Our guest tonight is Kerry. Before she opened Barra, one of our favourite restaurants in Berlin, with Neil and Daniel, the paths often crossed at wine fairs and other wine-related events at home and abroad. We had the chance to have Kerry on our team at our former restaurant and learned from each other. Originally from Manchester, she is your best buddy when it comes to geek out with The Fall and equally passionate to talk shop about fine wines. We drank Patrice Beguet's 2019 vintage together. Cheers!
Please present yourself:
I am Kerry, in the context of wine, I am one that enjoys drinking wine, especially the kind of energetic, characterful wines we're about to talk about, and like the wines from Beguet we've been trying tonight. I also work with wine in a restaurant called Barra in Berlin, I'm selecting the wines that go on the list there as well as being part owner of the company. Wine would be one of my favorite parts of the job.
How did you discover natural wine?
Maybe around 2014/2015, in Berlin. I was really getting a bit deeper into the world of wine and had started buying from smaller wine shops, which is where I discovered for the first time what people were calling natural wines. I bought a bottle to try, it was such a different experience and feeling to what I'd had tried before, to these wines which are termed as conventional wines.
I guess one of the main standout natural wine discoveries would be trying Matassa, Cuvée Marguerite for the first time at Industry Standard. I think it was 2012 vintage, in fact I know it was 2012, as I remember the label quite vividly. So I'd tried these other natural wines before, but then this one was ... I was like "what the hell is this". After learning more about how the vineyards were treated and how the wine was made, I really wanted to understand more about this kind of winemaking which is what let me down this road.
And from there, still somewhere in 2015, I was managing Silo, a coffee shop & brunch spot in Friedrichshain, when a handsome Canadian man walked through the door one day, who was an importer in Berlin. Which ended up being Jeff Le Goulot, now with Rocket Wine. He wanted to introduce his natural wines to the café and asked if we were interested in a collaboration, so we organised a tasting. Morgan, the owner of Silo, Jeff and I met, tried some wine, talked things through and threw some ideas together for a pop-up. Jeff also had a friend importing wines to Berlin, Florian, Ladidadi wines, and together we hosted wine and snack events at Silo, which we called Bonsoir.
Return: That's it, we couldn't remember the name of these pop ups last time!
[laughs] You couldn't remember? I remember it well as it was quite funny. It was Morgan's idea, he said "let's call it bonsoir" because it was probably one of the only French words that both him and I knew. So I was just thrown into this world from there. I think in the end there were only three ‘Bonsoir’ at Silo, there weren't so many guests that came, it was probably mostly just me, Jeff and Florian drinking the wine. But that's how I began to work with natural wine.
Did you drink wine before? Or how did you drink wine before?
I think in the beginning it was more to do with being trained to work with wine, rather than drinking it. I was trained to serve wine and eventually through tastings I started to develop a palate for it, through the job. However it would not have been my first drink of choice.
In 2011 I was part of the opening team for a restaurant in Manchester called Australasia. It was an Asian-Australian fusion restaurant, which sounds kind of ridiculous, but it was quite a big deal in Manchester at the time. I started to get proper training here and worked there for just over a year, where I would work with a lot of Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Something I recognized in the wines, were that they had a lot of aromatics and other things going on there, in comparison to the supermarket wines that I had been drinking before. This varietal had a lot more depth and flavour. That's when I started to realize that not all grapes taste the same. In terms of more conventionally made wines, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Oyster Bay, was the brand or winery which got me interested in wine.
Do you go back to conventional wine sometimes? What does this” conventional " even mean? How do you handle it right now if you go drink with friends?
These terms can sometimes be quite dividing ‘conventional’ & ‘natural’, which is a shame because I think that the category ‘natural wine’ sometimes comes with a very negative connotation. But it works in the same way with ‘conventional ' wine’, some people wouldn't drink wine deemed with this term. Winemaking isn't limited just to two categories, there's a whole spectrum there.
To me, conventional wine is more like this mass produced, without care in the vineyard or cellar, throw-anything-in-there, just to make it taste marketable, a product. But when we reach the topic of wine in general there are many categories. There are winemakers that make a more traditional style of wine, but still work with a natural philosophy. I tried recently at a tasting, a Spätburgunder from J. B. Becker, based in Rheingau. The family goes back to seventeen hundred, a really old winery. The Rheingau region has also a very ancient winemaking history. He is working biologically and without chemical fertilisers or herbicides in the vineyard, but he does add some sulfites at bottling. Anyway, the winery works with Bio values, but I feel some people might place him in the conventional category. His labels look very traditional and this could be another reason why certain natural wine drinkers or wine bars may not give it a try.
