Today (and all days, let’s be real) is Friends Wine Appreciation Day! We believe that drinking wine is as much about friendship as anything else. There’s nothing like sitting down to a bottle of wine with a BFF and having a catch up and a gossip. Friends co-owners, Mary & Emma are both passionate drinkers of natural wine, and pre-pandemic, took a life changing trip to France’s Loire Valley they’ve been meaning to share! There are so many reasons why natural wine is delicious, but this trip made it all the more clear how much this is about supporting small business, something we are also passionate about. They had the special opportunity to connect with an amazing female-run vineyard in France, so read on for more!
In September of 2019, Emma & Mary went to Paris for a trade show. As buyers in New York, they find a lot of local shops have the same products from the same trade shows. Since Friends likes to have unique offerings, they wanted to travel a bit outside their realm, and bring you some European goodies. They struck gold with these fun items:
No, that's not a plate of spaghetti. It's one of many Handmade Italian Candles available at Friends. And what better to light those candles than with these Mini Matches, also sourced from the Paris trade show.
Here are tons of fun Redecker homewares including the mushroom brush pictured above, as well as an olive wood spatula, a wooden bottle brush, a beechwood vegetable brush and more! Not to mention all the cute and fun Doiy products, like these Green Eyed Socks...
After the trade show, Emma & Mary took some time to go on vacation in the Loire Valley. (Remember vacations????) They headed that way without much of a plan except to bask in the glory of this wine region. In the Loire Valley, "natural wine" isn't exactly a trend like it is here, but many vineyards are Natural by default, since it's an old world style of making wine. And so exactly where our wine-loving boss ladies wanted to be.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, natural wine is made with limited interference. There are no additives (sugars, chemicals, and so on), and the fermentation process is with native yeast (what’s already floating around in there without adding anything). Here’s a lot more about it. Mary & Emma had no plan and no appointments set up and very quickly realized two things: 1. It was harvest season, so vineyards were very busy, and 2. You really should call ahead to make appointments :)
But they really really wanted to make this blog happen. So, it was almost destiny they connected with Nadège Lelandais at Les Vignes Herbel.
Emma & Mary absolutely fell in love with this place. Nadège started Les Vignes Herbel with her husband, and when they separated, she decided to do it on her own (while raising two children). She was scared at first, but she persevered, and the love and care she puts into the business radiate. When Mary & Emma met her, it was after the first full season of running it on her own. This was so inspiring for two women small business owners who know appreciate the hard work that goes into such endeavors. She does all the juicing and wine making and label making on her own at her property. In fact, Nadège was stickering her wine bottles in the storeroom while they were tasting!
One special moment was when Nadège brought Mary and Emma into the room where they press all the juice before putting it into the steel barrels to ferment. She offered a taste of her Pét-nat grape juice. Mary described it as “grape juice turned up to 11. So complex. Life changing. Other grape juice is one note. This was sweet, but it tasted like flowers and the countryside and sunshine. It was so delicious. It tasted like wine, but it was sweeter and not fermented yet.” This is also a treat that Nadège’s young son enjoys.
Another cool thing about Herbel is they have one vine that’s from the 1920’s. Nadège makes a sweet white out of it. It’s sweet, but it also tastes more minerally because the grapes are so old. She chose to bottle that one with a bottle cap because the residual sugar might rot the cork out.
When she took on the business herself, she received so much local support from other wine makers of the Loire. Community support is everything we at Friends believe in, too. We love to see it!
So, Mary and Emma tasted with her. They were charmed by her spirit and her story. There was a cute dog and cat roaming the premises. And it was a beautiful and moving day. People in New York love to talk about natural wine as this special thing from small vineyards and how cool that is, but when you actually go see it firsthand in France, and in the Loire Valley, and really see with your own eyes how small it is and how few bottles are actually made, you really realize how truly special it is. Something you can taste.
Since their visit, Nadège has been up to many cool things! She has created Nadège Wines which allows her to buy grapes from other vineyards, outside of the ones she is able to grow. As of this year, she has three new cuvées that are unique from what she has been able to produce with her own grapes. She's run out of wine other years by relying solely on her grapes, and now she can offer more bottles (quantity is always a challenge with natural wine making!).
Also, she is creating a website to sell her own wines. Although she was always happy to direct customers to other businesses and wine merchants to buy her wines, the economic situation has forced her to find new solutions. Nadège’s creativity with her small business is what has allowed her to be able to survive the current climate.
At Friends, we started our Natty Thursday events in 2012, before natural wine became such a huge thing. If you’ve ever been to any event at Friends and had wine, it has been natural. We so so so look forward to the post-COVID days of enjoying wine with you again. There’s an event coming up for 4/20 where we will be handing out fun goodie bags, and in them will be single serving bottles of natural wine from Usual Wines that can be consumed off-site.
It’s been such a blast reminiscing about being able to travel. We miss it so much. We feel excited for the future again with the vaccine rolling out. Soon we’ll be gathering, sharing bottles, hugging, and going to places like the Loire Valley again.
Thank you again, Nadège, for such an inspiring tour through your vineyard. Happy Friends Wine Appreciation Day! Cheers! À votre santé!