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 light-hearted interview and brings a few impressions from and about wine fans like us, professionals or amateurs. Our second guest is Jeff, a landmark for Berlin's natural wine culture. We drank Bergkloster 's 2019 vintage together. Cheers.
Return: please introduce yourself briefly in context.
I'm Jeff, .... the cheese is good! So, I'm Jeff. Cheers.
I love wine, I made it my profession, which I also love. I'm originally from Quebec, I moved to Berlin eight years ago for travel and wine.
Return: How did you get into natural wine?
Questions are good, they make us think. They bring back memories.
Between my twenties and thirties, I traveled a lot. Somehow I was always on the road, constantly somewhere since I was eighteen. After I went to Australia for the second time at twenty-two, I discovered wwoofing, which was a way to travel and explore something other than traveling from hostel to hostel and partying. I already liked to drink, but I drank beer. In Quebec with my friends we bought a lot of beer, drank a lot of beer, but good beer.
Sure I had tried wine in my early twenties too. When I wanted to travel I looked for farms, wineries really. It seemed sexier than picking onions or turnips. I came across a small farm called Orange Tractor that grew vegetables, also for self-sufficiency, lots of fresh vegetables and avocados in particular. But they also had 1 acre of vines, 100% biodynamic, they made the preparations for them themselves. I thought it was all great.
One cuvée in particular I remember, it was the Syrah, I pressed that with my feet, gently breaking the skin of the grapes. That was the first time I ever put my feet in wine, I spent a night tramping. There was no destemmer, so had to destem with my hands to remove the raffles. I loved it so much that I stayed up all night trying to remove as much Raffles as I could. It gave me a great vision of wine, I loved it.
So it all started with farming, the vineyard. Instead of staying for a week, I stayed on the farm for six weeks. They invited me to their private dinners, with their friends. We drank and ate a lot, champagne, oysters, pinot noir. There was an Australian Pinot, it wasn't natural, but because I was starting from scratch the wine was brilliant. If I tasted it now, it might not be as distinctive. You just start somewhere. But it was a good wine, it showed me that wine is good. They also invited me to go to winery friends. We drank and tasted a lot. We discussed a lot. It was great. That's when I got hooked.
In Quebec, I grew up on a farm, with 4 hectares of land. When I came back from Australia, I decided to plant vines with my brother, that was 12 years ago now. While I hadn't tasted much wine, I was all about the plant, its potential and what was possible.
The next trip was to Bordeaux, to visit a friend and from there I started going back and forth to the Languedoc and then the Loire. La Petite Commanderie, Languedoc, that later became my first contact when I started importing. In the Loire, I was with Olivier Cousin and Clos Cristal, Eric Dubois. In Bordeaux I didn't have much else to do, so I went to the Caves and bought conventional Bordeaux, I didn't care then, it tasted good. But I was already in that process that it dawned on me that things should be a bit cleaner. In a bookstore I found a book, Carnet de Vigne. It made me curious, they were all in there. For example François Grinand, he influenced me from the beginning, tangled curls, leather jacket, didn't necessarily look like a winemaker. He was one of the first contacts to write me back. I wrote to all of them. Well, not everyone.
Then came La Dive, but the version before La Dive Bouteille, back in Carcassonne. Sylvie Augereau started the salon, she also wrote Carnet de Vigne. In Carcassonne I met one who impressed me: Jousset . I tasted her sparkling wine, it was my first Pet Nat. What the hell is that! All of a sudden I was in wine delirium and the winemakers I met from there, they all worked 100% natural. What I tasted then had nothing to do with what I knew from my parents ....
Back in Quebec, I tried to implement what I learned at Clos Cristal. Actually, I also wanted to go to South Africa to work in the vineyards there as well. But I cut my finger at a party just before the trip, with a bottle of champagne. So I didn't go to South Africa. Actually, that was good, I probably would have worked for the industry, big investors. There are rather few small wineries there. Maybe I would have become a cellar master, at least something more oenological.
So I went back to Europe, Bordeaux again, that's where I met Marlene and we moved to Berlin together. After investing in a car, I started touring vineyards. I was drawn to the Czech Republic, for me that was Europe, everything within reach. I saw Prague, the Czech Republic and it was clear that I had to go to the vineyards there.
