Wine expert Neil Sowerby visits Leeds and West Yorkshire in search of some natty wine knowledge

You can bet your last bung the bottles Tory apparatchiks were smuggling into Downing Street didn’t qualify as "natural wine". Supermarkets may have caught up on "craft beer" and are packing the chill counters with dubious plant-based convenience foods, but minimum intervention vino from small scale producers? Not on their radar.

Look elsewhere, though, and wine produced without the aid of herbicides and pesticides, with less manipulation in the fermentation process, is certainly no fleeting trend. Now accounting for an estimated one per cent of wine production worldwide, the natural stuff tallies with our yearning for artisanal purity and a return to traditional basics in the teeth of environmental degradation.

It is important to strike the right balance, as even the most avid natural wine aficionado might fancy a glass of “traditional” claret from time to time

This "rewilding" of wine doesn’t come cheap. The prices, necessarily higher, can be as dazzling as the labels, so a bottle purchase can feel like a fizzy/hazy risk too far, a step in the dark. Still, there’s lots of advice and chances to taste by the glass first. Proof that natural wine has infiltrated the Millennial/Gen Z mindset is the rapidly increasing availability. 

In sheer weight of outlets, Leeds and its West Yorkshire hinterland possibly lag behind Manchester and Liverpool, but there’s still a fascinating scene and I couldn’t resist including true Yorkshire pioneers, Buon Vino, who launched outside Settle well over a decade ago, when even organic and biodynamic wine were a hard sell. They joined seven other frontline champions of Natural Wine – shops, bars, restaurants – in answering five questions, seeking to find the secret of its sudden appeal. The answers were reliably refreshing.

A - Why and how did you get hooked on natural wine? 

B - Has the battle been won with consumers or is it still perceived as a millennial niche choice?

C - Name me an entry-level wine on your list you’d particularly recommend.

D - And one at the high end?

E - Chuck in an unfamiliar, possibly challenging, wine you wish to convert customers to?

Steve At Wayward Wines In Leeds
Steve Nuttall at Wayward Wines in Leeds Image: Neil Sowerby

Wayward Wines | Leeds

Founder Steve Nuttall has been in the vanguard of the natural wine movement in the North. His bottle shop/bar in hip Leeds location Chapel Allerton may be tiny but packs a big influence, especially as he is now importing wines direct.

It was not long after completing my WSET Level 3 around 2012, at the point where you are perhaps a little overly confident in your newfound knowledge, you quickly realise you’re barely scratching the surface. 

A restaurant manager friend was listing some Italian wines. I tasted Orsi San Vito, Le Coste and ArPePe and they blew me away. I was suddenly shown something that existed in counterpoint to everything I’d learned. I quickly started buying the wines myself and listing them at The Reliance, where I was working at the time. It didn’t take long for the bug to get a grip and I left to open Wayward with Reliance’s Joss & Becs in 2017. It’s been a buzz to ship and distribute our own range. We just started working with our eighth grower.

The way the wine is sometimes marketed can give the impression it’s a new-fangled thing or a fad, but I think that ultimately people will realise it’s actually a well-established tradition here to stay. 

When we first listed an orange wine by the glass down at the Reliance 99 per cent of people would ask what on earth that was – now folk come in specifically looking for it. Aside from all the growers who have been making wine this way for decades, many more are taking over family domaines and converting, or first-time winemakers are adopting from the get-go. It’s an exciting time. But you will never find authentic natural wine in a supermarket – if you find something claiming it, be very suspicious.

C Under £20 I think the Ardèche wines of Le Mazel give so much for so little. I personally lean to their Grenache, Cuvée Briand (£19.75). Very inky and herbaceous. Also for a wine at this sort of price they lay down incredibly well, too. We’ve still got a few cases of their Syrah from 2006, even. Vigneron Gérald Oustric is a very humble guy who’s done so much for natural wine in that part of the Rhône.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression I’m constantly swigging Champagne, but I treated myself to a bottle of Blanc d’Argile from the Aube producer Vouette et Sorbée (£83) for my 40th birthday last year and it really was an experience. It’s like the wine is almost electrically-charged – raising the hair on your arms a bit. A dangerous one to get a taste for, but worth every penny.

