A short walk through a courtyard and down a flight of stairs just off Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville brings you to Crocodile Wine, a unique shop that offers natural wines made using time-honored methods.
The wines in the shop are made by farmers who grow grapes sustainably in their vineyards, said John Hale, owner of Crocodile Wine.
“Grapes are harvested by hand instead of machines, and only wild native yeasts are used for fermentation,” Hale said. “This ensures that the wine is a product of land, weather, and farmers, and less of a laboratory grape-cocktail beverage.”
Natural winemakers don’t use refining products and use little-to-no filtering—and preferably no new oak, he added.
The many varieties of wines displayed on shelves at Crocodile Wine are both domestically and internationally sourced from countries such as France, Spain, Portugal, Chile, and Mexico.
Hale works with distributors with whom he has established a relationship to select wines for his shop.
“Every country has good and bad wines,” he remarked.
Many of the wines in the shop are on the young side, but some are aged, depending on the variety.
“Natural wine isn’t fancy, or a luxury. It can be affordable like any other wine,” Hale said.
Handwritten tags on the wine bottles give information about their character, origin and cost. The sections of wines include a group that sells for less than $20 at Crocodile Wine.
A growing popularity
“The natural wine movement has been gaining exposure in the past few decades, but the practice itself is centuries-old and in many ways a return to the way wine used to (and should) be made,” Hale said.
Some the wines at his shop are certified organic, but most aren’t because the organic certification is super expensive, and most of these farmers work on a very small scale, and with limited budget, he noted.
However, no chemical herbicides or pesticides are used in the vineyard, according to Hale.
“All the farmer/producers we work with follow sustainable farming so that their vineyards are part of a clean eco-system,” Hale said.
“They use careful, but minimal, intervention in the cellar in order to let the “natural” qualities of the climate, soil, vine and grape shine through in the wine,” he explained.
Standing in his shop—which resembles a wine cellar with its cool temperature and peaceful vibe—Hale talked about his journey from Brooklyn, New York to Asheville. After years of working at restaurants in New York, Hale decided to move to this area with his wife and children and open a shop that sells natural wines.
While working in New York, Hale learned about natural wines from a knowledgeable vintner. And he became intrigued.
“Along with music and food, I’m very passionate about natural wine, bordering on obsession,” Hale said. “Like hearing the perfect song on a road trip, sharing the right bottle of wine with friends can be a transformative experience. I like to help people find those moments.”
Hale also was eager to transition from working for a business to owning one—a move that would allow him to set his own schedule and spend more time with his children.
After searching for a good location, the space Hale found was in fact a former wine cellar for an Irish pub that used to be upstairs.
Crocodile Wine, 27 Biltmore Avenue, is open Sunday, Monday and Thursday from noon until 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon until 8 p.m.
For more information, visit the website at www.crocodilewine.com or call 828-505-2551.