back to Berlin in the summer, where I already knew Maxime Boillat and Holger Schwarz regarding natural wine, then I also met you, during your first months at jaja. One evening Nicolas Drouhin told me about his job at MAXIM which he was about to give up. It seemed that my professional life was always decided by others, I like to accept what suits me. So I wanted to work at the MAXIM the first bar to offer natural wine in Berlin, but in the end it didn't work out, Maxim had to file for bankruptcy. At a trade fair, I met Sébastien Visentin from Passion Vin I applied for a job and stayed there for two years. He was less open towards natural wines, which was something I was missing at work, so I started working with Pierre Lejeune from La Malo the wine festival Naturtrüb with Pierre Lejeune from La Malo. In the end, this cost me my job. But it was all fun, organizing events, inviting the winemakers I liked. It was a fantastic adventure, from the first day to the realization of the festival. Everything worked out. Financially it was risky but ultimately healthy and everyone was excited about the event. The planning of the second festival was more chaotic and unfortunately the premature end of the project.
But it is clear that a natural wine scene is developing in Berlin and I want to help where I can. Whereby I come back to my first motivation, the mediation. I have found my purpose in this profession, introducing people to these wines, teaching them what they are like and why they are made that way. It is important to me that people know what they are drinking, and of course they can continue to drink bad wine for my sake, but they should have a guilty conscience that they are not doing themselves and their environment any good with these products. Personally, natural wine has brought me such a life change that it is out of the question for me to drink anything else. Although it often happens that I am offered other wine, but then I prefer to drink water. So I'm rather on the radical end of the converts.
What I enjoy the most, something that I've found at Passion Vin started and developed, is the tastings, wine seminars and training. At Sébastien, I did a lot of training for restaurants, imparting knowledge that the participants can in turn pass on to customers. This is what makes me happiest in this job, besides the contact with the winemakers and the interpersonal relationships. As soon as I had found my feet, at Ivo, I wanted to be on the road with these people above all. A little bit of pop culture, fans, collectors, is also part of it for me, if you always want to listen to all the albums by your favorite band or read all the books by your favorite authors, I also wanted to taste all the wines from my favorite winemakers, because they are part of a body of work and it would be a shame to miss out on some of it. There are many parallels for me, between wine and music. That excitement, emotion, anticipation, whether you're going to a concert or a wine fair, it's the same. You know there will be certain winemakers there, their new wines will be shown and you can chat with them for a while, learn about last year in the vineyard, about the vintage. This enrichment, which you take with you and which you in turn pass on to the customers, can bring the bottle to life, because you have met the originators and they have given you something to take with you. That replaces any technical wine description or criticism. If you have the opportunity to visit them at their winery, it's even better. It's wonderful to learn new things incessantly, always from a different perspective. The profession of winemaking is something where there is no learning curve.
Today is a good example of that, because I have great prejudices against Cavarodes and that's why I was very happy to be offered the tasting, because I want to keep tasting and understand why everyone raves about his wines and I seemed to be the only one at tastings who was bothered by something about his wines. So today, proof that there is always something to learn. You may not have found what usually intrigues you about the wines this time, but it finally takes me today, it's a treat. All of a sudden my taste finds itself in these wines and can evolve with the steady accumulation of impressions. Hou, I talk a lot... (laughs).
Return: That's good, it anticipates a few questions. How you got into natural wine ...
In the beginning it was more the "basic natural wines", easily accessible wines, like from La Roche Buissière for example, Pithon-Paillé, Landron the classics. Later, I realized the difference with the wines that Vincent always put on my table. At the time I could not tell because I did not have that click yet. Or I didn't understand it because it was blistering, or I didn't want to get into it. I always think of that when someone new comes to my booth and I know that the wine has that particularity, then I can explain why that is so that there's not that confusion in the first place and it can be focused on the taste right away.
Return: So you started with Rioja?
Yes really, Rioja Crianza! I actually only drank Spanish wine because it reminded me of a trip to Andalusia. My parents only had wine on big occasions. Then when they moved to Tours in the 90s, they started discovering Loire wines. Today it's nice because we can really exchange ideas, they only drink organic wine, so it's not necessarily nature, but they are open-minded and it's something that connects us.
Return: When did the feeling come that you were confident working with wine?
Especially with my job at Le Vin des Vivants it felt right. Where all the winemakers used to meet when they were in Lyon, eternal nights behind closed curtains. The owner couldn't pay much, but he said, "come, you'll be my first employee and we'll have lots of fun." And he kept his promise, it was the wildest six months of my life. Most of the wines I know well today I discovered there and drank in great quantities.
Return: Which wine or winemaker has impressed you the most in your career so far?