People have been conditioned to believe that Prosecco should cost no more than £7 a bottle. When they try something by Costadilà or Casa Coste Piane it changes their opinions. Sparkling red wine or Lambrusco is another – the general perception is that it is all sweet and a bit naff. To enjoy a bottle of Cà de Noci or Vittorio Graziano alongside the rich, hearty cuisine of Emilia-Romagna is where it all starts to make sense. *£10 corkage charge for drinking in.

Wayward Wines 1C Regent St, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4PE

Once Upon A Vine Bottle Shop In Horsforth
The bottle shop at Once Upon a Vina with tables for tastings Image: Neil Sowerby

Once Upon a Vine | Horsforth, Leeds

Simon Cocks launched his Horsforth wine shop/bar with artisan cheese and charcuterie boards in 2016.

Opening Once Upon A Vine was the culmination of a 10-year journey that has combined both traditional and low intervention wine.

It’s still an ongoing battle. As a wine merchant, it is important to strike the right balance, as even the most avid natural wine aficionado might fancy a glass of “traditional” claret from time to time. At OUAV we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. It’s definitely younger people who tend to come in asking for natural wines, but that’s not to say that more experienced wine drinkers shut themselves off from new ideas. 

Ottavio Rube Rosso (£13.50) from Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s a blend of Dolcetto and Croatina with ripe, crunchy red fruit flavours. I went to visit them a couple of years ago – they operate almost like a commune with different families in charge of different tasks. Every day they get together for a big communal lunch. It was a fabulous experience and the wine is delicious.

D Phinca Hapa Rioja Blanco (£26.50) is a really interesting minimal intervention white Rioja that has had some skin contact, so it is quite textural. Tasted on its own, it is quite a hard sell but when we pair it with cheese here in the shop people go mad for it.

E I won’t name the actual wine as I don’t want to upset the producer, but we’ve had a couple of wines that come in clear glass bottles and you can see lots of bits floating around in it as it is unfined and unfiltered. Whenever consumers pick up bottles like that they immediately assume it is faulty. That being said, it can help kick off a conversation and engagement with the customer. *£8 corkage charge for drinking in; free corkage Sundays.

Once Upon a Wine 21 Town St, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 5LJ

Bottle Chop Exterior In Headingly Leeds Wine Shop
Bottle Chop in Headingley Image: Neil Sowerby

Bottle Chop | Headingley, Leeds

Gemma and Elli Williams opened their coffee shop, Fika North in Headingley in April 2019. All the coffee they serve is from small scale artisan roasters and so natural wine seemed a similar, obvious fit, so Bottle Chop was born around the corner.

When we were locked down in March 2020 we spent some time researching natural wine as it intrigues us. Then when we felt it safe enough to re-open as takeaway only, we added wines into our window. And they sold. Our customers love trying things. Orange wine sold especially well. Hence the creation of this wine shop, beer shop, micro deli and bar.

Interestingly no, I don’t believe so. There is an ongoing relationship being built with our customers and watching our regulars and newcomers go on a journey of discovering new wines is really fun. We serve natural wine from the keg, by the glass to sit in and enjoy, along with a bottle refill service. This way customers can try the wine and chat before they buy. One of the biggest growth areas is the amount of orange wine bought. At our orange wine nights on the first Wednesday of each month especially, when we have three different examples by the glass.

C Lo Petit Fantet d'Hippolyte Rouge (£13.50) is a cracker of a value red that does not disappoint. Fruity, fresh with a perfect amount of crunch, this a definition of a crowd-pleaser, from the traditional to the natty wine drinkers.

D La Comedie (£31). Who doesn't love treating themselves to some fizz every now and again, so why not make it a beautiful pet nat. This is an amazing sparkling red that is light, bright, and perfect for celebrating. *Pétillant Naturel is made with the méthode ancestrale, where the wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, without the addition of secondary yeasts or sugars – in contrast to the Champagne method. 