Then came Surk-ki, La Vincaillerie, which did its first salons in Cologne, the first natural wine salon in Germany. There was Milan Nestarec, Dobrá Vinice. I tasted their wines and thought woooooaaahhhh putain de truc! You know Nestarec, the first one was cloudy, it was like mud with water. Recently we drank a 14, the first vintage, wouhouu! It was the last bottle left of Nestarec's first vintage, it was amazing; the thing looks like beautiful mud. His wines have changed since then, I think already for the better, it's cleaner but still vibrant, it's maybe a bit more pop. Or yeah, a little more technical.
Return: Maybe similar to musicians* and the first album and then poum ... there's something that can't be reproduced, after all the information and experiences that come over then. Often the first album has a lot of magic. Which is not to say that it then becomes less exciting.
That's the beauty of it, you can't try to reproduce it, there's so much happening there wow wow wowkind of... it just happens. But in the long run, you can't sustain it. If you try to reproduce it, it won't work. But to make a work that evolves over time, to make it, to make wines, that's easier to reproduce than the first stuff, which is so enormously distinctive. With Dobrá Vinice it was the Crème de Pinot Noirthe bubbles, then ouueeeee! So I was in the Czech Republic, but it was difficult with the language.
The first time in Berlin, I wrote to many winemakers, conventional or not. I needed money. It was not bad to study the common winemaking with the additives and pesticides. I worked two and a half months in the Palatinate on a small family winery, it was damn profitable, still, never again.
Later I met Jan, Staffelter Hof, on the Mosel. It was the first winery that reminded me of my time in Australia again. Jan was a similar type of guy, a bit of wwoofing, a bit of guesthouse, on top of that his wines are top notch, his people too. The communal aspect is at the forefront for him. The people aspect, the drinking together, the sharing, you just come along and join in, with everything. I met him just before he was vinifying his wines naturally. He was very close to Trossen and thought a lot about the vine, his work in the vineyard was already great, but still he is constantly working to improve details, to work even healthier, even cleaner.
When I met his neighbor Trossen, I had this brilliant aha moment. We tasted Madonna and I smelled freaking popcorn, butter popcorn!!! And then the wine hits the palate and. klaack! Crystalline freshness. This was very impressive, the insight into Trossen's world. Melsheimer wasn't too far away either.
Then three or four years ago, I started importing wine, at the same time Jan started making natural wine, it was a perfect fit. For Rocket Wine, Staffelter Hof is a top reference today. Also financially, because we sell a lot of Jan's wines. He really has a great approach, which cheered me up when I arrived in Germany. He just never stops evolving, always doing things in a better way. This traditional winery, with its 1150 year history one of the oldest in the world, is now making its own fertilizer again, planting fruit trees among the vines and tearing out plots to green them and revitalize the soil.
After Moselle, I worked in a restaurant and I met you guys. There was also Jacopo from 100%VINO when we did the first pop-ups, back in the Silo with Florian Ladidadi. It's crazy to think about that night, there was the whole new natural wine clique and customers that still come into the store today. You guys were just setting up jaja. Flo said, hey, there are two French guys who want to open a natural wine bar. A few months later you opened jaja. Etienne was commuting between Paris and Berlin, you were already here.
I also worked at the jaja, for a year and a half, which was good because it opened up new avenues for me. I was more on the production and I was missing an aspect. Seeing how it goes at the wine salons, seeing what's possible there. Going to the myriad of salons and doing research. I had already imported a palette, but that was through the contacts I had, where I had worked before. I was missing that aspect of going to trade shows. That was then ... ah, darn, so that's how it works!
Before my job at jaja, I was at the NOER wine shop on Falkenstein Street. During that time I had already written to winemakers, but that wasn't it yet, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the import 100%.One of my first contacts was Opi d'Aqui, Xavier Marchais. I don't remember why I wrote to him. Maybe there were some things that reminded me of Jousset or Dubois.
Pierre, Les Quilles à Berlin, helped me with the logistics. I would have liked to bring a pallet of Clos Cristal to Berlin, but Eric told me that Pierre already imports his wines. So I got acquainted with Pierre and it was he who put me in touch with a transporter. Now I sound like a perfect idiot, but if you don't know how to get it from France.... Pierre was really cool.
Return: did you drink wine before?
We drank well, but it was beer, because in Quebec the beer scene was much bigger. We ate well at my parents' house, but the wine was still coming out of the usual bag in a box back then, the crap stuff for cooking. Then about fifteen years ago that changed. Slowly, various bottles of wine started coming into the house. Anyway, there was always wine on the table, with food, even if it was questionable, we liked to drink it. With friends, on the other hand, we had really good beer, from microbreweries, small productions, we spent a lot of money on beer. At some point I got tired of drinking bad wine. But it started with beer. It wasn't until after Australia that I raised the standard a bit for wine.
