If you’ve been happily going through your life thinking that all wines are created equal, sadly – they’re not. On one hand you have the McDonalds of wines, the Yellowtails and Apothics, the antithesis? Natural wine. Erik Mercier, co-owner of Juice Imports, DipWSEt and Alberta’s most devoted natural wine champion answers five questions to help you better understand natural wine!

VS: Natural wine doesn’t have true definition (yet), what does the term mean to you?
EM: For myself, Natural Wine is a spectrum of wines that contain as few additives as possible without compromising the quality of the final product. Anything that doesn’t need to be used in winemaking is eschewed. The mantra is often “Nothing Added, Nothing Removed” as most Natural Wines are also unfined and/or unfiltered. To pull these two things off you need exceptionally healthy grapes which means paying more attention in the vineyard, better vineyard sites, and generally using organic practices. It’s primal, it’s pure, it’s a little rustic, and it’s wonderfully delicious.

Here’s an analogy:

Remember when your mom used to cook you steak? She wouldn’t necessarily buy the best cut but she would marinate that sucker in everything you could think of to give it flavor. She’d then proceed to overcook it (for safety, obviously). You’d then smother it in BBQ sauce to save the poor beast. And you know what? It tasted darn good! This is how many conventional wines are made: the addition and correction of flavors.

Natural wine on the other hand is how you’d cook a steak. You get the best cut you can find, season it with a little salt and pepper, grill it to perfection and skip the frilly garnishes. It’s primal, it’s pure, it’s a little rustic, and it’s wonderfully delicious.

VS: How does that make it different from wines most people are used to drinking?
EM: Mass produced wines (and even some premium ones) are often heavily manipulated and contain a handful of additives. These things don’t need to be included on the label and there are very few laws preventing wineries from doing whatever they’d like to their products before sale. For example, many conventional wines are given a healthy dose of sulphur at bottling as well as at every other step in the process whereas natural wines only receive a tiny amount of sulphur is often added only at bottling, for stability.


Conventional Wine Natural Wine
Often famed with systemic pesticides, herbicides, and artificial soil supplements Often farmed sustainably, organically, or biodynamically
Exceptionally high yields for quantity Low yields to ensure perfectly healthy, ripe and flavorful grapes
Often harvested by large machines Always harvested by hand
Laboratory cultured yeasts and yeast nutrients added to the wine to start fermentation Ambient yeasts from the air carry out fermentation
Color, flavor, tannin, acidity, enzymes and sugar are added Nothing is added
The wine is fined using fish bladders or egg whites to make it clear The wine is left to settle naturally, or bottled cloudy
The wine is sterile filtered, run through a reverse osmosis machine, and spun at super high speeds to remove certain flavors Nothing is done to the wine
The wine receives a healthy dose of sulphur at bottling as well as at every other step in the process A tiny amount of sulphur is often added only at bottling, for stability.


VS: It’s a pretty hot topic, Calgary is starting to catch on, but it’s quite popular other places in the world. Natural wine obviously has roots dating back to the beginning of wine-making, but where/how did the modern era catch on?

EM: Natural Wine may not have caught on in Calgary yet, but all the top food cities in the world are rejoicing over these wines. Noma (the number one restaurant in the world) converted their wine list entirely to Natural Wines several years ago. The same can be said about Eleven Madison Park and other top restaurants around the world. Natural Wine Bars in Barcelona, London, Paris, and Tokyo are quickly out pacing their conventional counter parts. Like with fashion and music, it’ll take us a couple years to catch the wave, but I’m incredibly excited!

Natural Wine has always existed, but the 80s, 90s and 00s were all about ‘big flavor’ wines instead. We were demanding wines with high octane fruit and plenty of oak. These wines were admittedly delicious but it left some Sommeliers searching for wines that showed real local character. They ended up in the Jura, a gorgeous and secluded corner of France. Over the last 10+ years, this region and its wines have inspired legions of loyal followers: sommeliers, winemakers, and consumers. The cult spread like wild-fire, an underground cultural upheaval of the wine world.

The advent of new technologies (not unlike those that have made fast-food the center of our gastronomic universe) allowed us to mass produce these flavors. Coloring called Mega-Purple was added to give the illusion of depth; alcohols were artificially increased to add body and sweetness; tartaric acid was added to balance the jammy flavors; the wines were heavily filtered to make them consistently clear and shiny.

Although these wines are admittedly delicious, they tend to lack complexity, honestly and a sense of place. Sommeliers were getting fed up and started scouring the globe for wines with real local character, and drinkability. They ended up in the Jura, a gorgeous and secluded corner of France whose wines never changed to chase the trend of fruit-bombs. Over the last 10+ years, this region and its wines have inspired legions of loyal followers: sommeliers, winemakers, and consumers. The cult spread like wild-fire, an underground cultural upheaval of the wine world.

