Caroline Berner Kühl: How did the project come about?
Camilla Gjerde: I have loved natural wine since 2008, when I first tasted it. It was Arianna Occhipinti’s Il Frappato. I never thought about writing a book about it, until a friend of mine asked me what my dream in life was. It was a particularly existential day for me, and a very dark November night, and I responded without much thought that I wanted to write a book about natural wine. She challenged me a bit on the idea, thinking it was too vague, and I quickly found out that I wanted it to be about women producers. I had not realized that I had been thinking about this, but it must have come from somewhere. And the thing is, most of my favorite natural wines are made by women. It is not that I have sought them out specifically, but there is something about their wines that makes them interesting to me – they have a purity and energy that I love. That is how the idea came about, and then, I just could not let it go.
CBK: What happened next?
CG: I contacted Cecilia Magnusson, who is a friend of mine. I just knew that she had to photograph the women. Her style was perfect for the project. I am not sure I would have carried out the project if she had declined. I then reached out to the producers who I wanted to include, and we traveled intensely for two weeks, using only trains and bicycles, from Vienna to Sicily, through Italy and ending up in Jura in France.
CBK: What is the purpose of the book? Or the message?
CG: I think they are two different things, so let us start with the purpose. To me, it was important to write a book about women producers of natural wine, because I felt like too little attention is given to them. In general, books about wine are about men, which is not that strange as it continues to be a male dominated industry. Most of the stars of natural wine continues to be men, so I wanted to shed some light on other people than the ones we always hear about. People who are passionate about natural wine and quality. Passion was another purpose altogether – the book is not only a personal passion project, but the women in the book are also extremely passionate about what they do. It is meant as an inspiration of sorts to do something out of the ordinary.
CBK: This project was out of the ordinary for you too?
CG: Personally, it took me a long time to choose a path less traveled and do something simply because I am extremely interested in it instead of the secure 9-5 job. And then of course, it is about natural wine; the pleasures and challenges. There are many layers. But the idea was that it is a book that speaks not only to natural wine and wine lovers, but to people who are interested in entrepreneurship too. I studied political science and I have worked with political research, so I am highly interested in what it means to be a wine producer – the upsides and downsides. To be a wine producer is not only amazing, but also challenging and a lot of hard work. Often, the story about wine is too light, and I wanted to include the less simple parts about it.
CBK: Can you tell me about the women? And how you chose them?
CG: The simple answer is that they are some of my absolute favorites. And I basically only drink European wine, so that was a starting point too. I wanted to travel by train and bicycle, which also limited us. We could have included so many, but with the ambition for the project, of doing in-depth portraits of the women, I knew that I had to limit myself. Had I wanted to include more, it would have been a different project. That is why I have included at list in the end of the book of female natural wine producers from across the world. To show that the ones highlighted are my personal selection. And it is very personal. They are important to me – I have included some for whom natural wine is also about a passion for nature and the environment, where the wine is so much bigger than that, it is about agriculture and counter-urbanization. It becomes almost a philosophy. And for others in the book, it is about doing it because it feels right. I wanted to include that spectrum.
CBK: I feel like, with natural wine, that you do get a more personal relationship with the producers. You invest in the ones you like.
CG: Indeed. The thing about natural wine is that the producers are relatively small, because they are individual wine makers and not big conglomerates. It gives the wine a very personal expression, which makes the stories behind the bottles the more interesting. Because it does in fact influence what is in your glass.
CBK: You mentioned it with regards to some of the women in the book – the idea about nat
CG: I would say it varies. For some, it is. If you work biodynamically, you have made a conscious choice to go that extra mile. You must understand cosmos, and how earth works in relation to other planets, and so on. But working organically, without additives in the wine cellar, many do this because their way into winemaking was through natural wine production, and because that was the wine they loved. And then for some, it is about a cultural heritage, because natural wine is the traditional way of making wine. There are many different degrees to it. You cannot generalize and say that everyone is conscious about the environment. Many producers fly across the world to sell their wine. And export of wine is of course not great for the environment. Some care about it a lot and wish they could sell everything locally. But the demand might not be there.
CBK: You’ve mentioned that you traveled only by train and bicycle, why was that important
CG: I decided 4 years ago to not travel by plane anymore. Because of the climate crisis. In Europe, the train is amazing, but it takes time, and you need to prepare the trip better. It is a great way to travel though, because you can put in so many interesting stops on the way. And then, for me, natural wine is also about the environment – in my opinion, you cannot say one without the other. To me, organic and biodynamic agriculture is about the environment too. My interest in natural wine is connected to the environment. That is why it was important to me to travel only by train and bicycle. To show that it is possible. I mention it in the foreword, but other than that, I don’t write about it, so it is meant more as an inspiration.
CBK: An underlying theme?
CG: Yes, and it does relate back to your question about natural wine and the environment. For some producers, it is not about that, but to me, it is.
CBK: Finally, I know none of us can predict the future, but because the book is about women, do you think we will see more female producers?
CG: Absolutely. It is an upward trend. More and more women come into the industry. To me, it was important that the women in the book owned their own companies. Which very few do. But that is an upward trend too. In that sense, the future looks bright.