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The Lowdown on Natural Wine — Everything You Need to Know From Wild World Festival

It's not just a trend

“Natural wine” is the latest buzzword in the beverage industry. But its trendiness can lead to misunderstandings about what “natural wine” entails.

What makes natural wine different from “regular” wine? Which flavor qualities and visual characteristics are associated with this genre? Why are more and more wineries, retailers and restaurants choosing to add natural wine to their repertoire?

If you’ve had the same questions, the Wild World Festival — which wrapped its annual Austin event on Monday — is the ideal experience. It’s a crash course on natural wine and an opportunity to discover new versions and releases from all over the country.

What Is “Natural Wine”?

Generally speaking, “natural wine” (or “low intervention wine”) refers to wine made without the use of chemical additives. Only organically-grown fruit is used for these wines.

The fermentation process occurs without the help of artificial ingredients. The wines are bottled without undergoing mechanical filtration.

Once bottled, natural wine has the potential to take on infinite forms, with the interplay of grape varietals, flavor profiles and dry-to-sweet levels allowing endless variation.

Chef Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria.
Chef Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria.

Nixta Taqueria Hosts Wild World Festival

Nixta Taqueria provided the optimal setting for a natural wine-devoted event. This destination-worthy restaurant is renowned for its innovative interior Mexican dishes and features natural wines throughout its wine list.

Xolovino Wines, Nixta’s wine-club project that began during pandemic closures, also places a strong emphasis on natural wines from small producers.

This year’s Wild World Festival benefited from cooler-than-normal April temperatures. (Last year, it occurred on a weekend marked by temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.)

“Wine warms you up,” Nixta co-owner Sara Mardanbigi said.

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Wild World FestUnder the Tents at Wild World Festival

After grabbing a glass at the entrance, guests ventured into one of two large tents, where winemakers and vendors established displays.

Wild World featured 44 wineries, breweries and cideries from a range of locations. Jester King Brewery, The Austin Winery and CL Butaud Winery represented the local scene. Other Texas-based destinations, such as Alta Marfa in Marfa, Soto-Vino in the High Plains and Decant Urban Winery in Houston made an appearance.

A few West Coast operations also had booths, such as Breaking Bread Winery from Healdsburg, Calif., Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass, Ore. and Pét Project in Walla Walla, Wash. Can Sumoi in Penedès, Spain represented the international side.

Reds, whites, rosés, skin-contact “oranges” and sparkling wines appeared throughout the wineries’ tasting flights.

Breweries and cideries also had the chance to showcase their organic and naturally-fermented products.

The diverse tent offerings were complemented by vendors offering organic, small-batch foods. Moromi, a soy sauce company from coastal Connecticut, and Casper Fermentables, an Austin-based producer of pickles, kimchi and other fermented foods, were among the vendors providing samples.

Wild World Festival Day 1

While tasting wines was the primary goal, the festival also offered opportunities to attend panel discussions with hospitality professionals and natural wine experts.

On Sunday, the team from Bar & Garden, a wine and liquor shop in Dallas that specializes in natural wines, offered a “Natural Wine 101” course. During the session, they debunked common myths and misconceptions about natural wine.

They also provided context on what it is, how it differs from standard wine and why it’s worth exploring.

The course was a great opportunity for wine enthusiasts to expand their knowledge and appreciate the unique qualities of natural wine.

Eater Austin's Nadia Chaudhury with James Brown of Barton Springs Mill and Sara Mardanbigi of Nixta.
Eater Austin’s Nadia Chaudhury with James Brown of Barton Springs Mill and Sara Mardanbigi of Nixta.

Nadia Chaudhury, editor of Eater Austin, moderated a panel discussion titled “Keep Austin Wild: The Innovators.” The panel featured James Brown of Barton Springs Mill, Sara Mardanbigi of Nixta, Juan Trujillo of Desnudo Coffee and Benjamin Hollander of Casper Fermentables. They shared their experiences using local products and organic practices.

Following this panel was “Ancient Fermentation’s Journey from Cave to Bistro.” During the talk, wine expert Bill Fitch provided a macro and historical perspective on fermentation. Juan Trujillo of Desnudo Coffee, Bob Florence of Moromi Shoyu, Jen Currier of Vidal Cellars and Nick Pauley of Arizona Wilderness Brewing also shared their insights on the topic.

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Wild World Festival Day 2

On Monday, panels kicked off with “The Incomplete History of a Movement.” Freelance journalist Veronica Meewes interviewed wine historians and wine directors who lived in NYC and Paris during the first rumblings of the natural wine movement in the 1980s. They provided valuable background on this often misunderstood and underappreciated movement.

Next up, Wild World founder Bryan Bates led “A Great, Big, Diverse State.” The panel discussion featured hospitality professionals from all over Texas, including Justin Vann of Nancy’s Hustle, Ethan Cummins of Justine’s Brasserie, Celia Pellegrini of Suerte and Matt Bowman of LoLo Wines.

They shared their views on the evolution of the beverage industry in Texas, their visions for the future of restaurants and bars in the state, and what they hope to see more of in the industry.

Wild World FestTo conclude panel discussions, Fitch moderated a nuanced discussion of “The Ethics and Aesthetics of Fermented Beverages.” During the session, Fitch engaged with a panel of experts, including Erin Rasmussen of American Wine Project, Joe Appel of Ras Wines and Rae Wilson of Wine for the People.

They explored how fermented drinks are marketed and presented to consumers, and offered insights on how wine professionals can deepen their guests’ understanding of the ancient traditions behind these techniques.

Don’t Forget About the Food and Coffee

Concession options play a crucial role in any well-planned wine festival. At Wild World, attendees were treated to top-notch choices that complemented the wines perfectly.

Desnudo Coffee, the beloved East Austin coffee truck that brews ethically-sourced Colombian coffee beans, served up delicious and aromatic coffee drinks to keep guests energized.

Wild World Fest

Additionally, there were two high-quality food options available, ensuring that everyone’s taste buds were satisifed.

Nixta offered a small but impressive selection of menu highlights. Among them were its famous duck carnitas tacos, a vegetarian taco made with cauliflower and the Nixta Tlayuda, a Mexican dish similar to pizza loaded with cheese, black beans, avocado, pickled onions, salsa, cilantro and a choice of chorizo or macha carrots.

Finally, Dame NYC, a popular New York City seafood restaurant with an English accent, rounded out the food options. It served bright dishes that suited an afternoon wine festival, including an heirloom tomato sandwich with thick-cut bacon, grilled shrimp with red peppers and saffron aioli, tuna tartare and bottarga on toast and grilled corn slathered with honey butter and garnished with oregano.

Wild World Festival returns to Austin in 2024. Bookmark the website to get next year’s tickets when they’re available.

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