VS: How does is taste different? What can wine drinkers expect from a bottle of natural wine?
There are a couple key sweeping generalizations I like to make about how Natural Wines taste.

  1. They tend to be lower in alcohol than conventional wines. These producers refuse to acidify their wines, so they need to pick grapes earlier which leads to less alcohol in the final product. This makes most of the wines really refreshing with zesty acidity.
  2. Natural Wines have flavors other than fruits. The complex array of yeasts and microorganisms that contribute to a Natural Wines fermentation mark the wine with an astonishing array of flavors. Many of these are best described as earthy, herbal, vegetal, or floral. Classic descriptors range from sage leaves, to juniper berries, to dried mushroom.
  3. The wines are seldom perfectly clear. Think of these wines as the equivalent of freshly squeezed orange juice; it’s not a flaw and these particles actually add texture and flavor to the wines making them feel alive.

There’s as much diversity (if not more) in these wines than in conventional wines so if you try one and don’t like it, don’t give up. Whether you like Chianti, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, there is a natural wine out there for you!

VS: If someone wanted to try a natural wine, what would be your recommendation?
My ultimate recommendation is to try a bottle of Dirty & Rowdy Mourvèdre. It embodies everything I love about natural wine. The grapes come from sustainably/organically farmed vineyards in California. Whole bunches of grapes (stems and all) are fermented using completely wild yeasts before being aged in neutral oak barrels. Nothing is added other than a small amount of sulphur before bottling.

It’s two guys and their wives making a tiny amount of wine they truly believe in. They’re even using corks made from recycled sugarcane to reduce their environmental impact! No wonder they were just featured on the cover of Wine & Spirits Magazine. (GQ called it the number one wine to try in 2017).

Feel like you need more? Follow Erik, @juiceimports and look out for his wine, we even have some of the Dirty & Rowdy Mourvèdre on the shelf!


Whites with snappy acidity and vibrant flavours that will awaken your senses

Our crisp whites offer lovely refreshing acidity and a nice citrus punch; these wines will revive you and make you feel like you’re enjoying fresh fruit in an orchard in the middle of July. Think about of the last time you were out somewhere in the heat of the summer; one of those days when the pavement was melting, the paint was peeling off buildings and all you could think about was how badly you wanted something to quench your thirst. When you stumbled onto a lemonade stand and took that first sip, you were cured.

We can’t say our wines will cure dehydration but they are a great option while you’re enjoying patio weather.



You’ll find varietals like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Riesling and Vinho Verde and more!



Loved for their understated qualities these whites are beautiful and exotic

Talking about mellow wine is like talking about a classic film star. She’s a lady with international acclaim and classic appeal. Mellow wines don’t jump up and down screaming for attention; instead they prefer to lure you in with their quiet charm and feminine wiles. Swirling a nice Viognier or Pinot Gris is all about soft, intricate and attractive flavours that might make you think about your favourite perfume, stepping into a flower shop or leaving a patisserie where they’ve just taken almond pastries out of the oven. This is Sophia Loren in a glass.



If you enjoy varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc you’ll love this style!



Whites that ask to be a muse. This is Claude Monet’s water lilies’ in a wine glass.

Lavish and luxurious wines with all the razzle-dazzle. Think about the things in life that make you feel like you’re living large. Imagine yourself wearing layers of pearl necklaces, leading a ticker tape parade, eating popcorn laced with truffle oil and lounging on the king bed of the Ritz Carlton penthouse all at the same time. Lush wines are what we drink when we’re feeling on top of the world and when we want to celebrate life. This is 4th of July fireworks and the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Eve all rolled into one beautiful gold package. Bottoms up!



Varietals like Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier are found here.



Ruby reds with a timeless style and appeal; wines that will never go out of fashion.

Elegant reds ask you to dig a bit deeper. Some people enjoy them for the romantic ideas they conjure while others enjoy the subtle nuances that each bottle possesses. We can’t think of a better way to describe elegant reds than talking about Coco Chanel. Think about No. 5, the little black dress or the most importantly the iconic Chanel suit, a true couture item that is well lined, carefully crafted and something that will always be in vogue. An elegant wine is like a nice stroll along the promenade in the seaside town of Biarritz or a day at the ballet in red maillot.



Here you’ll find Pinot Noirs, Gamays, Chiantis and more!



Reds that are pleasant from start to finish

Supple and velvety, smooth reds are a real crowd pleaser; something that everyone loves. Like a popular jazz standard, the best way to sum up these wines is to think about hearing Miles Davis on vinyl. Everyone has heard those tunes and when the horns come in on the track you can’t help but connect over the sheer universal joy in hearing something so incredibly smooth and pleasing to the senses. Miles Davis was one cool dude and that’s how we feel about the wines in this section. You’ll feel like you’re slipping on a new pair of driving gloves every time you pour yourself one.