A current favourite has to be La Partouze (£24) from Lori of Petit Oratoire. It's not quite a red, white, or a rose but is damn delicious, made from all 13 of Lori's grapes, creating a wine that is light, aromatic, juicy, bright, and just a tonne of fun. *£10 corkage charge for drinking in.

Bottle Chop 14 Weetwood Ln, Headingley, Leeds LS16 5LX

Duncan And Ola At Kwas Wine Shop Bar
Duncan and Ola in Kwas Wine Shop & Bar in Huddersfield Image: Neil Sowerby

Kwas Wine Shop & Bar | Huddersfield

Polish-born Ola Dabrowska, with partner Duncan Sime (ex-Magic Rock and Red Deer Club Records), opened this wine bar/shop in late 2018. Three years later, after a crowdfunding campaign, it has expanded into a much larger unit next door, still just a five minute walk from Huddersfield train station. It’s now also home to a grocery and an in-house bakery.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather; he would make his own wine from the grapes and fruit that he had (organically) grown on his allotment, and some of my earliest memories are of helping him to harvest. There was never a point where I got hooked on natural wine – to me, low intervention, organically grown and vegan wine is how wine should be. 

KWAS (the name means acid in Polish) was born out of need, as much as love. Duncan and I really struggled to source natural wine options locally; one day I said ‘I want to open a natural wine shop and bar locally’ and he replied ‘OK’. That simpleSome people thought it would have made more economic sense to set up in Manchester, where we both have a large community of friends. Huddersfield didn’t really have a thriving vegan/organic scene and the initial financial outlay was a big risk, but we love this town and felt the need for a local offering.

B I’m not sure if it’s a battle. Obviously, our preference would be for all wines to be as natural as they can possibly be, and for all to move away from industrialised farming practices; the use of synthetic pesticides and practices like netting etc. We have definitely seen an expansion in terms of our reach. In terms of generational zeitgeist, I’d say we have a healthy spread of customers from the Post-War, to Gen Z; much like the growers and winemakers themselves.

C  You can enter the world of natural wine at any point, with any wine! OIlieux Romanis ‘Lo Petit Fantet d’Hippolyte’ Rouge is a great expression of a classic Carignan, Grenache and Syrah blend from the Corbières region, at an amazing price (£13.50).

D We try not to carry much over the £45 mark in the shop, as we want natural wine to be as accessible as possible, but Ancre Hill’s Blanc De Noirs (£40) is something quite special, with the added bonus of being from the UK (Monmouthshire).

E I’d love for more people to feel confident in buying Georgian wines – especially given that it’s believed to be the world’s first winemaking country. Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli (£16.50) i a really interesting orange wine, fermented in qvevri (clay amphora), and we love it at KWAS. *£8 corkage charge for drinking in.

Kwas Wine Shop & Bar 3 Viaduct St, Huddersfield HD1 5DL

A Cosy Corner At The Moorcock Inn Sowerby Bridge
A cosy corner at The Moorcock Inn, Norland Image: The Moorcock Inn, Norland

The Moorcock Inn | Norland, Sowerby Bridge

Aimee Tufford curates one of the UK’s most eclectic drinks lists at this moorland destination, to match the food created by her partner Alisdair Brooke-Taylor. First reviewed by Confidentials in 2018, it was No.30 in the recent Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub list.

Our wine list is relatively large, and largely natural, with wines chosen for their purity, freshness, balance and occasional quirkiness. It's a selection that is always growing and changing and we're always happy to help you to navigate it. It features some classic regions and grape varieties, and some lesser-known. They all have in common; being hand made by small producers, farmed organically or biodynamically, receive minimal intervention in the vineyard and have few or no added preservatives. We serve at least 12 wines by the glass, a few we daren't remove, but there is always plenty of opportunity to try something new.

