Katie Glenz has always said she doesn’t have a preference when it comes to wine. Well, so long as it’s good wine. Lately, however, the sommelier and beverage director for Tampa landmark Mise en Place is gravitating toward “natural” wine, aka vino made with little to no chemical or technological manipulation.
“Every time I’d find a really good wine, I’d hand it to [Mise co-owner Maryann Ferenc] and just put it on the table when she’s in a meeting, like, ‘Taste this,’” said Glenz during an intimate preview of the Natural Wine Festival last week. “More and more I realized I was handing her natural wine.”
That’s when the idea to organize the city’s first big celebration of natural wine came to her. So far, Mise has secured about 25 winemakers and importers for its inaugural Natural Wine Festival, taking place throughout the restaurant from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 28.
CL sampled three examples of what to expect from the fest at the aforementioned preview: Michael Grindl Flora Riesling (killer), Coquelicot Vineyard Cabernet Franc (even better) and Berger Grüner Veltliner (whoa). According to Glenz, natural wines, which contain minimal sulfites, harken back to the hands-off approach to winemaking that used to be a thing.
“It’s like going back to the very beginning of how we made wine,” she said. “Just throwin’ it in a vat and kinda letting it ferment on its own, pressing it and letting the juice do its own thing — without adding anything extra.”
Natural wine producers source — even grow — their grapes in organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards, and no sugars or yeasts are added during the production period. Some don’t filter or fine their wines, either.
“The great thing about most natural winemakers is they’re pretty open on their wine labels, telling you exactly how they make their wine,” said Glenz.
Added bonuses: The somm says natural wines are super affordable, and lots of them highlight grape varietals consumers haven’t seen or heard of before. Northern Italy winemaker Elisabetta Foradori, for instance, is known for reviving the teroldego grape, which was nearly extinct, on her family’s estate in Trentino.
Natural Wine Festival attendees will taste more than 50 kinds of wine, alongside snacks and other vino-friendly fare from chef and co-owner Marty Blitz. Mise carries most of the selections on the regular, but Lector and Vintage Wine Cellars will also act as on-site retail partners.
The best part might be that the crowd gets to rub elbows with the people responsible for creating and repping the featured natural wines. In addition to pouring samples during the ticketed event, a few of the winemakers and importers plan to talk in depth about their craft inside one of Mise’s private dining rooms. The restaurant has dedicated three time slots to these discussions.
The Natural Wine Festival, which could turn into an annual tradition, aims to attract novices as much as enthusiasts.
“Even if you don’t think you like wine, like this wine right here,” Glenz said, motioning toward the riesling, “if you like sour beer or you like ciders, it’s a great way to realize that you actually do like wine. It’s a great entryway.”
Tickets start at $85 for general admission and go up to $120 for VIP (the latter includes one-hour early entry at 11 a.m.). Attendees should scoop theirs online in advance — just in case the fest sells out. And something tells this new believer in natural wine it will.