In anticipation of the upcoming Natural Winemakers’ Week, Imbibe New York sat online for an interview with Jenny Lefcourt, of Jenny & François Selections–one of the country’s top importers of natural French wines.
1. When you first started Jenny and Francois in 2000, was your emphasis then on natural French wines? How did this focus come about?
Yes, our emphasis was on all natural French natural wines from the beginning. François and I would always go to certain wine bars in Paris, and also to the home of a couple we know, and we absolutely loved the wines at these specific places, but we weren’t sure why. So we started to remember the names of the vineyards, and then we started going to tastings and meeting winemakers and asking them how they made their wines. It just so happened that all the wines we loved to drink (and still do) were made with the same philosophy of winemaking: organic work in the vines, and little intervention in the cellar (indigenous yeast, little to no additives) — so essentially, wines that are more than organic. We came to call these wines “natural” wines. These wines taste more pure, more real, have greater aromatic complexity than more commercially made wines. They are wines that express place and that have personality. Now we have expanded to Italy, Spain and California, but all the vineyards have the same philosophy of natural winemaking.*2. What do you look for in a wine? How do you go about “discovering” new wines, and how frequently do you add new producers to your portfolio?
Oftentimes, we will go to professional trade fairs. Sometimes we will taste through 100 wines and finally get to one we like. We look at each other, and we almost always agree. Then we ask the winemaker how they work and it always turns out that they are making natural wines. Then either both of us, or François on his own, will go visit the producer to get a better sense of what they do. We frequently add new producers, because so far we have been lucky enough to be a growing company. We also have a growing group of winemakers, restaurant-owner friends in France, wineshop owners in France with whom we mutually share discoveries and they often introduce us to wines they have discovered and who are looking for distribution in the US.*3. Over the past 11 years, have you noticed a shift in the market for natural wines? To what might you attribute this change?
Yes, absolutely. When we first started out and were walking around New York talking about indigenous yeast, we felt like we came from another planet. No one was really talking about yeast or the amount of total sulfites in a wines, and not many people were curious about these technical questions. At least the average buyers weren’t. In the past few years I would say there is a true revolution happening in terms of the knowledge of how wine is made. People are much more educated about it and curious. I like to think we have been partially responsible for helping to educate people! But I think it is also part of a wider movement of people being much more conscious of what they are eating and drinking, where things are from, and how they are made. There is also a movement away from an international “Parkerized” style of overly extracted, big, oaky wines towards the more subtle kinds of wines that we have always promoted.*4. March 3-12, 2011 is Natural Winemakers’ Week. Is this the first time that you’ve hosted/sponsored such an event? I imagine that it generates a lot of interest…
This is our 7th annual Natural Winemakers’ Week. Early on we really wanted to the winemakers to meet all the wonderfully curious New Yorkers who are interested in their wines, and for New Yorkers to meet these passionate producers who are making true honest wines that speak of where they are from. It is always an adventure and a wonderful experience for all involved. There are tons of free tastings in stores all over the city, wine-pairing dinners where people can sit down with winemakers and really get to know the wines and hear their stories, and more informal events in winebars that are a great way to chat with the winemakers while sipping their creations.*5. In New York, one can easily access your wines, are they readily available outside of the city?
Yes! In the last few years, we have expanded all over the US. Our wines are now available in about 15 states and we seem to be expanding every week these days!*6. What are some of your favorite wine destinations in the city? Have you any favorite wine bars/stores with selections of natural wines?
Absolutely. Anfora is a wonderful new spot for natural wines. They have a great wine menu with photographs of winemakers and long descriptions of the vineyards. I think this is great communication about what the winemakers are doing. That is very rare! The Ten Bells is a wonderful spot as well. Had some wine and oysters with visiting winemakers from the South West there the other night (the Plageoles family) and then took them to another new favorite restaurant: Goat Town. The Farm on Adderley out in Ditmus Park is another favorite spot, with Tom Kearney cooking up wonderful seasonal, local recipes that pair beautifully with his great natural wine selection. Some great stores: Appellation Wines, Astor Wines, Chamber’s Street, Slope Cellars, West Side Wines, to name a few!*Thanks so much Jenny, for sharing your thoughts with Imbibe New York!