Going back to the topic, I don't like to put the wines into these strict categories. You just have to get to know the winemaker, how they are working and practicing, and find this information out in order to make a decision on what conventional or natural might be.
Return: I imagine it's similar for you - personally, I'd love to try more conventional wines, but it's almost like I don't have access anymore because our whole wine world is natural. Part of the job is to taste a myriad of wines, so when the category of conventional wines comes into it, it kind of goes beyond the scope of what is consciously possible for me.
I finally decided to get some sort of wine certification as I really enjoy studying, especially about this topic. Sometimes with the wines we're working with, I feel like my viewpoint could become quite narrowed, I'm used to trying certain kinds or styles of wine sometimes from more obscure regions so I feel knowledgeable and confident about this. However, some areas I think I lack a more independent theory which one learns at wine school. So I decided to do the WSET course, where I am enjoying learning more about specific appellations, etc, but not enjoying the conservative way of learning and talking about wine. I've tried a lot of conventional wines on the course, which made me very happy with my preference of wine I drink ...how to say ... I'm not saying that the wines we've tried throughout the course were really bad but I see a big difference in the wines that I choose to serve and enjoy, they have way more energy, character and you feel the hand of the winemaker. But the whole theory behind it, I've really enjoyed; trying and comparing the same grape but from different regions and climates...Cab Sauv' in the New World and then Cab Sauv' in Bordeaux, and so on. Also I do not drink so much New World wine at the moment, so good to get to delve more into that part of the world. That's my connection with this now. Which I think is important to understand. It's good to have that background knowledge in order to enjoy the wines I drink and develop our wine menu at Barra.
Return: Probably, if you do the WSET, the wines to taste in class has to be accessible to the students, it's a budget thing. With natural wine, for an equal budget you already get access to such incredible wines, nothing comparable for anything in the same budget coming from the conventional, as far as I have heard and tried. You do not get these emotions. I guess that you have to go further in the upper price range to get a similar effect with a conventional wine.
That's also what I've been questioning recently. A few of my friends know all the big players in the big regions, and this year I'm making a point of trying more wines with them which are in this higher class, like Grand Crus and stuff like this. To really try them you of course have to spend a bit of time with the wine and obviously quite a bit of money. To try them and broaden my horizons by understanding why they are so commended and what might make them so expensive, has also been a good learning curve and a good comparative to the wine world, which I am used to.
Return: What did they spend for example for a Grand Cru?
We bought a bottle of Coche Dury 2016 for about 200€. It wasn't even the Meursault, just their entry level.
Return: Better be good!
It was really great! But I also already had this anticipation, because of the Domaine and the price tag. I did already have a feeling that I should somehow like it. I guess it's the same as drinking Champagne. There is a sort of feeling that you already get from hearing the bottle pop.
When did you start working professionally with wine?
We briefly touched on it. Just working in gastronomy forever, and then this one place in Manchester, Australasia, which is where I got a more formal wine training. The service team was sectioned into two different groups, that was a very weird way to work, the food waiters and the wine waiters and they gave you the choice. 'I'll be a wine waiter'. Then I had formal training and learnt more about wine.
And at what point did you start to feel comfortable with it?
The more I learn about wine, the more I realise that there is so much more to know! So I think I will never reach that point [laughs] Probably in my time in Berlin, getting more involved, working a lot more in the scene here. A few places that I've worked in where they give you the chance to explore. Working in the Michelberger Restaurant receiving great training from Emily Harman. And I have to say, not just because we know each other from working together, so at Jaja.
This was one of the places where I really felt like I got a better understanding of wine because I was given the trust to use my knowledge, and encouraged to talk about the wine and feel confident in what you are doing. I've worked in places before where the sommelier is the person who presents the wine and is usually the only point of contact for the guest, according to it's a little more restrictive for the others working in service you don't get to learn as much because there is this one person who leads the wine program. Being in a team, in a group of people where everyone learns together, everyone is an equal person in the team, you just soak up a lot more information and therefore you learn way more because you are just actively learning and tasting all the time.
Return: Do you keep it like this in what you do today, you keep on working with your team in a more open structure?
