The wine world can sometimes seem a cloistered place, forbidding to outsiders and navigable only by a small elite. But when Suzi An created Vita Uva in late 2017, she aimed to open this world to everyone. “The world of wine can be intimidating to those who are new to it,” says An. “The most common comment I get is, ‘Oh, I know nothing about wine’—they almost shy away, afraid, like I’m going to judge them. I want to change the perception of wine so people can enjoy it. It’s not just for people who know every style and vintage and region—wine is for everybody, that’s what it’s meant to be.”
A Seattle-based wine lover who transitioned from restaurant server to creative director for establishments including the James Beard Award–winning Junebaby, An steered a new course into the wine world with Vita Uva, which focused on the even more rarefied realm of natural wine. Though increasingly popular among restaurateurs and wine professionals, natural wine (which has no agreed-upon definition, but typically refers to wines made with minimal intervention) is still a nebulous concept for wine novices. With Vita Uva—which first opened as a small retail space inside a Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle’s International District, and which is now transitioning to an online store to open in 2019—An aimed to change the discussion dynamic around natural wine, demystifying it in the process. “There are a lot of misconceptions about natural wine, and because of that, people steer away from it,” she says. “I’d like to show a different side of it—it’s not as funky or as crazy as it’s described to be.”
Showing this different side of natural wine has taken An to unexpected places. In addition to her now-closed retail spot, she’s participated in natural-wine pop-ups in places ranging from a hair salon and floral boutique to a Porsche dealership in the suburbs. By removing natural wine from its customary context, she found newcomers more open to trying the wine, and talking about it. “People were less afraid to ask questions, less afraid to approach somebody like me,” she says. “I don’t claim to know everything about natural wine, it’s just something I want to share with people. When you’re passionate about something you want to portray it in a certain way, and let people have their own opinions about it. I like to think I’ve made it more approachable for people, and make them more willing to explore.”
An also knows that such pop-ups and her advocacy of natural wine may not fit the accustomed model for what a wine event—and a natural-wine enthusiast—should look like. She sees that as a positive. “It takes someone to be the face of this, to champion it,” she says. “I don’t know if me being different from what the wine world is used to will change the way people think about wine, but maybe it’ll attract more people of color. If I saw a person of color representing natural wine, that’d change the way I think about it.”
Increasingly, she’s not alone, as natural wine emerges from its familiar haunts of wine bars and French restaurants, and flows in fresh directions. “One of the Instagram accounts I follow is Korean Fusion—she’s a Korean chef who recently got into natural wine and started pairing her food with natural wine. That’s really cool,” An says. “I hadn’t really seen Korean food paired with wine in general, so to see it paired with natural wine is so awesome to me. Small steps like that make it more interesting and exciting, and make people want to explore it more.”
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