Shawn 2 rvsyet

Shawn Mead pours natural pinot grigio  from Slovenia.

Step into Vif, the Fremont Ave coffee and wine shop, and the space exudes one word variously: Natural is the quality of light in the generously fenestrated room, natural is the menu of simple thoughtful plates. And natural (especially, explicitly) is each wine lounging in the large bottle-filled nook by the door. Vif is, in fact, the only shop in the city that sells only natural wine. Owners Shawn Mead and Lauren Feldman are among Seattle’s most vocal proponents of these largely European bottles: wild-yeast fermented, sustainably farmed (perhaps organic or biodynamic), hand harvested, and additive free—no sugars, yeasts, acids, or clarifiers, save, perhaps, a touch of stabilizing sulfur. 

Conventional winemakers use such additives to varying degrees. For Mead, this manipulation, a sort of airbrushing of flavor, gets in the way of a bottle’s specific personality, which can range widely based on the grapes and the wild yeasts in the air and on the skins that start fermentation. Discussion of natural wine often centers on the frothy, cloudy, carnally funky creations these practices can produce. But many bottles, especially the ones at Vif, are pristine—affable food companions with zippy acidity, which Mead describes as “pure, lifted, light on their feet.” 

Natural wine has been around for years, but more Seattle wine programs are embracing its charms. Damn the Weather serves only natural wine, and bottles crop up at wine bars (Le Caviste), higher-end destinations like Salare and Altura, the casual counter-service Mean Sandwich in Ballard, and various restaurants from Matt Dillon and Renee Erickson. 

If Vif is airy atmosphere and lovely mineral-driven rieslings, Lower Bar Ferdinand feels like its dark doppelganger, a brick-walled enclave of esoterica in the Melrose Market. Marc Papineau, who co-owns this wine bar with Dillon, estimates 80 percent of his wines are natural. For Papineau even the notoriously eccentric natural wines are part of the fun. Ask him about funky bottlings and he’ll likely rhapsodize about, say, a Catalonian producer, Escoda-Sanahuja, making hyperidiosyncratic chenin blanc: “Each year is completely different; each bottle has some strange or can have slight variation.” Papineau is sure to discuss with customers how polarizing and unpredictable a bottle like this can be, but many restaurants offer less aberrant natural wine without caveat, worrying the label may connote nonexistent weirdness.  

Others embrace the term. Central District newcomer L’Oursin proclaims its devotion on the sign out front: “Fruits de Mer. Vins Naturels. Apertifs.” Sure, co-owner Zac Overman appreciates the sustainability, the grape-to-glass narrative. But he glows when discussion turns to taste: “The wine is living and constantly evolving. If you want consistency, there’s plenty of delicious Grand Cru Burgundy. If you’re willing to go on a ride, that’s the fun of natural wine.”

Filed under
Show Comments
In this Article

Editor’s Pick

Bar Ferd'nand Closed

$$ Small Plates, Wine Bar 1531 Melrose Ave

Matthew Dillon teams up with Corson Building sommelier Marc Papineau and wine guy Jared Baily to launch Bar Ferd'nand, which sits across from Sitka and Spruc...

Editor’s Pick

Altura

$$$ Italian 617 Broadway East

When it opened in 2011, Seattle Met’s first-ever Restaurant of the Year served three-, four-, or five-course menus that mixed and matched artful pasta with s...

Editor’s Pick

Salare

$$ American/New American 2404 NE 65th Street

Grilled octopus with watermelon gazpacho, salted plums, and preserved lemon. Plantains and Neah Bay black cod. Unexpectedly great things—and a few offbeat ex...

Editor’s Pick

Damn the Weather

$$ American/New American 116 1st Ave S

The sun’s out, the Mariners are at home, and the jerseyed fans drinking beer on Damn the Weather’s patio might never realize a transcendent plate of halibut ...

Le Caviste

Wine Bar 1919 Seventh Ave

The name refers to a person who tends to a wine cellar, though in this case it’s longtime local wine guru David Butler holding court in this small, h...

Vif

Wine Bar 4401 Fremont Ave N