BY JENNA KASHOU | PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Behind an unmarked door, in the back of a small, climate-controlled warehouse filled with pallets neatly piled high with wine boxes, is a sparsely decorated office. It’s here that two dynamic, passionate people are hard at work bringing natural wines to Wisconsin.
Justin and Anna Spaller returned home to Milwaukee last spring after stints in Chicago, New York and Boston. They have since been spreading the gospel of naturally produced wines via their distribution company Chromatic Wine — the only local distribution company focused solely on natural wines.
Natural wines come from biodynamically grown grapes — a holistic, soil-centered variation of organic farming — and are produced with the least possible use of chemicals, additives and technology. Simply put: wines brought to life with minimal intervention.
Justin and Anna are both creative types by trade (he, a writer, and she, a photographer), but while working in the restaurant industry, they gained an appreciation for good wine. Justin became a level 2 certified sommelier in 2013 and most recently worked as a sommelier at Chicago’s famed Alinea. But it was at Tasting Counter restaurant in Boston where Justin really fell in love with the uniqueness of natural wines, where they were offered exclusively. For Chromatic, Justin takes the lead, meeting with importers and discovering new wines the duo can offer. Anna handles the marketing and accounting for the business.
The Spallers’ “aha moment” came after a night out with Jordan Burich, Katy Lochmann and Micah Buck, owners of Bay View’s Voyager wine bar. They realized that there was a void in the Milwaukee market for this style of wine and soon learned that there were plenty of people who are very passionate about it, including Mia LeTendre and Pam Ronnei from Strange Town restaurant.
“Natural wines compliment our vegan food and are in line with our ethical stance, choosing to support old world practices such as biodynamic farming,” says Strange Town’s bar manager Ronnei. “We definitely have a growing number of customers who come in looking for natural wines — and who seek us out because they know we offer them.”
Because natural wines are produced in small batches, there is still a lot of experimentation in the creation process and, thus, a limited supply available to the public. But for natural wine drinkers, the hunt can be half the fun. “Making wine naturally is often the best way to do it — not just for the environment — and talented wine makers are able to work with the natural process and consistently achieve amazing results,” Justin explains.
The lines are still blurry when it comes to the distinction between conventional and natural wines, but it really boils down to whether commercial yeasts are added or not. And some wine professionals don’t like the label.
“Natural wine can get a bad rep,” says Anna. “But natural winemaking is not based solely on intuition. It takes a lot of science knowledge to create a wine like this. The process allows the grapes to speak for themselves and producers to bring something new with each vintage.” Like all wine, naturally produced wines offer a spectrum of flavor profiles, but typically have a more tangy, acidic and savory flavor.
The Spallers see natural wines as more of a back-to-basics movement and hope more people will appreciate these practices of artisanal cultivation and vinification resulting in really unique wine. “We really appreciate working with producers who are aware of how they treat the earth and how their products treat people,” says Justin. And yes, fewer added chemicals do result in fewer hangovers! MKE