Friday, April 27, 2012

Natural Wine Bars: Terroir in San Francisco, Terroirs in London and La Cremerie in Paris

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller at Terroir in San Francisco

Last year in Pamhagen in Austria in the stone cave below the winery with Werner Michlits, where Werner showed us his magic cow poop and other ingredients for biodynamic farming, I really felt at the forefront of wine making with an ecological mindset (See: At the Forefront of Biodynamic Winemaking: Visiting Werner and Angela Michlits and their Weingut Meinklang in Austria). Last year, I also tasted the Santa Julia wines of Familia Zuccardi, who produce mass wines in Argentina with organic grapes. Argentina, in general, is very well suited for organic wine making (Julia Zuccardi from Familia Zuccardi in Argentina Visited the US to Introduce New Santa Julia Wines). “We practice sustainable agriculture in the vineyard” said Yann-Leon Beyer when I visited Domaine Leon Beyer in Alsace in France (Visiting Yann-Leon Beyer at Maison Leon Beyer in Eguisheim in Alsace). The Donkey and Goat Winery in Berkeley is passionate about the concept of natural wine making in the midst of the city of Berkeley without owning any vineyards (Visiting Jared Brandt and his Donkey and Goat Winery – Natural Wines Made in Berkeley, California). Researchers have found out that from a point of view of minimizing the carbon footprint, New Yorkers should drink Bordeaux instead of domestic wine from California.

There are many winemakers on the “green” route, although they account only for a small fraction of the whole industry. These “green” winemakers came in different shades. The concept of natural wine making is one of several concepts of wine making with an ecological mindset. I have provided a primer about “green” wine making: Organic, Sustainable, Biodynamic, Natural Wines … A Primer for “Green” Wines

This posting focuses on natural wines, in particular on 3 wine bars that serve only “natural” wines: Terroir in San Francisco, Terroirs in London and La Cremerie in Paris. See for more details:

The Natural Wines of Terroir in San Francisco

Focus on Natural Wines: The Terroirs Wine Bar in London

The Natural Wines of La Cremerie in Paris

Weinrallye #50 Naturwein - Natural Wine

This posting is being published as part of the Weinrallye, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "natural wine". Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. The first wine rally took place in 2007. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog.

This month's wine rally is organized by winemaker Iris Rutz, who owns and runs Lisson, a small wine-producing estate in the Jaur Valley, close to Olargues, in the south of France: Two hectares of vineyards nestling in a forest of chestnut trees and ever-green oak. The vines are planted on small terraces on the hill-side behind the house. Lisson has always been a wine-producing estate - right up until the 1930's when the farm had to be abandoned. The fields and vineyard quickly became overgrown with weeds and the forest threatened to take over completely. Claude Rudel bought the farm 25 years ago and when he was later joined by Iris Rutz they decided to fulfill their dream of returning the estate and its landscape to its original agricultural tradition.

Natural Wine

The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for Mother Nature. Natural wines are hands-off wines produced with as little intervention as possible. Generally, the concept of natural wine relates more to what happens in the wine cellar rather than what happens in the vineyard. Again, nowhere is the term defined by law; it is left open to interpretation. Typically, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Commercial yeasts are one of the great culprits in today’s homogenization of wine, imparting their own aromas over those of the grape.

La Cremerie in Paris

La Cremerie is a fascinating little place on the Left Bank near Odeon and Bd St Germain, right in the center of the Quartier Latin, owned and managed by Serge and Helene Mathieu. They sell and pour natural wines and serve small plates of exceptional artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, but also oysters, foie gras, and smoked tuna.

La Crèmerie began its life in 1880 as a dairy, and the interiors remain unchanged today – counters made of slabs of marble, ancient wooden fridges, a fabulous pastel ceiling fresco painted on silk. In 1947, it became a cave à vins and, three years ago, Serge and Helene took over.

Pictures: Impressions from La Cremerie in Paris

It is a small place, just enough room for 12 people to sit down, plus four stools at the bar. There is no kitchen for hot dishes.

The concept of the place is to be both a wine bar and a wine store. You can walk in, choose a bottle, pay and walk away. You can also drink a glass from the (limited) wine-by-the-glass selection, or buy a bottle from the shelves, pay an extra 10 Euro corkage fee and drink it there.

When I was there, it was Serge’s turn. Born in New York, Serge lived all his life in France and is an architect by training. He discovered the “green” wines, loved them and decided to make a profession of that love. I did not meet Helene. She is also an architect. Serge and Helene have four children.

