Natural Wine Class

I recently had the pleasure of attending a class on natural wines by a certified advanced sommelier.  The class was offered at Urban Kitchen, a cooking school in South Pasadena, CA. They provided their cool industrial-style kitchen as the venue, as well as a beautiful spread of heavy hors d’oevres to accompany the wines we tasted.

Urban Kitchen served up several lovely dishes including prosciutto, cheese and asparagus toasts, butternut squash filled cheese gougères, and several delicious incarnations of pimento cheese spread with bread.

The seminar was led by sommelier Melissa Gisler Mondanlou, founder of “Rock Juice.” Her company was established to offer those of us who desire to eat healthy foods the ability to enjoy those foods with wines that are produced in the most organic, sustainable and natural methods available. She travels the world to find small family owned vineyards that produce small-batch artisanal wines of high quality and brings them to the public through her wine club.

Melissa told us that the conventional wines we are accustomed to drinking contain far more than grape juice and can include a myriad of different chemicals and additives that are not shown on the label. Due to various loopholes in the law, wine makers are not required to disclose anything other than sulfur as an additive. While most of us are aware of the potential negative health ramifications of food additives, herbicides and pesticides, we tend to be unaware that the wine we drink can be tainted with the same ingredients we might steer clear of in our foods. Melissa explained that these additives are often used to make up for deficiencies in the fruit or farming practices that could otherwise make the wine unpalatable. Producers of natural wines seek to find varietals that are well-suited to the terrior so that chemicals are unnecessary.

All of the wines were quite reasonably priced, especially when considering the labor intensive production methods involved.
This pétillant-naturel wine is made from the Cayuga grape, a cold climate varietal. It undergoes one fermentation inside the bottle and has no added yeast or sugar.  Because it is unfiltered, there is a bit of cloudiness at bottom of the glass.

We tasted 5 different wines ranging from a pétillant-naturel, a sparkling kombucha-like wine from Maine, to a light-bodied Beaujolais-like red blend from the Loire Valley in France. I found all of the wines we tasted to be rustic and earthy in character with great minerality. Many of them are produced by using a method of extraction called carbonic maceration. This method simply uses the weight of the grapes and gravity to extract the juice. Few tanins are thus extracted, resulting in a lighter wine which allows the true flavors of the grape to shine.

All of these wines were lower in alcohol than conventionally produced wines and were light-bodied with a slightly acidic flavor profile. None of the wines contained a significant amount of sulfur. Anecdotally I would like to mention that my friend, who normally cannot drink wine without her eyes tearing up, commented at the end of the tasting that she hadn’t needed her tissues once! She attributed this to the lack of sulfur or other additives in the wine. Whatever the reason, we enjoyed these unusual wines and will definitely be keeping an eye out for natural wines in the future.

If you’d like more information on natural wines or their wine club, you can check out the Rock Juice website at  For more information on Urban Kitchen, go to

Perfectly prepared pavlova meringues were served for dessert.


Disclosure: I have received no compensation for this post by either Urban Kitchen or Rock Juice Inc.  I simply enjoyed the experience and wanted to share what I learned with my readers.


2 thoughts on “Natural Wine Class

  1. Hi, Kathy! Another great blog. Last Saturday (late) afternoon I accompanied a couple of friends on the first Playhouse District Wine Walk, which included tastings at various venues in the neighborhood. Because it was such an unusually hot day, my friends and I did more swirling, sipping and sitting than we did strolling. Patioworld ((on Colorado) sponsored the event and served up a cheddar cheese ball, Riitz-type crackers and small chunks of cheese at one of the pourings — a far cry from the tempting hors d’oeuvres pictured at the recent wine event YOU attended. There weren’t many folks at the Wine Walk, and I rather doubt it will become a tradition.

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