Search before you sip.
That’s more than just wine shopping advice for Roland Nudelman. It’s his business motto, too. And he wants to help you seek.
Willowtree Market (formerly Willow’s Naturally) has long been downtown’s main source for natural, organic and specialty health food and products. Now, ingredient-savvy shoppers can also stock up on carefully crafted libations there: all natural wine and champagne, a sundry stock personally curated by Nudelman, a self-taught wine whiz eager to share his pouring passion.
There’s a display downstairs to show off a select sampling of the labels Nudelman selects, but the lion’s share of the stock is upstairs, arranged by varietal. Since purchasing the store last year, Heather Jaynes, previously a longtime contributing vendor, had been expanding the shop’s offerings, Nudelman explained. When she decided to begin stocking wine about two months ago, Jaynes offered him the space to show off his ever-changing, always growing collection.
Nudelman hosts tasting events nearby and is usually on hand to walk customers through what’s available, what each wine pairs well with and, of course, to field the big question: What the heck is natural wine anyway?
“My definition of natural wine is wine that’s made with absolutely no chemicals,” Nudelman said.
That includes the fermenting, processing and even the farming of the fruit.
“All of the grapes that go into these wines are either farmed organically or biodynamically,” he said. “Natural wine has no quantified definition. Everybody has a different opinion on what it means.”
Though a bit ambiguous to consumer culture as a whole, Nudelman said natural wine is a growing trend in the industry, borne along with everyone’s increasing desire to know what’s in the products they buy.
“There are no labels on wine,” he explained. “There’s no ingredient list. There’s no list of any of the processes it went through. The only thing any bottle will tell you is maybe the grape varietal, the alcohol percentage is always on the bottle, and that it contains sulfites.
“When it says that, therein lies the whole complicated world of wine at this point,” he laughed. “There’s so many people making wine in so many different ways, since no one is required to label anything it makes it very difficult.”
There is a sign posted in Willowtree Market to help simplify. Written by Nudelman, it explains that natural wine is:
“Grapes grown without herbicides, pesticides or fungicides;
“A biologically diverse and dynamically alive vineyard that’s tended by hand; and
“Fermented with indigenous yeasts.”
It is, he said, a “non-interventionist” approach to wine. A “throwback to using the tools of the past.”
It is also, obviously, really tasty.
“I was blown away by how interesting and delicious and unique [they are] and how good these wines made me feel,” Nudelman said. “That’s one of the most important things, is how they make you feel while you drink them and how you feel afterward. They burn cleanly. I’ve never had a bad experience, which is kind of unbelievable.”
The search for new and interesting wines that still fit his meticulous naturalist standards is a passion that grew from a mild curiosity for Nudelman, who said that just five years ago, “I didn’t even drink wine.”
“This is what I’ve been into for the last five years, specifically these kinds of wine,” he said.
While doing metal fabrication work for a farm on Day Road, Nudelman wandered into Bainbridge Vineyards, where he ended up doing some mechanical work, eventually working in the tasting room and, completely by accident, becoming fascinated by wine.
“I became more and more intrigued by the process of wine making and growing grapes,” he said. “I started becoming curious about how wine was made and it kind of led me to realize how many things in most wineries were done, at this point in time, quite far from how wine was made before the 1940s.”
An eye for the old school, and a passion for culture and history are always at play as Nudelman looks for new wines to feature at Willowtree Market. He especially loves finding gems that come from less popular Old World producing regions.
“The majority of the ones I choose have absolutely no sulfur added to them or very, very small amounts,” he said. “The skill in which these wines are made is very different than just say, an organic wine that you find in the grocery store.
“You can have organic grapes but then the wine-making process can be unnatural,” he explained. “All these wines are fermented with the natural yeast that’s present. There’s no addition of any yeast ever, other than what’s alive in the vineyard or cellar or present on the grape.”
Willowtree Market, in its present location for the last 16 years since Willow Follett first purchased and renamed the health food store beneath Town &Country Market in 1982, is located at 169 Winslow Way East. Jaynes bought the shop last December.
Store hours — typically 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday — are being extended for the holidays. Visit www.willowtreebainbridge.com for more information, as well as a current calendar of guest speakers and workshops.
It is, Nudelman said, the perfect place to showcase natural wine.
“I feel lucky to have a place to share these,” he said. “These are wines that translate a place because they have not been augmented in any way. They really represent that growing period.”