There are about 200 wines, mostly in the Euro 6 to 15 range. But I also saw wines for up to Euro 250. All French regions are represented, with the emphasis on Loire and Burgundy. All wines are artisanal wines from small growers. And all the wines are natural wines.

Several Saucissons and Jambons hang over the counter, from France and Spain. La Cremerie serves small plates of exceptional artisanal charcuterie and cheeses, but also oysters, foie gras, and smoked tuna. The red-bright ham-slicing machine on the counter is a venerable Berkel made in the year 1936. The Berkel company was at the time based in Rotterdam, Holland.

Terroir in San Francisco

Terroir in San Francisco  serves only wines that are considered by the owners as natural wines and that are from the Old World. For the Terroir San Francisco people this has a lot to do with the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. “We certainly have the largest list of wines in the US with no added sulfur, but not all our wines are sulfur free. When they are not, we allow for only very small amounts” said owner Luc Ertoran.

Terroir was inspired by wine bars like La Cremerie in Paris. Like La Cremerie, Terroir is a combined retail store and wine bar. Terroir opened in 2007 selling 70 wines. Now it has 600 to 700 available. Almost all the wines are European. Within Europe, France and Italy dominate.
Pictures: Impressions from Terroir in San Francisco

Terroir looks like a converted warehouse with exposed beams - modern and minimalistic. There is a large open space, a simple, minimal bar, bottles on rough wood shelves and a wine storage area in back. Terroir has a record player in the corner and an extensive collection of vinyl.

As for food, “we have charcuterie and cheese’’ said Luc and we ordered a very nice cheese plate.

Terroirs in London

Terroirs is a wine bar and restaurant situated in the heart of the London West End, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and adjacent to the Charing Cross station. It seats 45 covers with a further 12 seats at the zinc top bar (which are non bookable).

The Terroirs in London is spelled with an s at the end. In terms of the wine selection, it resembles very much the San Francisco Terroir. But while Terroirs London also focuses on natural wine, it defines natural wine in a broader sense than the Terroir San Francisco, wines that I would call “green wines”, wines made with an ecological concept in mind. There are lots of certified organic and biodynamic wines on the list.

 Pictures: Impressions from Terroirs in London

The focus is on France and Italy. I did not see any New World wines. Many of the French growers are certified organic and biodynamic. Several of the Italian growers belong to Vin Veri (Real Wines), a movement of like-minded natural winemakers. About 25 wines are under £20 and 80 in total under £30.

Charcuterie is a feature of Terroirs. The selection changes but usually offers a terrine, a rustic jambon persillé, some French saucisse, lardo di Colonnata and ham. A selection of seasonal cheeses is available. The cheeses can be ordered individually or as part of a selection. There are also quite a number of full-sized dishes - pot-roasted quail with pancetta and gremolata, for example, or salt cod with soft-boiled eggs.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Organic, Sustainable, Biodynamic, Natural Wines … A Primer for “Green” Wines

Visiting Jared Brandt and his Donkey and Goat Winery – Natural Wines Made in Berkeley, California

Excellency and Ecology: The Wines of Gebrueder Dr. Becker in Rheinhessen, Germany

The Millesime Bio 2010 in Montpellier, France: A Discovery of Organic and Biodynamic Wines at the one of a Kind Wine Trade Show

At the Forefront of Biodynamic Winemaking: Visiting Werner and Angela Michlits and their Weingut Meinklang in Austria

One of Oregon's Pioneering Winemakers - Myron Redford - with his Amity Vineyard Wines in Washington DC


  1. Terroirs in London is definitely worth a visit (haven't tried the others yet); it can sometimes be very busy but every time I went there I encountered another really interesting wine.

  2. Yea i agree with previous comment, Terroirs in London is definitely worth visiting. Recently i visited Lucky Clover Bar that was also one of the best bar i ever visited and worth visiting.


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  3. The natural wine scene seems to bustling in London. I had a great lunch at Brawn which sported a stellar (and playful) list of well sourced natural wines, paired with delicious pork-centric cuisine (see logo! Afterwards I visited a new wineshop in the same area run by a very friendly couple Florian & Milena, they are close with the folks at terroir in SF. Don't miss it if you should find yourself in Shoreditch/Bethnal Green! I do have one question... I'll be in D.C. this weekend and I'm wondering if there is any natural winebars/shops stirring around the city?

  4. Dickson on U Street is probably your best bet in Washington DC. Greetings from Germany.

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