Natural Wines: Selling, Naturally

Images provided by 8ARM

8ARM Wine opened this September in Atlanta, serving only natural wines.

The idea, says general manager and beverage director Joshua Fryer, is to do the same with the beverages as 8ARM the restaurant is doing next door: supporting independent producers who produce smaller-batch products. “We’re trying to be honest with the food, so why don’t we do that with wines?”

Natural wines are defined as wines with nothing added and nothing taken away. They’re fermented grape juice and nothing more.

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Serving these wines “leads to wines that are more representative of their terroir. [Producers are] not covering what the wines taste like by adding tons of preservatives,” says Fryer.

“The whole approach to natural wine is about working with producers that are a little more hands-off in the winemaking process but more hands-on in the grape-growing process,” Fryer says. “They are not using robots to pick their grapes; they’re pruning and picking by hand, which I think makes a better wine because it’s more focused and there’s more attention to what’s happening with the vine.”

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8ARM Wine has a wine list that’s more than 60 bottles strong, with representatives from the usual contenders such as Australia, France and the USA, but also countries you don’t typically see, such as Austria, Slovakia, Portugal and Mexico. From those usually lesser-represented countries, “there are a lot of wine producers that never got into mass market wine,” Fryer points out. “It’s only now we’re starting to see it because people are demanding more natural wine.”

There’s really nowhere he can’t procure natural wines from, he says, especially as natural wines have become so much more popular in recent years. If anywhere, he points out, it’s a traditional winemaking region like Bordeaux where it’s harder, but he does have wines from there on his wine list.

He finds he can also get just about any varietal represented in natural wines, and in addition, “you’re seeing grape varietals you wouldn’t have seen before because we’re getting grapes from places you don’t know as well. We want things people recognize but we want things that make them feel they’re on an adventure, too.”

All the staff at 8ARM and 8ARM Wine are educated so they can discuss the wines and their growing methods with customers. They also all have access to files on Evernote on each winemaker to dig deeper into information if guests inquire. “When people sit down, we’re trying to sell an experience more than just wine and it creates a connection,” Fryer points out.

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Because many of the wines are relatively unknown, Fryer does include tasting notes on the menu. That’s also because the menu changes frequently, since some wines are available in very limited quantities and therefore circulated through quickly, “and our staff can’t keep up with it.” Fryer was of two minds about including the tasting notes but decided he was for it. “A lot of wine lists don’t include that because they don’t want to influence someone’s perception of that wine, but I think it gives people guidance and helps them not be so intimidated.”

There are wines on 8ARM Wine and 8ARM’s wine lists ranging from $40 to $170 right now. “Natural wines do skew a little more expensive,” says Fryer, who also offers most of them by the glass at $8 to $17. “But we try to provide value to our guests, so we make our margins a little lower than another place might. We want people to actually drink it and we want to bring people into the fold that way. It’s a small hit but doesn’t hurt us financially.”

8ARM’s wine list also includes fortified wines like sherry and madeira. Most of these are also natural, but if they’re not, says Fryer, they’re at least organic.

8ARM runs specials through the week on its natural wines, such as rosé and orange wines (Tuesday), wines from female winemakers (Wednesday), vertical (different vintages from one winery) or horizontal flights, which cover one year but different producers (Friday).

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The red wines sell best but the “skin contact wines,” also known as “orange wines,” Fryer says, are “off the charts.”

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