Nyctalopie from Daniel SagePinot Noir - Gamay, I discovered it in the wine bar in Lyon, because Daniel was often there and we opened many bottles of it and celebrated a lot with it. I associate very nice moments with this wine, it moved me immediately, such a very light, fine-spicy, gentle wine, like a hug or a kiss.
And winemakers, as I said, I came to my profession because of them, but if I have to name one character, it is Franco Terpin because that was a particularly impressive encounter. I have tasted his wines in Stamps Wines they were overwhelming. Later I met Jacopo Stigliano who is a friend of his and was able to establish a contact. But until he was at the first Naturtrüb Salon, I had not met him in person. I was so excited to meet him. He came to Berlin at that time with Jacopo, who now goes by the name of Buriana wines, and Ernesto Cattel from Costadila. „Molto piacere, Molto piacere!" - I don't know Italian and just shouted something to tell him I was so happy to see him. Last year we went to the Rocket Wine Team to visit him in Friuli, which was a dream. We had an unforgettable time there. Seeing what he does as a winemaker on his own, these huge vineyards, with these huge hands, three times his size, his fingers are like sticks! Then we tasted the extremely fine wines straight from the barrels, they age for 3 years in the cellar - one year in barrel, 1 year in tank, 1 year in bottle. And everything is incredibly delicious and complex, the early wine already tastes so promising. While I knew he didn't intervene much in the cellar, I asked him how often he tastes his wines to check. "Yes, now with you.", he replied. "And when was the last time?", I echoed, "Oh, about a year ago." He tastes the wines only once a year, in the process, he has an unshakeable confidence, because he knows what he has done in the vineyard and what will result. So here we are close to "the wine makes itself." Franco just forgets about his cellar, tends to his piggery and works every day in his hidden Slovenian vineyards from where he smuggles the grapes to Italy. An impressive personality. I would also like to introduce Jean-Pierre Robinot and Daniel Sage both socially and as a winemaker, but Franco is something of an icon for me. I could really be his groupie!
Return: How are your projects or plans at the moment?
I'm a bit frustrated because I can't organize tastings and seminars due to the situation. So I use the time for other projects, right now I'm writing again for a singer, Pauline Dupuis, we've been working together for four years, she composes and interprets my lyrics. In the process, I came up with the idea of writing an album in which each track is dedicated to a wine that has impressed me. The lyrics won't necessarily be about the wine, it's just an allusion. The whole project will be a dedication to wines and the poetic impressions or stories they inspired me to write. Autobiographical, as well as fiction.
I want to use the free time to write if possible, but it's hard to discipline myself.
And professionally, once we can open normally again, Drunk by Nature will welcome you all week!
Return: Can you say anything else about natural wine in Berlin?
I have a lot to do here with people who are not from Berlin, tourists who are interested in natural wine. But colleagues from the gastronomy or the trade are less frequent, which is no comparison to my experiences in France. In the end, I became very pessimistic about Berlin's gastronomy for after the crisis. I thought we had already lived through all the bankruptcies, in the early days of the natural wine scene in Berlin, and I'm worried that we're now back in a nothingness, where there are isolated initiatives, but also many desperate others that have failed. I hope that I am wrong and that those who are there will survive this moment. And I hope that the new players will work in the spirit of wine and not in the spirit of fashion. In the last few months, it has become clear from the new openings that natural wine is being traded as a cool product, like sneakers, without appearing to have any idea of the real dimension of this extraordinary food of pleasure. The motivation and conviction of its production and everything related to it. On the one hand, it's cool to discover natural wine in a cool environment, but the reflection on the relationship with winemakers, the treatment of nature and everything that means is missing and that is thought to be uncool in the long run. It's something that makes our work, that includes justifying the cost of these wines, which customers don't always understand right away.
I really care about continuing to expand how this world of natural wine can be communicated. From the tastings I have experienced in Berlin, or from what is happening in the social networks, it can be concluded that there is a partial lack of professionalism or objectivity in dealing with the wines. This is not to sound as if I want to rise above it, yet I think that this beautiful dynamic of the first wave, the Wine Rush Connection, or tried-and-true distributors, like Viniculture or Suff, work more substantively. There's a lot of amateurism in the current wave and I don't think it serves the scene in the long run. I often notice it in the reaction of customers, it actually sometimes confirms that hipster stereotype, "I want Orange Wine, something funky!"I hear that several times a day, but first we have to clarify what orange wine actually is. There is still a lot of groundwork to be done here in Berlin before this potentially exciting exchange between customers and suppliers can take place. It is a pity if this is not done by other colleagues, where the sales arguments remain very basic, hey, hey, crazy, funky, cool!