C Arndorfer Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria. It retails at £15 from Buon Vino (see below) and is on our list at £28. It’s somehow silvery in appearance. There’s rich stone fruit notes and spice, contrasted with lots of minerality and freshness. A slight haze in appearance, but not at all a 'funky' wine, clean and lovely all the way. Lots going on for the money. 

D I will forever be a sucker for white Burgundy, so this is inevitable. On our list at £66 (a bargain) Domaine de Chassorney 'Combe Bazin', St. Romain, Burgundy. At the fuller-bodied end of medium, it offers creamy, lemon-y, apple-y fruit, a little vanilla spice and some smoke. It has a notably savoury, flinty mineral core. 

E The best red grape of the Loire – Pineau d'Aunis! Bursting with red and black berry fruit, sometimes with a slightly astringent herbaceous note, and then the best bit – The ever-present, distinct, black pepper spice note on the finish. It makes for an easy-drinking yet characterful wine. (The 2018 Clos de l’Elu ‘Esperance’ is £54). Or orange wine made with aromatic grape varieties, Muscat in particular.

The Moorcock Inn Moor Bottom Ln, Norland, Sowerby Bridge HX6 3RP

Selection Of Natural Wines At Coin Restaurant Hebden Bridge
Natural Wines at COIN Hebden Bridge Image: Neil Sowerby

COIN | Hebden Bridge

Chloe Greenwood cut her oenophile teeth at the Moorcock, where Oliver Lawson, her partner at this new bar venture also worked after stints at the likes of El Gato Negro and Mana. Low-intervention wines are matched here to Italian charcuterie platters and simple small plates.

For an entry to natural styles I love the orange Sauvignon Blanc, Vronsky from Slobodne. It's not too extreme in style, so it's a great introduction to the world of orange wine and as always with Slobodne, it's exceptionally well made. Fresh citrus fruit, a little grippy, a touch of lemongrass. (£8.70 per glass, £33 per bottle) For an entry-level price point, however, the Entre Vinyes Oniric Rosat is a stand-out. A Spanish rosé made from Trepat and Garnacha, it's refreshing and dry with flavours of fresh summer berries and peaches. Great value for money at £6.50 per glass, £26 per bottle.

D My absolute favourite on our list; Clos des Plantes 'Poiesis'. Chenin Blanc from Anjou, Loire. Ripe stone fruit, honey and floral notes with pinpoint acidity and a rich, textured mouthfeel. £58 per bottle.

E Atelier Kramar 'Bohem', a blend of Malvasia, Istriana and Friulano (also known as Sauvignon Vert) from Brda, Slovenia. Everything about this wine on paper is unusual, and the theme continues into the bottle. It's acidic, fresh and a bit herbal, balanced by a full body and a touch of salinity on the finish. Perfect with a plate of charcuterie but equally as enjoyable when sipped alone. £47 per bottle (not yet listed by the glass but will be soon at £11.75).

COIN Hebden Albert St, Hebden Bridge HX7 8AH

Shane At Imaginary Wines
Shane Kilgarriff at Imaginary Wines Image: Neil Sowerby

Imaginary Wines | Todmorden 

Shane Kilgarriff boasts impressive cocktail (and coffee) credentials. After managing the bar at the Michelin-starred Clove Club in Shoreditch he joined Adam Day to create Peggy’s, an acclaimed cocktail hideaway off Chapel Street, Salford. His latest project is a natural wine bar/shop in Yorkshire border town Todmorden. Imaginary Wines is scheduled to open in Water Street in March 2002 after much enthusiasm for his pop-up events and online service.

A Imaginary Wines started as a selfish urge to have more nice wine in my life. Given that there was nowhere to buy the wines I like to drink, it made sense for me to be the one to provide them. After deliberating throughout lockdown I finally bit the bullet and ordered some wine in. 

My first real experience of low intervention wines was when I ran the bar at The Clove Club in London (circa 2014/15). The sommelier there was really enthusiastic about winemakers who were shattering the dusty, out-of-date image of the category and creating vibrant, exciting wines. I tried wines that remain among my favourites today, and which I intend to stock. After many visits to some of Europe’s best wine bars my passion for wines made in a thoughtful and respectful way was secured. 

