At first, David Stansfield wasn’t convinced his clientele shared his enthusiasm for natural wines. But the Earls corporate sommelier says that’s changed.
“People are interested. Even consumers who are maybe not super savvy about wine … are still curious about organic—and things that are maybe better for them,” he says.
One factor in particular convinced him to forge ahead: the success of Earls’ recently introduced plant-based menu. “It’s now as big and as prominent as our steak section, and is super popular in every market,” says Stansfield.
“The tie-in for me was that even people who aren’t necessarily vegan are still eating plant-based once in a while,” he adds. “Often they’re curious and keen to try it. So as long as I could find wines that were still relatively accessible, it made sense.”
Stansfield started out with a small selection of five natural wines by the bottle—two white, two red and one orange. “That enabled me to see what sold and learn from it,” he says. The most popular were those made from varieties with which people were familiar.
He was also able to tailor Earls’ needs by market, which allowed him to buy wine in smaller quantities. “Sourcing wasn’t easy. That’s just the nature of boutique and artisan wines made in small quantity,” he notes. Taste is a prime consideration, too. “I tried hard to find natural wines that, I hate to say, don’t taste natural … that are easy to drink … and not too funky.”
In Canada, Earls offers a natural list in its flagship stores in Vancouver, Whistler, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto, and the demand for local natural wines is strongest in B.C. In the U.S., Earls has natural wine lists at 10 locations in six states. “Among the places where it’s been most successful are in Colorado [Denver] and Boston,” says Stansfield. “Although, maybe in Texas it’s been a bit of a stretch.”
Okanagan Crush Pad Free Form Vin Gris
(Okanagan Valley, $26.90 in stores) Pale salmon, floral, orchard and tropical fruits, textured palate, fresh acidity.
Eric Texier Chat Fou
(Côtes du Rhône, $25 in stores) Juicy, medium-bodied red blend with little to no oak, red berries, earthy hints.
@ Vitis Magazine