Real wine is quite easy to define in theory (variously organic, biodynamic, natural, no added sulphur etc) but less straightforward to pin down in practice. That's because, returning to Keats, it is experiential. Some wines just feel more real than others, but you don't know till you feel it.
This is what makes communicating the worth - and no less, the sheer fun - of 'real wine' so dubitable, and why the concept has garnered such Pecksniffian anger (cf caviling critic Jay Rayner).
Hence why occasions like the Real Wine Fair (and the RAW fair in May) are invaluable. It looks like a wine tasting, it sounds like a wine tasting, it tastes like a wine tasting: but it is giving the consuming public an affordable and accessible opportunity to experience 'real wines' in the flesh. Then concepts become reality.
Even still, the concept of 'real wine' is still incomplete without involving the winemaker, whose passion for the product is so much part of the project. And it is these people that make the Real Wine Fair sing.
Especially slightly hippy Americans (and that is meant with the utmost affection). None of whom are making their wine in America, all of whom are carving out quirky niches of their own overseas. Take John Bojanowski, of Clos du Gravillas in St Jean de Minervois by way of Bourbon, Kentucky: standing head and shoulders above almost everyone else, he is as unmissable as his and his wife Nicole's wines. Their organic vineyard is a living museum of neglected native grape varieties like Terret Gris and Grenache Blanc. Their white L'Inattendu 2011 (Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu) has a lovely nose, is rich, mineral and utterly gorgeous. The reds are sublime. Sous Les Cailloux des Grillons 2011 (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache, Counoise, Terret Gris, Mourvèdre) is rich, spicy and deep with a stunning label. Rendez-Vous du Soleil 2009 (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache) is a touch lighter, more refined. At the pinnacle is Lo Vielh 2009, made from old Carignan vines planted in 1911 and saved by the Bojanowskis from being ripped out. It is simply awesome, with astonishing length.
Then there's genial John Wurdeman: Baltimore artist turned Georgian winemaker. John arrived in Georgia in 1995 searching for singers; nearly twenty years later he runs perhaps Georgia's most outward looking traditional winery, Pheasant's Tears. Their amber wines - created in customary ancient qvevri - are not necessarily for the faint-hearted. Rich, deeply coloured and gobsmackingly tannic (in differing gradations depending on length of time for skin contact), they were the most unusual wines on show at the fair. Some I loved, some really needed some nourishment alongside, some I'm afraid I didn't get. Though all of them deserved respect. In particular, I enjoyed the reds made from Saperavi and Shavkapito.
Possibly the best entire portfolio of wines belonged to New Zealand's Pyramid Valley, led by big-hearted Mike Weersing from the United States via Burgundy, the Mosel, the Yarra Valley, Oregon and many wine regions in between. The botanical labels may have split our jury but I loved them: each depicting the pre-eminent weed of different vineyard plots. Angel Flower and Earth Smoke Pinot Noirs were just something else, the best Pinots in the room; while their Pinot Blanc / Pinot Gris 'orange wine' really is something else entirely. Pretty unique as far as New Zealand's wines go. The Riverbrook Riesling is also up there with the best of the country's efforts.
All in all, the Real Wine Fair is a wine event that's just the right size, with just the right amount of people; enough space in between exhibitors tables (and mercifully no cul-de-sac corner tables) and a plentiful supply of spittoons. That's all without even mentioning the food stalls in the next-door glass housing - a very good idea by the way, keeping those food smells (albeit delicious ones) away from the tasting environment.
Most of all though, it's full of real people, sharing real wine, and having a frightfully good time. That's why it works.