B As with craft beer, some people are interested in the details of it and some aren’t. Ultimately the product has got to taste good, and a number of wines exist in the category which are just not very good. The key is to ensure the ones people taste are the good ones. Also, price is important, especially outside of city centres where the idea of spending £30+ on a bottle might seem not only extravagant but downright reckless. Not everyone is going to buy into the idea that lower grape yields or faithful farming methods add cost to every bottle, but that is the reality of products that aren’t industrially farmed. I am happy to fly a millennial flag though. They make up nearly a quarter of the UK population.

The list is still not finalised yet as I am in the process of renovating the shop, but I think Les Fées Papillon by La Vrille et Le Papillon is an excellent value rosé from the Ardèche. And it is imported by Wayward – a Yorkshire beacon of excellent wine. It has bright red fruit, with a well structured refined finish. Probably on for £14.50.

I really enjoy the wines of Milan Nestarec, a producer in Moravia, Czechia. TRBLMKR 2017,  made from the native Neuberger grape, is a fantastic showcase of just how good wines in this region can be. It’s a skin-contact wine, orange in colour, with a deep, almost nutty complexity to it when first opened. After a few minutes in the glass, it is juicy, with bags of apricot and citrus, with a pleasing, soft tannic structure. Probably on for £37.50.

E I reckon the one above ticks this box too!

Imaginary Wines @imaginary_wines

Buon Vino Shop
the natural wines on off at Buon Vino Image: Neil Sowerby

Buon Vino | Austwick

Rob Bagot followed cheesemonger neighbours The Courtyard Dairy up the A65 from Settle to an Austwick site and his shop/online business is equally influential – in the world of natural and biodynamic wines.

A I first got into natural wine about 12 to 13 years ago after leaving Majestic and setting up my own company specialising in Italian wine, Buon Vino. I was initially in search of quality and authenticity above all, wines that were produced in a few thousand bottles and had a story and a face behind them. I wasn't really aware of anything called ‘natural wine’ at the time). What moved me was more often than not was an organic, artisan wine from a grower I had never heard of. Naturally those bottles cost a bit more than the £7.95 Majestic stuff, but it was so much more appealing, if not always perfect. These wines were cool, fresh, the label told me nothing, yet drinking them, I wanted to know more, it was an epiphany. 

At first, it was hard trying to sell them. Many people rejected the wine, too cloudy, tastes like cider, smells like the toilet, the usual stuff, but over the years the natural wine movement has grown and grown. Now, everyone is after it, in particular, a younger demographic. Natural production has to be the future for our planet too, as conventional wine destroys the land and environment, so natural is win, win.

B In general I would say – yes the battle is won. Emerging wine drinkers want natural, and eventually, the Claret-obsessed drinker of the 80s will die off. Of course, natural generally means smaller production, higher quality, so higher price point. There will always be a market for the cheap stuff and for the foreseeable future, that will remain in conventional, chemical-based farming (although we are now at over 20per cent coverage of organic vine and growing fast).

C For entry, we think under £15, so maybe Les Olivier CDR Vignerons Estezargues 2020 (£10.95), a bit more for Le Vent dans Les Voiles Vermentino 2020 (£15.95).

D There are so many but for pure emotion. Julien Courtois Elements 2016 (£43) from the Loire, Chateau de Beru – Terroir de Beru 2018 (£37) from Chablis and Chappaz Grain Arvine de Fully 2017(£50) rom the Valais in Switzerland.

E There are great wines coming out of Spain, from all areas. Although a bit challenging, the wines from Oriol Artigas are super cool. Try Alella Oriental del Bardissots Oriol Artigas 2019 (£23).

Buon Vino The Courtyard Dairy, Austwick LA2 8AS

Read next: 'An act of daring in a cautious climate' Coin, Hebden Bridge, reviewed

Read again: The best things to eat in and around Leeds in February

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