My concern here is that this is a very special product, with a very small production, which is shared in the ever-growing global natural wine world, and each small importer gets less and less quantity, because we have to share that with all the countries, which is good, but if people then just perceive the wine as a fashion product, without being able to see the philosophy behind it, to respect it, just out of the bottle in the park...yes, of course it's also nice to do that once in a while, if it can be afforded financially, but in the end I'd rather sell just one bottle to those who really show curiosity than five bottles to those who drink it lukewarm in the park or under the influence of some other substance. I think this is a tone-setting peculiarity in Berlin, the Berlin scene is going in this direction and the gastronomy and the trade are responding to it somehow. Especially because it's this same social group, club culture, expats, these are our first customers. Thereby, it is so important to convey the background knowledge and the idea, so that people can get involved with the wines in a completely different way, in order not to tip the fragile balance of this free scene at some point. To show that it is a valuable commodity that can be appreciated.
It's just not about having Pet'Nat' with every breakfast, because at some point there won't be any Pet'Nat' left. You just notice that with a winemaker like Preisinger, who is totally hyped, people who hardly deal with wine recognize his label from afar and buy it blindly, but don't understand why two weeks later the wine is sold out. I notice the reflection on how this wine is made is lacking. I can't criticize that because I was just as ignorant before I got interested in wine, I didn't wonder myself how wine was even made until I was almost forty. But it's a fact that people who buy these wines don't know the logic behind it unless they are informed about it, and they may react in the spirit of consumer capitalism, wanting to satisfy the needs of a product fetish rather than actually drinking wine. And if merchants don't carry the bottle they want, they may assume that they are bad merchants, ignoring the fact that the wine may not have been produced that year because of frost or hail. Or maybe it was just too hyped and sold out. That's a challenge for this profession in Berlin.
One goal is that more people drink more diverse natural wines and enjoy them consciously. Sometimes it's a shame that the bottle is empty in 10 minutes, whereas it often only becomes interesting after two hours. Cornelissen, for example, after two hours the wine has developed into something completely different and after another three hours again, the wine offers a journey that offers so much more than the initial kick. This is then perhaps more justified the price, in this extreme case, but it can also be applied to many wines, which cost only 20€, that with the journey. Being able to experience the wine through its evolution is the exciting thing about these vibrant wines. For some purposes, conventional wine is easier to drink, because it is always trimmed to taste the same. What makes natural wines special is that they are alive and that they can show us something different every moment. So if I can contribute something so that people are more reflective about the subject, then I'm happy to sell more.
Return: What do you get back when you convey so much?
Back when I was Surk-ki Schrade from the Vincaillerie When I interviewed Surk-ki Schrade from the Vincaillerie, the first natural wine shop in Germany, she told me that 70% of her work is pedagogy, and to explain everything over and over again, also with the help of sketches and pictures, because the standard customer who comes by doesn't understand at first that the wine costs three times as much as in the supermarket, which unfortunately is the biggest hurdle at first. And that's something exhausting, which sometimes makes you despair when it has to be repeated twenty times a day. But I have also had positive experiences with it, through which I became aware that my own prejudices can deceive me. When we face each other in sales, and it starts with, "What is this anyway, natural wine? Organic wine?" that's where a customer relationship starts and if we manage to patiently explain what natural wine is, the bottle will always be sold, the interest is aroused, even if it was previously rejected in terms of price, and so we've made a great contact, we're both pleased and thankful and there's the nice feeling of having made someone receptive to the subject. That's the job, (laughs) and I'm such a proselytizing Jehovah's Witness of natural wine in that segment! Knowledge is shared because taste just needs motivation to flourish. Since we all had a life before natural wine, it's clear this is something that can be discovered and learned late. By offering such a variety of directions, tastes and emotions, the chances of finding enthusiasm are great. I've experienced this in every place I've worked, that people come back and say, ah, now I only drink natural wine, I can't go back. It's an experience I've had myself as well. It can surprise and take everyone, no matter what age, status or background. For example, there's a customer with a very small budget, yet he comes every month to buy a nice bottle, even though he could treat himself to three bottles at the supermarket for that. But it's not just about drinking, it's about a moment of happiness. What could be better than selling happiness?
Return: What musical recommendation would you give to the wines tasted today?
I was expecting "dirtier", wilder wines, so I would have thought grunge. Today I find that all the wines we tasted hold something similar, something velvety, silky, cozy, a music with rebound, something groovy, trip hop, haunting and at the same time.... I don't know, something like Massive Attack or Morcheeba, jazzy. It's so soft you want to lie down in it, snuggle up in it, like a fluffy blanket. With soft bass and a gentle voice that caresses the ear. The Vin de Pays Rouge caresses the palate in exactly the same way.
Drunk by Nature Eisenbahnstr. 42/43 in Berlin-Kreuzberg