Return: When did you seriously start working with natural wine?
When I bought the range from Petite Commanderie, I was in Berlin, working in a restaurant, and I asked myself what I wanted to do. Because good wine is an expensive product and I had very little money. So I bought a palette [laughs.]. To make money I worked in Brussels at the Christmas market and made around 6,000 euros. Then I asked Petite Commanderie how much a pallet costs. A pallet is 600 bottles, so I bought a pallet. When it arrived, I rode the cargo bike to the Nordbahnhofsmarkt and tried to sell wine there at lunchtime. I quickly discovered that Germans don't drink at lunchtime. So I got drunk [laughs]. I only sold one bottle and then drank too much myself. I never did that again.
After that I met Florian, he introduced me to Ramses from Industry Standard and Maxime Boillat. The MAXIM was a place I went to drink natural wine in Berlin six years ago. Maxim and Ramses bought wine from me, then came the pop-ups, the Wine Rush Salon and I met you guys.
Work, yes. Buy a pallet, sell wine, buy a pallet, sell wine, buy a pallet ...
Return: you make wine yourself, would you like to tell a little more about it?
The vines we planted back then were for learning to work with vines. We didn't think at the time that we would succeed in making wine in Quebec, the wine there was not good, everything I tasted was not good. But a few years ago, there was a winemaker who was starting over, Pinard et Filles. I tried a bottle, it was great. It's all about hybrids that grow in our cold climate, there are hundreds of varieties that have nothing to do with European Vitis Vinifera. When I moved to Europe, our vineyard was pretty much abandoned until four years ago when my brother started taking an interest in it. I talked a lot with winemakers in Europe to understand winemaking and shared the knowledge with my brother. Then we had ideas about how to make the wine, what to do. The first vintage was great, people really liked it, restaurant owners, so we kept going.
Now we're doing 500, 600 bottles and every year, I find it gets better. So I'm trying to distance myself from the production. It's good to see how difficult it is to judge when you make the wine yourself, that's where I meet myself, see how difficult it is to remain objective. Very different from tasting the results of others.
Now we have a wine production in Quebec, it's not bad. I just tasted the new vintage a few weeks ago. 2019 is the year with the most flaws, it is still unstable, yet it is the best year so far. There is something special about the wine, that is the beauty of natural wines, flaws can be part of the wine as long as the drinking pleasure is there. It's brilliant to make natural wine in Quebec because the scene is brilliant. It's more lively, people are a bit more curious. There's more communal drinking and less judging, I get the impression it's more emotional curiosity.
Return: Coming together, being together, sharing.
Yeah, exactly, there's sharing, there's tasting, there's drinking, and then it doesn't really matter if what you taste always lives up to expectations. But it's great to know both scenes.
Our wine is good, it's hybrid, it's a bit more vegetal, more rustic. White and red, a little more red wine. We'll see where it goes in the future. Clos Survivant is the name of our winery.
Return: Can you name a favorite wine or favorite winemaker?
The Bugey-Savoie region ... François Grinand, Domaine la Vigne du Perron and especially Grégoire & Judi, La Combe au Rêves, because a personal relationship grows and the wines, they're very good, I think. Jean Marc Dreyer, he really makes me laugh. I love his wine, when I want to drink a nice bottle, it's often one of his. Axel Prüfer is also a reference for me.
One often remembers what one enthusiastically rediscovers and last year there was a lot to discover, Kasnyik in Slovakia for example.
Return: What are you doing at the moment, or do you have plans you would like to talk about?
[Reflects.] I'm just going to eat and drink all my life. [bites heartily into a piece of cheese and laughs] Shit, that's a fucking easy question! As long as there's food and wine ... But no, I don't know what I'm doing.
Return: what kind of music would you like to hear with the wines of Bergkloster?
I knew this was coming, this question! Because you're the one asking the questions. Ok, there is something that makes me think of Bergkloster. I heard it again yesterday, heard a band whose name I don't remember, a friend recommended them to me and he was surprised that I knew them. We had hosted a festival with Florian, a few years ago, at the lake, there was this band playing that I heard yesterday. English, a bit punky, but laid back, yeah, I think laid back fits quite well. At the sunset at the lake, they played Wild Horse, ne ne ne ne ne. Different style though, but with that aspect that reminds me of Jason's wines. Smooth, no frantic variance, how do you say it, yeah smooth. A laid back wild horse.