Varietals such as Grenache, Merlot and mouth-watering blends can be found here.



Our deepest most complex reds; these wines make a statement

Full and flavourful with an intense fruit core, these reds are the talk of the town. Bold wines have an intensity about them that not only commands your presence but also asks you to stay a while. Pretend for a minute that Clint Eastwood has just walked into a bar, stared at you for a long hard second and proceeded to put out a cigar out on his forearm before challenging you to an arm wrestle. You’re heart might skip a beat but you’ll be happy that you tried it. That arm wrestle might be one of the best things you ever do in your life. That’s how we describe a bold wine.



Food friendly varietals like Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are right at home here.



There’s nothing quite like hearing that cork pop!

Call us crazy but the sound of a cork being popped just makes everything better. Headaches dull, clouds seem to part and even the sound of crying children can be drowned out by the wonderful thought that you’ll soon have a stem in hand and an effervescent treat to tickle the end of your nose. A glass of bubbly just spells a plain good time. It might be a celebratory drink with friends, an excuse to get all gussied up for a fabulous night out or it might just be a date with the couch to watch Sex and the City re-runs solo.



Here you’ll find everything from Champagne to Cava, Prosecco, Lambrusco and everything in between!



Wines made with a little extra TLC

What are you going to find in this section? You’re going to find late harvest nectar, ice wines, delectably sweet Rieslings and 5 puttonyos worth of sweetness. And why are you going to love these wines? The grape juice that you’ll find in our Rich section took a lot of extra TLC to make the transition from vine to glass and can be used to make some of the most magnificent food and wine pairings known to man. We just have 3 words for you: Oysters and Sauternes.



This style houses dessert wines like Sauternes, Ice Wine and Tokaji.



Simple and Straightforward

When you think of simple and uncomplicated you can’t help but think of a guy in his college freshmen year. The beers that we’ve categorized as Clean are straightforward and unassuming with bright flavours and not too much complexity. You’ll enjoy these beers more than a keg stand and find them to be about as fresh as a 19 year-old guy at an all girl frat party. Big time!



Light and easy, simple Lagers, Pilsners & Blonde Ales.



Find your zen on our beer wall

Life Coaches and self-help books will tell you that balance is the key to a happy life. That may true but when we’re talking about a balanced style of beer we’re talking about the merits of a good pale ale with well integrated hop and malt flavours. Balanced beers won’t help you understand the deeper meaning of life but they’re still worth sampling for their easy-drinking quality. Take that Deepak Chopra!



Brews such as Brown Ales, Red Ales, Cream Ales, Black Lagers & Dunkels.



For your fun side, beers not meant to be taken too seriously

There is fruity like the Village People and there is fruity like wonderfully citrus kissed Hefeweizen, warm kirsch Belgians and bubbly orchard fruit ciders. While there is no denying the fun of disco and flamboyant cowboys, our Fruity section will give you options to keep you singing and dancing all year long. This is an amiable selection to accompany garden time, dinner parties and of course they pair wonderfully with dessert.



If you’re after a Cider, Radler or any fruit infused brew, you’ll find it here alongside Wheat beers.



The safe way to have an intense experience…

Here’s a short list of things that are truly intense: squirrel suit jumping, big wave surfing and the insane ramblings of Gary Busey. While our Intense selection of beers could be described as big and loud, they certainly won’t lead to death on impact, shark attacks or being verbally abused on Celebrity Apprentice. You’ll love the IPAs and scrumptious Trapist ales. Gary agrees.



Some like it hopped! Here you’ll find IPAs, DIPAs, Trappist brews, Sours & Barleywines.



Beer that leaves an impression

Powerful, sturdy and strapping are all great words to describe the Robust section. Everything you find here possesses strong brawny flavours that leave a lasting impression. Just think back to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s version of Conan the Barbarian; despite the horrifically bad acting that comes with those 80s classics we just can’t help but love the brute force and thick accent. Conan would call you an infidel for drinking anything else.



Home to heartier brews like Stouts and Porters & some Barrel Aged offerings.



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Effortless and exhilarating in any season

It’s undeniable, Rosé is in vogue. It’s enjoying a renaissance following the White Zinfandel craze that swept North America in the 70’s. Today, Rosé is the queen bee. Rosé is your ever fashionable friend. It’s the timeless accessory you can turn to in any season. In the spring it’s like wearing peeptoe shoes on a warm day. In the summer, a breezy dress. In the fall it’s the perfect boots and in the winter, a cozy knit scarf.



Rosés are the product of a myriad of varietals, some of the most common are: Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cinsault.


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