In Vancouver, Natural Wines Are Popping Up Everywhere
Organic producers are taking up temporary residence in the city’s coolest cafés.
It seems only fitting that the natural wine movement has found a foothold in Vancouver, a city where the great outdoors often steals the spotlight. Surrounded by majestic mountains and lush rain forests, denizens of this British Columbia city are quaffing these low-intervention, often unfiltered wines in ever-greater quantities. And true to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit, they’re drinking them in a series of pop-up wine events taking place at various restaurants.
Vancouverites have been drinking imported natural wines since the early 2000s, but local makers took up the cause around 2011, when Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine hit bookstores. “That’s when natural wine really tipped into the mainstream here,” says Costa Gavaris, owner and winemaker at the small-batch Rigour & Whimsy, in Okanagan Falls, about 4 1/2 hours east of Vancouver. He and other producers in the Okanagan Valley, as well as the Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley regions, began shifting their methods. Thanks to an accident of geography, B.C. happens to be well positioned for natural winemaking, says Gavaris. Long, sunny summer days that aren’t too hot let grapes ripen slowly, accumulating less sugar and maintaining more acidity than in warmer regions. More acidity means less sulfur is required to be added as a preservative.
Two years after Gavaris began Rigour & Whimsy with his wife in 2015, Juice Bar entered the scene. This natural wine pop-up started in summer 2017 with an Instagram account, an Okanagan vineyard connection, and a small group of friends meeting weekly in the back of The Birds and The Beets, the revered Gastown café. Soon, chefs from forage-and-field–focused kitchens were preparing tapas to complement the rotating selection of natural wines from both local and Old World producers. Now the pop-up takes place four nights per week, with pourings and menus constantly reinvented. “We tend to pour fresh, bright, fruit-forward wines,” says Welsh-born founder Siôn Iorwerth; recent pairings include leavened sourdough pizzas, “a perfect combination with naturally-fermented wines.”
Kitsilano coffee shop Their There is known for Paris-Brest pastries made from Canadian prairie wheat and cronuts with retro-tinged flavors like chocolate malt and cereal milk. But when night falls, the café dusts the icing sugar off its counter and turns into Hundy, a pop-up serving natural wines and pasture-raised-beef burgers, courtesy of chef Michael Robbins, of contemporary Canadian mainstay (and perfect date spot) AnnaLena. Why the pairing? “Natural wine should be fun to drink!” says AnnaLena’s wine director Scott Mitchell, who selects wines that are “lighter, crunchy, and juicy with a slightly rustic appeal” to match the burgers.
On weekend nights, Caffè La Tana, a 1930s-style café on historic Commercial Drive in eastern Vancouver, swaps cappuccino cups for long-stem wine glasses to become Vini Volpe. A project of Vancouver design darling Craig Stanghetta, restaurateur Paul Grunbuerg, and chef Mark Perrier, La Tana—Italian for “the den”—is sister to the popular restaurant Osteria Savio Volpe (“the sneaky fox”). Come Friday night around 6:30 p.m., local DJs haul in their sets, and cicchetti and house-made pastas accompany a weekly rotation of natural wines. A wide range of flavor profiles suits all tastes, like a 2017 Viognier from nearby producer Ursa Major, whose smoky taste can be traced to that year’s massive forest fires in Okanagan.
Vini Volpe at Caffè La Tana: Fridays and Saturdays, 6:30 p.m. until closing; 635 Commercial Drive; +1 604-428-5462