Tami Wong, a local sommelier and contributor to this magazine, is one of the organizers for the second annual Nat Diego Festival, returning July 27 & 28. We caught up with her for a quick Q&A:
So, what exactly is Nat Diego?
Nat Diego is San Diego’s very own festival celebrating natural wine. We aim to entertain and inform as well as provide a meeting place between the winemakers and the consumers.
How do you define a “natural” wine?
Think about how people have made wine for thousands of years before the advent of chemical additives.
I define a natural wine as one that was farmed, at the very least, in a sustainable, responsible manner, preferably using organic or biodynamic methods.
Minimal intervention in the winemaking process — letting the grapes do their own thing without adding anything or taking anything away — is the key philosophy.
This includes allowing fermentation to start with the indigenous yeasts that live on the grape itself and in the winery and not adding cultured yeasts. Neutral vessels are favored for fermentation and aging as they do not add the flavoring that new barrels do. Adding small amounts of sulphur to stabilize the wine at bottling is fine.
Natural wine is generally marked as such by a lack of processing. Again, this is a grey area, but techniques like de-acidification and removing alcohol are frowned upon. Most natural wines are not filtered or fined, which is why they can be hazy or have wine diamonds, also known as tartrates.
Frankly, part of the problem with natural wine is that it occupies a giant grey area. There is not one strict definition or set of rules for winemakers to follow. Nat Diego exists to start the conversation and give people the opportunity to learn for themselves what natural means by speaking with the winemakers, tasting the wines and asking questions.
What’s different this year from last year’s inaugural event?
One of the points of feedback from the public last year was that people wanted more education, so we have seminars planned for Friday. Our friends at Slow Food will join us to discuss farming for the 11 a.m. Then, the Local Panel happens at 3 p.m. and, so far, 1 p.m. is TBD. All seminars are free for qualified trade, so contact us sooner than later for a seat.
Pet Nasty, the opening party at The Rose on Friday night, features all pet-nats.
And finally, one of the points of feedback from growers from last year is that they wanted to be able to mingle with the other growers, so the Grand Tasting on Saturday is all in one place this year, at Bread & Salt.
Which local wineries are participating?
Where is the production of natural wine prevalent?
California leads the way with a number of small artisanal wineries. The Loire Valley in France has a quite a few natural producers. There are many growers from the Old World, classically European countries, using ancestral method which just means they farm and make wine the way their ancestors did five generations ago. South Australia excites us too with a new generation of forward-thinking growers quite similar to California.
How can folks learn more about natural wine?
A great starting point is your local wine shop or wine bar, like The Rose and Vino Carta. Those folks are knowledgeable and passionate about natural wine. Taste as many wines as possible, ask questions, then, when you find your favorite producers, visit their websites as they are frequently full of information. Widen your search with the internet and visit the site of Demeter USA for more about biodynamic farming and certification. Anything you find about organic farming can apply to winegrowing. Alice Feiring has preached the gospel of natural wine for many years, so check out her newsletter, The Feiring Line. Be curious, the adventurous are richly rewarded.