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Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?

Will Natural Wine Survive The Tariffs?
There's been plenty of ink spilled about natural wine's demise in recent months, most notably Alice Fiering's poetic piece in the newspaper of record. And while the vast majority of the world has never heard of natural wine and even most wine drinkers still have no idea what it is, there's certainly danger to natural wine being posed by corporate giants co-opting the term and not its ethos. 

But there's a much bigger threat to natural wine right now and that's the tariffs set to go into effect next month, which could essentially double the price of all European wines. The natural wine world is up in arms about this right now (at least on Instagram), which makes sense. Entry price points for natural wine are already steep AF. There's essentially nothing available below $15, which could soon become $30. The market of consumers looking to spend $30 on a single-use item in a category new to them is probably quite small. And the beautiful heart of natural wine, the $20-$35 bottles from places like the Loire Valley and Beaujolais and Sicily and Rias Baixas, could become legitimate luxury items. One of the core ideals of natural wine is that real wine should be drunk by regular people. That's hard to uphold when pet nat costs $60 a bottle.

But natural wine will survive the tariffs precisely because of that ideal. The only way to keep US demand for these wines from becoming a flatline (yes, Overnoy and Rougeard buyers, we know you'll keep buying) will be through cooperation between producers, importers, and retailers/restaurants. Producers will need to work with importers to keep prices in line and not just turn around and sell all their wines to the UK, Sweden, Japan, and [insert hot natty wine market here]. Importers, who will likely be the hardest hit by the tariffs, will need to slim down and get creative and focus on relationships. And retailers and restaurants will need to rethink buying and pricing to make sure their customers don't feel like something they love was suddenly stripped away.

But that cooperation will happen (and already is) because natural wine still operates as a human to human business. Conventional, industrial wine producers, importers, and buyers don't have the flexibility to lean on relationships. For better or worse, they are businesses built on maintaining bottom lines. And for those corporate giants that have ventured into natural wine, this all should serve to triage the MOG. We're having phone calls every day with our importers and producers to work together to keep the containers moving and it's all because we share a common vision.

But that doesn't mean that things will stay the same. For a brief moment, let's appreciate the fact that we've been able to drink incredible, unique wines from around the world made by real people at price points that many can afford. And while the golden age of real, honest wine may be ending next month, we're all going to work together to duct tape this shit until some saner policies come into place.

- Jeff Segal