Yeah, super open. There aren't any roles in this kind of sense per se, like this is the wine person or so. I really strive for everyone to have an equal input in terms of talking with guests about wine. What I'm trying to say is, I wouldn't want anyone to feel that they weren't in a position to recommend an wine, there is no authority that way. I do oversee the wine list and we do have a structure in place. Naturally there are some on the team that know more than others about wine than others, but this shouldn't hold anyone at Barra back. We are all equal in that sense, and taste and train regularly together.
Nowadays, do you have any favorite wines or winemakers?
An all-time favourite is Rietsch from Alsace, I always enjoy their wines and I can't quite go wrong with them. They are a go to. Alsace in general does that for me.
Domaine Ligas is a winemaker where every wine I tried from them last year never failed to surprise me.
But no favourites in particular that I can think of right now!
Return: If you have met winemakers, is there a moment with someone that sticks in your mind? Someone who changed your thinking about wine?
I had the opportunity to spend a week with Trossen in Mosel. I first met him at the same wine fair where we have met Patrice Beguet as well, Wine Salon Naturel in Cologne. I approached Trossen's table and before we even started to try the wines, he began talking about the part of Mosel that he lives in, describing the landscape of the region and his vineyards, how he grew up with wine as a boy. We must have talked for ten minutes before we even started to taste any of his wines. That was the first interaction I had with him and I was like "this guy is amazing". In summer 2019 I spent a week there working on the vineyards with my Mum, doing the Unpage, and some pruning. It was very meticulous work, we had to carefully select the leaves which needed to be cut off in order for the grapes to ripen properly. That is a winemaker who has had a big influence on me. He and his wife Rita, are very set up in the way that they work and believe very deeply in a certain philosophy of winemaking, very much the Steiner way of thinking. Hey's so quite opinionated about how people in Mosel, and winemakers in general work. His vision is super clear, and whether people agree with it or not, I respect that doesn't sway in any other direction. I learned a lot and have a great appreciation for him. He is very headstrong, which is not always the right way to be, but being so passionate and self assured, that was quite influential for me.
Do you have any thoughts on the natural wine scene in Berlin?
In terms of a person drinking in the natural wine scene?
Return: Whatever you like to respond to. Could be both. Professional and Leisure.
In terms of being a customer or guest or someone going out for drinks, it's an exciting time. There are many new openings; restaurants, wine bars and wine shops. There are a lot of different winemakers which are becoming available in Berlin now too. I found in the early days the range available was quite restricted and you found yourself always drinking the same wines.
So it's hard to think about it now because we can't go to any places to drink or eat. That seems so far away right now.
Return: Are you seeing yourself more in the gastronomy scene or in the natural wine scene, if there is such a thing?
I see myself in both boxes, so for me personally identifiable there isn't such a thing. I can't think of one I relate to more ...
Return: Delicate question!
But then I'm thinking of it quite different about these two scenes. Perhaps because of the word 'scene'. Natural Wine scene in Berlin ....
Return: It's hard to pin down.
It is still such a small scene, in comparison to other cities. When I think of a community; everyone pushing for the same good thing in wine, for the winemaker, end consumer and industry, this is not always the feeling I get in Berlin. Which is not what I have experienced in other cities. But I do feel it getting a bit tighter and less egocentric here too.
What are you doing at the moment? And do you have any plans for the future to share? How do you see yourself in the future?
As I get a little older and gastronomy takes its toll on me, I can't imagine myself working in service forever. But I definitely imagine myself working with wine forever. I just need to see what kind of path it takes me down. I don't know what that would be. I always wanted to work more with the land and with vineyards, I'm not saying I wanna be a winemaker...but to do so learn more about the practice of making wine is quite appealing. I really don't know where I see myself but somehow on a spectrum with wine.
What would you like to listen to lists to the wines from Patrice Beguet we've just tried?
Ah, that is a good question. Because we talked a lot when tasting, about Patrice's approach to winemaking, this topic of scientifical, mathematical thought, because of his previous career path. The winemaker has a very structured plan and equation. Even though some of the wines we tried today are still a little young, you can feel this thought out process in the wine. There is still a lot of energy and a lot of the wines have this amazing spritzieness, as well as depth.
Hot Chip is too shiny, something not as dark as Aphex Twin, but along the lines of a calculated music-making.
Lone Swordsman by Daniel Avery. It's a relatively new track from him. You feel that the whole track has been very much mapped out, and I find there's a serious and deep nature to all of his music. But especially on this particular track there are these very vibrant, bright sounds and layers in the forefront. It's the kind of track which you can read a lot into, but also dance along too, much like Patrice's wines.