When Jill Mott returned to Minneapolis in 2011 after graduating as a sommelier in Chicago, she wanted to change the city’s wine scene. She found that outside of Chicago, the Midwestern market for low-intervention wines lagged behind places like New York and Los Angeles.
We needed those natural wines that I had in Chicago, like Louis/Dressner and other importers that existed at the time, she says.
Mott searched the region for natural bottles and used his personal contacts to bring in wines not previously available in the state. Meanwhile, some local wine merchants and restaurants have been pressuring distributors to bring in importers who focus on natural wine.
It has always been such a natural winery, Mott says. We were like strange children then.
The Henry & Son Natural Liquor store opened in Minneapolis in 2015 / Photo : Dodd Demas
Over the past two years, Mott has noticed that the tide has turned as customers in liquor stores and restaurants are more interested in low-impact natural wines. If people on the coast are writing more about this, it’s clear that people in the Midwest will be reading and thinking about these publications: What is orange wine? I’d like to try it. ”
Curious shoppers can visit Henry & Son in Minneapolis, a small shop that offers one of the state’s most specialized and important selections of natural wines. The owners, Gretchen Scadsvold and Mark Henry, moved to the area in 2012 after living in New York for several years.
I never thought I would own a liquor store, says Skadsvold, who also has a career in finance. But she found a gap in the wine lists of her favorite restaurants and in the store shelves. She was disappointed with the lack of options.
I just drove around and picked up a few bottles here, a few bottles there, and I realized Minneapolis could use a natural wine shop, she says. So he and Henry opened one of their own in 2015.
There are now more small natural wine shops and distributors in the Midwest. Many of them are run by wine professionals who open their businesses to address the lack of access to their favorite wines in their region.
Frederick Boudani (right) opened a distributor with his partner Brian Bruning (left) to supply natural wines to the Algerian restaurant he runs in Elkader, Iowa / Photo by Naomi Rose.
At Nonfiction Wines in Milwaukee, Allie and Brad Kruse have packed 250 natural wines into a 500-square-foot store. The store, which opened in 2019, is the first in the state to sell all-natural wines.
Alison Dillion, a Milwaukee native and a regular in fiction, became interested in low-intervention wine through her work in the restaurant business. She was happy to see an inventory in her town that met her tastes. I knew these producers and winemakers and I was very happy to be able to drink their wine at home, she says.
When I started bringing natural wines to Iowa, other distributors asked me: Who are you selling it to? Who in Iowa would buy that? If these wines are reserved for the inhabitants of the coast. Fédéric Boudouani, Abou Nawas Beverage Company…
Natural wine bar and bottle shop Cave DSM opened in Des Moines in August. Owners Nick and Heather Leo of Iowa learned about natural wines while living in Europe.
Although bar operations are on hold due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the response has been so positive, Nick says. It was a mix of just curious people, but also a surprising number of people who already know these wines.
Iowans Nick and Heather Leo opened Cave DSM, a natural foods store and bar in Des Moines in August 2020. / Photo : Joey Leaming
Nick McManus, distributor of Okoboji Wines, believes consumer interest in natural wine in the Midwest may overshadow supply.
The demand is there, and I think he’s ready to take off like he did on the coast, McManus says. Iowa, or the Midwest as a whole, seems to be lagging a bit behind.
Importers and distributors are beginning to realize the opportunity to introduce natural wines to the region.
In recent years, more and more importers have entered the market, says Andrea Hillsy, owner of Square Wines, a bottle shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Chromatic Wines, which sells only natural wines, made its debut in Milwaukee last year. This decision prompted Cruces to open the film Nonfiction.
We needed new faces, Hillsy says. I think many of the established distributors in the market simply don’t want to take the risk that a small upstart distributor would take.
Andrea Hillsy owns a natural wine shop in Madison, Wisconsin / Dutcher Photography
Frederick Boudouani has been taking such risks since 2011. He moved from Boston to Elkader, Iowa, a town of 1,300, and founded the Abu Navas Beverage Company. The goal was to provide him with the drinks he wanted to serve at Schera’s, the Algerian restaurant he runs in town with his partner, Brian Bruninge of Iowa.
When I started bringing natural wines to Iowa, other distributors asked me: Who are you selling it to? Who in Iowa would buy that? – Says Boudouani. It is as if these wines are only for the inhabitants of the coast.
He went to Abu Nawas every week to buy supplies. He contacted the distributors, but when did they get his address?
Everyone has rejected me, he says. So I did it myself.
Since then, Mr. Boudouani has expanded his distributor’s offerings from a handful of beers to an assortment of beers, wines, imported products and charcuterie. Budouani has a theme in its history, as well as the stories of wine professionals, with an emphasis on nature in the region: Don’t neglect the Midwestern consumer.
As long as you believe in people and take the time not to devalue them, but to educate them and develop their taste, people respond positively to everything, says Boudouani.
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