“A bottle of wine is one of the only consumer products out there that doesn’t have a labelling system,” says Kevin Korslick, a partner/general manager at Woodlot. For something so widely appreciated in so many different settings, that seems a bit odd. “I think a lot of people would be surprised to know the hundreds of additives that are allowed to be put into a bottle of wine, other than just grapes.”
Since Woodlot launched in 2010, Korslick and his staff have received numerous accolades for their ever-evolving dual menus for meat-eaters and vegetarians. Kitchen operations centre around a wood-fired oven, and that informs much of what is served on the plate here. But the initial idea for opening this restaurant didn’t end with the food. Natural wine was always part of the vision and it remains a big part of why diners keep coming back.
Unlike wines that bear organic or biodynamic certification, natural wine is not part of a formalized system of cultivation and production, but rather an operative ethos or trust exercise between grower and consumer. Simply put: natural wine is made without any chemical intervention or industrial practices in the winemaking process. That means forgoing everything from using pesticides in the field to adding sulphites to the bottle. It’s a celebration of what’s possible when you stick to the traditions of winemaking.
“All the work is done with vineyard management,” says Korslick. Grapes are harvested by hand then pressed and allowed to ferment naturally, all without the use of commercial yeasts and production techniques. “Typically the wine is fermented and aged in neutral vessels, whether it’s clay or concrete or really old wood.” But again, there are no specific rules as to what constitutes a natural wine.
The result of this process is wine that varies each year according to the weather conditions and cultivation methods, just like an agricultural food product should. In contrast, many of the conventional wines that dominate the industry are formulated to taste the same no matter the vintage. This requires a kind of artificial manipulation of the wine that is at odds with restaurants like Woodlot.
Korslick’s passion for natural wine tapers well with an overall concern about food origin – something that consumers have also picked up on in recent years. Knowing the full details of where a steak or leg of lamb comes from, how the animals were raised and what they were fed can deeply influence the dining experience.
This widespread change in consumption habits supports an ongoing shift towards greater disclosure of ethical farming and animal husbandry techniques. So it’s ironic that this same attention is not more widely applied to what’s inside a glass of wine.
Korslick says the LCBO is one of the main roadblocks to the natural wine movement in Ontario. “They don’t favour anything small,” he says. “They want importers to bring in a specific amount of wine every week, every month.” Typically, those orders are encouraged to be a lot larger than what an independent Toronto restaurant needs for day-to-day service.
For an importer trying to bring natural wine products into Ontario – products that can vary in volume and flavour profile depending on the vintage – the bureaucratic system can be a massive impediment. Korslick has seen importers give up on trying to deal with this province entirely, which is a detriment to wine-lovers as they provide indispensable access to global markets. If the LCBO rejects a wine shipment, most importers and small winemakers counting on the sale of that product can’t afford to pay for the return shipment, and this can result in the product being destroyed without ever reaching the market.
“I think a lot of consumers have started getting into this movement,” says Korslick. He’s seen how diners at Woodlot have grown more accepting of natural wines that have a lighter body, lower alcohol content and slightly higher acidity, all of which pairs well with foods that contain animal fat.
“It’s night and day compared to when we opened. The wines that would be turned away six years ago when people tasted it are the wines that people are looking for now and they’re specifically requesting these components in the wines when they’re ordering it.”
Woodlot is a NOW Access partner. Check out their offers on nowaccess.ca.