As the Lockdown in Europe continues towards its second month my guess is that many, perhaps most, readers will have begun to find it quite normal behaviour engaging with wine on an online platform. Like me, you will perhaps be joining in with Zoom events, Crowdcasts and even more likely via the dozens of Instagram live broadcasts, as indeed I’ve written about here, as a way of keeping in touch with your favourite wine merchants and the producers of some of your favourite wines. Maybe you already chat on one of the long-standing wine forums too.
On 1 April something new arrived, something which was not just swiftly brought about as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, but which had been in the pipeline since two entrepreneurial wine trade professionals had an idea back in January 2019. That idea has become Littlewine, or more precisely littlewine.co .
Littlewine describes itself as “your online destination for exploring the story behind the bottle”, but it indeed promises much more than that. Since January last year Christina Rasmussen and Daniela Pillhofer have been working on what could be the most exciting wine web site, at least for people with my tastes, for very many years.
Christina had been working for Westbury Communications, and as a freelance writer with considerable travel notched up around the world’s wine regions, as well as more recently having made wine too. She has some of the widest connections in the trade of anyone I know. Daniela had been one of the founders, with Peter Honegger, of Newcomer Wines. They had begun importing Austrian wines, initially selling them from one of the shipping containers that formed Shoreditch Boxpark before moving out to premises at Dalston Junction. Here, along with their bar-style restaurant and import business they developed one of London’s most exciting wine shops.
Daniela Pillhofer and Christina Rasmussen
Both Christina and Daniela’s passion was not merely for wine as such, but for the kind of wine that is made in partnership with, not in conflict with, nature and Mother Earth. This is exactly how my philosophy had evolved over the years. I became an enthusiastic customer of Newcomer Wines, who happened to import almost all of my favourite Austrian new wave producers, and at the same time I was becoming, as an emerging writer, a frequent visitor to the events Christina was organising. I say this because I’m going to sound pretty impressed with what these two ladies have come up with but I suggest you head over to the site to check it out for yourselves if you doubt my objectivity.
The Littlewine platform aims to combine education and e-commerce. The focus is firstly on what the founders call “mindful winemaking”, which basically means a low-intervention approach to viticulture and vinification, and the creation of what I guess many people might call natural wine, although if this term is used on the site I’ve yet to spot it. As I said before, all the winemakers featured on the site make wine through working with nature, not against or at war with it.
Biodynamics at Meinklang (Burgenland)
The overall aim is to bridge the gap between “the farmer…and the consumer”. The web site aims to do this via editorial (part of the site’s free content) and via winemaker features and recorded interviews, but also via the media of audio and film. High quality mini-documentaries will feature as core parts of the subscriber “access all areas” content on the site. From what I’ve seen of the film clips so far, they are informative, but equally artistically pleasing, and innovative too. Perhaps only Jonathan Nossiter, in his film length documentaries, comes close to what Daniela and Christina are trying to achieve. Of course the production values are similar to those of the promotional videos for any major winery, but in this case with editorial independence.
A quote from Christina sums up what they want to achieve pretty well: “Learning about wine shouldn’t be like going back to university; it should be more like watching David Attenborough on TV!”.
The editorial content sets out to promote knowledge for everyone from the novice to the professional, and indeed for the philosophers of wine among us, through “Out of the Box” articles to come. Whilst much of the content will be provided by the founders, principally by Christina as Head of Content (who also directs the films), a number of experts are lined up to make contributions as well. These include Jamie Goode, Rajat Parr, José Vouillamoz and Aaron Ayscough, all of whom could be described as being among the very best in their particular field.
The core content behind the paywall will consist of a number of winemaker profiles. Featured winemakers already include Pierre Cotton (Beaujolais), J-F Ganevat (Jura), Jaimee Motley (California), Claus Preisinger (Burgenland) and Silwervis (Swartland). The aim is to add two winemaker profiles (with interviews etc) every week, creating one hundred profiles in the first year. There are said to be 300 winemakers lined up for future inclusion.
The all access pass will cost a seemingly very reasonable £24-per-year and this will unlock exclusive content. You will be able to meet the winemakers through narrative, audio and film, as well as joining global events such as webinars. Additionally, there will be exclusive wines in the online shop.
The Littlewine online shop will sell wines, presumably largely but not exclusively, from the featured winemakers. In fact having checked out the online store, as well as several wines from each of the winemakers mentioned above, there are also bottles from Christoph Hoch, Anne-Sophie Dubois, Angelino Maule, Selvadolce and Raphaël Saint-Cyr, but I get the impression these will be added to. I think the idea is that rare cuvées and bottlings will be available to subscribers, with perhaps some wines even being exclusive to Littlewine.
“Fanfan” and Claus
Although there will, as I have already suggested, be information useful to novices, the main target audience is certainly those with a firm interest in the subject. This includes what they call “ambitious wine professionals, curious wine consumers and inquisitive winemakers”. Together these people will create a likeminded wine community, somewhere for everyone who effectively believes in the ideals of low intervention wine.
Who knows, perhaps one day the site will also develop a members online forum, a kind of cross between Winepages and Purple Pages but without the negativity, even occasionally aggression, towards natural wines that some more general wine fora can exhibit. Maybe there will be “offline” get togethers (tastings perhaps), even vineyard trips. Such speculation is for the future.
I think I can begin to conclude my mere introduction to Littlewine by quoting the words of Daniela Pillhofer. She says that the site will “highlight the people who deserve more attention”. This statement goes to the heart of the Littlewine philosophy. Small is beautiful. Making artisan wines, not wine on an industrial scale, is what this resource is all about, and it supposes that those who choose to go down this path as consumers will naturally be interested in a certain level of detail hitherto unavailable in one good source.
With a blend of editorial guidance and our own research we will, I hope, become more educated as to the methods and philosophies behind some of the world’s great artisan wine producers. It is a little ironic that Littlewine has been released at this time. I don’t mean simply because it provides us with yet more online content at a time when we perhaps have a little more of that precious commodity on our hands.
What I mean is that we have reached a point where those of us that were beginning to question certain ways of living are starting to think more seriously and more urgently about what we do with the rest of our precious time on earth, and what we can do in order to ensure that our generation begins to bring our planet back from the brink of destruction, at least as regards our own species’ survival along with that of our planet’s great biodiversity.
Certainly one of the obvious places to start is with what we consume, and a key part of that aspect of our lives is what we eat and drink. Drinking wine made with as little impact on nature as possible is pretty easy to achieve in 2020, in some ways perhaps easier than with what we eat (though I am not ignorant of the fact that it is the kind of choice that the privileged and reasonably affluent are able to make much more easily than most people).
At the time of this great global pandemic, perhaps Littlewine, in respect of one small part of our agtriculture, is here to give voice to a way forward which perhaps we should all embrace. Do check out what is on the site already. The free content should give some idea of whether you feel inclined to invest the moderate annual subscription for the access all areas pass. Personally I shall look forward to further exploration over the coming months and to seeing how this resource develops.
Littlewine’s free content can be accessed here. Subscriptions currently cost £24 per year.
All photographic materials in this article courtesy of Littlewine.