After a recent whirlwind afternoon of drinking for my podcast, “Disgorgeous,” my guest and friend Camille Rivière predicted, with evident joy, “the end of glou-glou.” Considering the source—Camille has long been a natural wine importer, a class of people who have, traditionally, been gonzo for glou-glou—this felt like a shocking bit of sea change.
For the past decade, glou-glou has been the tip of the spear of natural wine worldwide, after which dozens of wine bars, stores and Instagram accounts have been named, and for good reason: It’s fun as hell, and you can drink gallons of the stuff. However, it seems like the aesthetic of natural wine edifice is moving away from the glou-glou idiom, which, for better or worse, defined it during the 2010s. Call it a goth phase, call it an end to natural wine’s poptimism era, call it a creative explosion, but it’s clear that, at least on the bleeding edge of natural wine chic, we’ve entered a post-glou world. If glou-glou is natural wine’s snotty punk Three Imaginary Boys, the future looks a lot like the post-punk majesty of Disintegration.
Glou-glou has been defined to death in nearly every food and drink media outlet (including this one!), so I’ll be brief here: Glou-glou wines look, taste or feel like Sébastien David’s Hurluberlu cabernet franc, one of the the ur-examples of the idiom: carbonic, chillable, chuggable. If you’ve been drinking natural wine for any length of time, you know the score. When they entered public consciousness in the early 2000s, glou-glou wines were a breath of fresh air and a reaction to a stultifying wine scene of points and legacy magazines and interminable BIG RED WINES. In the intervening years, glou-glou wines became the gateway for a generation excluded and alienated from “traditional” wine culture—and, along the way, they became shorthand for natural wine writ large. Imagine, if you will, “Boys Don’t Cry” as a synecdoche for the entire canon of the 1980s. You could do worse, obviously, but something would be missing.
That something missing, of course, is individuality. Jess Miller, of Little Crow Vineyards, a one-woman labor of love in the Willamette Valley, says that glou-glou wines, while easy to produce and in demand, have a “stamp of the process,” on them. “It’s like what happened with oak and Robert Parker,” she says. “It’s a mistake to define quality based on a process.” Miller is quick to mention that carbonic, “fresh” wines don’t necessitate anonymity, but that there’s generally a level of complexity they can’t aspire to. “Glou-glou wines are just a branch of the natural wine tree, not the whole thing,” she says. “It’s time for everyone to climb up to the rest.”
“Call it a goth phase, call it an end to natural wine’s poptimism era, call it a creative explosion, but it’s clear that, at least on the bleeding edge of natural wine chic, we’ve entered a post-glou world.”
Further “up the tree” looks a lot like what was on full display at the recent Wine From Here festival in Richmond, California. I was particularly entranced by the Châteauneuf-du-Fargosonini, the brainchild of Alejandro Fargosonini, an experimental filmmaker turned outsider winemaker. His whole lineup was thrillingly turbo, but I spent a long time thinking about his first wine, a direct-press grenache aged for two years under flor (which was later recycled to start what he calls a “shitty solera”). Tasting the wine, I was struck by the thought that natural wine hadn’t so much grown up as it had grown out; the energy that used to be directed into making thirst quenchers and party wines has been turned in a bewildering array of directions. All in all, I spent nine hours tasting, and there were maybe three wines I would have considered glou-glou (and they were, of course, delicious).
Even the winemakers associated with the glou-glou brand have embraced the full spectrum of winemaking. One of the more interesting tastings was with Evan Lewandowski and Sara Morgenstern of longtime natty stalwart Ruth Lewandowski. They are perhaps best known as makers of the megahit Feints field blend, which is one of the defining cool-kid American glou-glou wines. What really got my mind whirring was the single red they were pouring, a zero-zero sangiovese with stem inclusion, a gnarled and majestic wine that was about as far from simple and chuggable as you could get. This was a love letter to old California, herbal and sapid, and displayed a deft hand with sangiovese’s difficult stems. “We really like red wine,” Evan Lewandowski, the winemaker, told me, grinning as if revealing a secret.
Proclamations of the end of glou-glou are obviously an exaggeration. There will always be space for lively, sometimes silly, light wines. But it’s clear that glou-glou isn’t the sine qua non of natural wine anymore; the movement isn’t content to just play the hits. Natural wine’s post-glou era is going to be fecund, weird and wild—and, I’m sure, oftentimes resolutely dismissive of the past. I’m here for the goth phase, dream rock pivot and the ill-advised metal forays, all of which will, I’m sure, prove that natural wine is far more than crushable and silly. I’ll also be here for the inevitable glou-glou renaissance, when the whole edifice goes pop-punk again. Sometimes you need to listen to Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me on repeat for seven hours, and it’s good to know there’s a bottle for that.