In this interview I sit down with Karina Iglesias and Veronica Slabicki to talk all things natural wine, community, and conscious sipping.
Natural wine is made with organically or biodynamically farmed grapes with no pesticides on the farm and nothing added in the cellar, except maybe a little bit of sulfur at bottling. And for these ladies, fair treatment of the farm workers is another trait that constitutes a true natural wine as well.
Here’s how the story goes: I keep seeing Instagram stories about this cool-as-hell natural wine pop-up shop called Wine Medium in downtown where vinyl records are being played and laid-back vibes are the essence of the space. Naturally, I can’t (and don’t) resist the urge to check it out and I’m sure glad I did. I walked in with no expectations and walked out feeling more informed, empowered, and excited than I was before stepping into this magical little shop.
Karina Iglesias, the mind behind this natural wine shop and part-owner of NIU Kitchen and Arson (now one combined restaurant in the heart of Downtown Miami), gave me the run-down on every single bottle I asked about. And when I say the run-down, I mean she knows exactly where each one is from, who made them, and can even compare them to more commercial bottles of wine (that are very much not natural) for reference. So if you’re looking for Whispering Angel at her shop…well, she’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be drinking it, and what you should drink instead! Personally, I wanted something like La Crema or Meiomi…
What really took my interest over the top was Karina’s obvious passion for political matters and what happens behind the scenes of the wine industry –the wine may taste great, but what’s really happening on the farm? It’s all too true that within many commercial (read ‘big’) vineyards, the workers are essentially treated like slaves. Getting paid a salary that you could pick up on the streets and having to wear gas masks to protect themselves from the harmful chemicals being sprayed in the fields (read’ Whispering Angel’ and the like). Karina not only does intensive research into the nature of the wines she curates for her shop, but also how the workers are treated to make sure she only supports fair practices – meaning her customers do, too. It was after a couple of these kinds of conversations that I asked to interview her, and she brought along her good friend Veronica Slabicki, farm hand at Harpke Family Farm and sales rep for Arash Selects, a natural wine importing and distributing company.
If you’e looking for a couple of Miami’s best natural wine curators, look no further than these two rad ladies. As if their outfits in this interview don’t scream “cool” enough, the conversation I had with them made me want to make this sit-down a weekly thing. Here are the biggest takeaways from my conversation with them:
It’s Okay to Be Intimidated with Wine
One of their most prominent stances on the topic of wine drinking is that it’s okay to be intimidated when starting to get into the culture. Even ordering at a restaurant can seem like a daunting task to many.
Ever sat down at a nice restaurant with the family, maybe on a date, and instead of enjoying the moment you’re worrying about just how you’re going to order a glass of wine?
Should I ask for something dry? White or red? I think white wine is for fish, right? Maybe I’ll just get a rosé? What the hell is the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Merlot? How do you even pronounce that!?
Sound familiar? The truth is, you don’t need to be a wine snob to enjoy good wine. Both Iglesias and Slabicki mentioned the “growing pains” of drinking a lot of bad wine, seemingly good wine, and everything on that spectrum. Many times people are scared to order wine at restaurants because they don’t want to make it seem like they don’t know what they’re talking about. “Don’t be scared to ask questions. If they’re assholes then move along. But the best way to learn about wine is by tasting”, says Slabicki.
Shop for Wine like You Shop for Groceries
Maybe this won’t apply to you if you don’t have a concern in the world about shopping at least partially organic, or buying from local, sustainable brands. But if try to buy at least your berries organic because you know the conventional ones are heavily sprayed with glyphosate and other chemicals and pesticides, then don’t let those conscious consumer thoughts wash away as soon as you step into the wine aisle. Slabicki notes how she used to shop for the cheapest wine back in the day, and isn’t here to tell people what they have to drink. But now that she’s learned more about the process and product, she says we can learn to look at wine the same way that we look for food in the supermarket. “The same way you go to Whole Foods to buy yogurt or eggs or meat, and like to know where they came from and the quality of them, we can do the same thing with wine”, says Slabicki.
“People think that just because they’re at Whole Foods their wine is good…if your wine is at the grocery store, it needs a big production,” says Iglesias. And if you assume that the pesticides from a conventional wine farm get filtered out through the fermentation and distillation process, then you’ve assumed incorrectly. This is the case with any non-organic alcohol, actually.
If wine bottles from these farms had ingredient labels the same way that other packaged foods do, we would be scared to drink it.
Understand that Big Vineyards = Unsustainable
A big vineyard probably means that there’s mono cropping, heavy pesticide usage, and unfair treatment of workers. Even if they’re labeled as organic. “How organic can you be if the people working for you are immigrants living in horrible shacks and you’re paying them 2 euros a day?”, marks Iglesias. Furthermore, she states that “people confuse natural wine with organic grapes. What happens in the cellar is as important as what happens on the field.” That’s really what makes a natural wine different than an organic or biodynamic one. It has integrity. They may use the same kinds of grapes, but it’s about what happens off the field as well.
One thing to take note of is that some natural wineries may not have organic certification, but do use organic grapes. Small wineries don’t always have the resources available to attain these certifications, as these things cost money. And if you don’t have the time to research your wines, you’ll just have to find a good local natural wine shop who does it for you! (Wink, wink).
Wine is about Community
At the end of the day, the most beautiful thing you can take away from a glass of wine isn’t the smells or the sniffs or the “legs” or the color. It’s about who you share it with and the memories you make.
Even more so with natural wine, “it’s about the experience rather than the over-intellectualizing of wine…forget the label– what does it taste like and how does it make you feel?,” notes Slabicki. Furthermore, Iglesias remarks that “switching to natural wines and joining this movement was a blessing.” She says she wouldn’t have met many of her closest friends today if she hadn’t. “They are my entire support system. And as a business move it was the right thing to do,” she comments.
So, how do I find the best wine?
“Asking about the best wine is like asking about the best song. It’s the one that you have a memory with. The best wine is the one that you remember on your palate forever and take with you as a souvenir.” - Karina Iglesias
Cheers to that!