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Local Fest Returns to Make Its Mark on the California Wine Scene

One of the region's first natural wine festivals is back for its 4th annual event this weekend

By Ligaya Malones




After a four-year hiatus, natural wine event Nat Diego is back this weekend, with festivities beginning Friday, Jun. 17.

As one of the region’s first “natty wine” events, Nat Diego will feature 40 independent natural winemakers and vignerons (masters of the vines, they cultivate the grapes) from across California and Baja. Hometown producers Little Sister, Los Pilares, Raging Cider, Charlie & Echo, and J. Brix will be there.

“The fact that San Diego still has a small footprint on the winemaking map of California automatically makes it intriguing,” Emily Towe, co-owner and winemaker of J. Brix Wines, says. Some visiting producers include Pasadena-based Bomba Wines, En Cavale, and Sans Wine Co., which specializes in canned wine.

While the natural wine category is gaining mainstream momentum in current times, the winemaking method is centuries-old. “There are few rules in natural winemaking outside of maintaining organic farming practices and avoiding additives in the winemaking process,” says Chelsea Coleman, co-organizer of Nat Diego, and owner of The Rose wine bar.

The term “natural wine” isn’t an official or certified designation like the Certified Organic label regulated by the USDA. That said, proponents of natural wine contend that this flexibility makes the category exciting. “That means producers can be creative and make sparkling cabernet sauvignons, or unfiltered, skin-macerated white wines that look like unpasteurized apple cider,” Coleman says. In other words, “It’s the wild west of winemaking, and it’s fun!”

On Friday, ticket holders will first convene at The Rose. “Our opening party, in particular, features producers on their first or second vintage who are new to the festival,” Coleman says. Then, a grand tasting event takes place on Saturday at experimental art gallery Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan.

Next, producers will pour new releases, including J. Brix’s 2021 Cobolorum Riesling pétillant nature, which I can confirm is a bright, effervescent profile that pairs seamlessly with dumplings, for example, as well as its 2021 Stay-in-Bed red blend of Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Food, including exclusive Parmesan herb crinkle cut fries with smoked garlic aioli compliments of Shake Shack, and caffeinated drinks are also on offer. In addition, Vino Carta in Little Italy has signed on to host the closing party that same evening.

As a growing wine region, San Diego is a bit of a wild card, in the same way as the natural wine category itself. “Most California wine festivals take place in established wine-growing areas, where people know exactly what to expect before they arrive at a tasting. We don’t have a list of rules, or an established hierarchy, and since the region is still establishing its identity, hosting a grand tasting is a true breath of fresh air,” Towe says of Nat Diego.

A percentage of Nat Diego’s ticket sales will go to Slow Food Urban San Diego, a non-profit organization dedicated to regenerative, community-centered food systems.

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