I like wine. But, if I’m being honest, despite a good many years of experience, my knowledge of vintages and varietals is still pretty 101. So, when my wife and I stopped by Diversey Wine (3023 W. Diversey Ave.) for a Friday tasting recently, it felt a bit like accidentally wandering into an advanced class… like Ph.D. level.
We tasted an orange wine grown near the coast somewhere in Italy that smelled of sea salt, and the two bottles of red we brought home were exploding with fruit flavor—almost like juice—and fizzed on the tongue like Champagne. What exactly was this stuff?
Diversey Wine, which opened last May, specializes in natural wine. Made from organically grown grapes with minimum intervention, natural wines ferment themselves—unlike most beer and wine, which is made using synthetic yeasts—and are bottled sans preservatives, additives, or filtration.
Natural wine has been described as tasting like “electric juice,” or more like cider or sour beer than traditional wine, and represents a return to an older, simpler style of winemaking.
My interest piqued, I reached out to Diversey Wines owner Bradford Taylor to learn more about the world of natural wines, how he came to discover them, and what makes them so unique. Our conversation, conducted via phone while Taylor prepared dinner for his young children, has been edited and condensed.
LoganSquarist: How were you first introduced to natural wine?
Bradford Taylor: I moved to France after I graduated college and was working in a bookstore and sort of got involved in wine culture there, just because there were these fun bars where I would hang out… the people were cool, the music they played was cool. There was this punk communist vibe that kind of attracted me. The wine tasted like nothing I’d had before, but I was also 20 and hadn’t had that much experience with wine. So, I kind of just thought, ‘Oh, it’s a wine bar.’
Later, I moved back to the U.S. and was at Berkeley working on my
What makes natural wines different?
I think of natural wine as being made by humans, for humans. It’s not a commodity that’s mass produced. It’s a return to an older form of winemaking and, in this weird, quasi-dialectical way, the winemakers that are most the
Also, what I saw [in France] was a very democratic way of drinking wine, with zero stuffiness and lots of sharing. The winemakers were small and had relationships with the bar owners and their customers. There are no sommeliers, no big expensive glassware. There is a sort of sort of everyday quality about natural wine and how it’s meant to be consumed.
In this weird way, the winemakers that are most the avant garde and progressive today are simultaneously doing this thing that’s really old, almost like a pre-industrial form of artisanship.
What does natural wine taste like?
When I taste natural wine, it always tastes brighter and more alive to me than when I taste conventional wine. In terms of flavor, it’s really hard to summarize. Native fermentation is less controlled, and it can move slow or fast—sometimes it takes two weeks, sometimes it can take five years—but it allows for more complex flavors to develop.
When you buy a typical Malbec or Pinot Noir, you have an expectation of what it will taste like. But when wines are allowed to do their own thing, they can take so many different and interesting forms—the array of flavors is infinite.
Do you have a favorite wine?
Right now, I’m drinking a light red from the Loire Valley, a region in northern France. You can chill it down and drink it like a rose… it tastes like fruit juice. Drinking a really fresh, low-alcohol wine with no additives will totally change how you feel about drinking. It just feels really good going into your body, in a way that no other beverage does.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to try natural wine for the first time?
When people come into the store, I usually ask them what wines or beers they normally like to drink. And, do they want to taste something that would be similar, or totally different? If someone likes Malbec from Chile, for example, we can recommend wines that are similarly rich and plump with low tannins and acid. On the other hand, some people respond really well to wild, avant-garde wines that are nothing like anything they’ve had before. Also, if people are into sour beer, that’s just music to my ears. People who like that fermented flavor and bitterness will totally gravitate toward natural wine.
How do you find the wines you sell in your shop?
We go to great lengths to get these wines. [Co-Manager] Mac Parsons and I travel to Europe about four times a year to visit winemakers, and we also work really hard to develop relationships with small importers, which is important for getting these wines because they are made in such small quantities. A lot of times we get six bottles or one case [from a winemaker], and we really have to work to get it.
Do you have a favorite wine travel story?
I was recently in the Alsace region of France meeting with a winemaker who makes this amazing wine in the Vosges Mountains. We tasted for four hours—it’s a long process—and then he cooked us a deer his brother had killed the day before, with some wild porcini mushrooms he had foraged.
There’s no doubt that sourcing is a really cool component of the job. And these people are so happy to be hosting you. They are so thrilled there is a tiny wine shop in Chicago that covets their wines and takes special care of them. The natural wine community is sprawling but also very intimate.
How has the reception been since you opened in Logan Square?
The neighborhood is really cool. We get a lot of customers from Cellar Door Provisions [located next door] and we also have a wine club with like 160 member after only five months or so, which is surprising to me and a testament to the neighborhood.
Sunday afternoons are the best time to come by the shop. We do a tasting every Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. featuring a specific producer. The cost is just $10, and it can be a great introduction to natural wine. On Friday nights we do $5 tastings, which are a little more casual. Also, Cellar Door provisions is now a la carte, so you can go get snacks from them and then come over for a tasting. It’s a really fun vibe on the corner some nights. We always have wine open, and then more people come in and we open something else.
Diversey Wine is located at 3023 W. Diversey Ave. and is open Wednesday-Sunday. More information is available at diverseywine.com.