Curious to hear more about natural wines? Join Romain Cousot , Co-Founder of Cogito Wines and Elspeth Shek, Field Marketing & Events Manager APAC, for an informative session on the best and most authentic, chemical-free wines made by artisan growers.
We will explore the use of technology in the winemaking business, cover trends and observations during COVID-19, as well as go over some fun recommendations for these interesting times we live in
Happy hour, guys. Welcome to our third installation of Zoomelier. I'm Els, CFU marketer for Cloudflare APAC and today we have a really special guest, Romain Cousot of Kwajito Wines.
Kwajito Wines is a direct importer and distributor of natural wines and spirits in Singapore.
They source for the best and most authentic chemical-free wines made by artisan growers.
So welcome, Romain. Thank you for joining us today.
Can you share a little bit about yourself? Hi, Els. Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting us today.
And yeah, quickly telling you about us. About myself, I am Romain, the co-founder of Kwajito Wines and director of Kwajito Wines as well.
So it's a company we started about almost two years ago, which is based in Singapore.
And it's a direct importer and distributor in Singapore of natural wines.
So we will go through natural wines very quickly. And about myself, I've been in Singapore for five years, enjoying it very much.
So it was time to start a business and do what I like the most, drinking and working with wine.
That's great. And so, Romain, you have a very interesting background before you became a sommelier.
I understand that you used to work at Noma, one of the world's best restaurants.
I'm so excited to visit that. And also Restaurant Andre, our very best restaurant in Asia, which has closed down because Chef Andre wants to pursue other interests.
So could you share a little bit more about your background before you became a sommelier?
Yeah, so these two restaurants are a very big milestone in my career and my vision.
The chef and the professionals that I meet here were fantastic.
And if I work with natural wine today, it's thanks to them as well.
So at Noma, I worked 10 years ago. At that time, Noma was already a great restaurant, a famous restaurant.
It wasn't number one directly. It was voted number one in 2010.
So I joined in 2010 because I wanted to work with people who have no, you know, the French tradition can be very castrative for creativity sometimes.
So I reckon we have an amazing country, but I had to leave France, where I come from originally, to find younger chefs, new ideas, exciting environments, and then push the boundaries.
So this is what I found at Noma, exciting cuisine, great atmosphere, moving forward philosophy, working with nature.
And part of working in nature at Noma was also to work with natural wines.
And for me, it was a revelation because when I work with natural wines, I don't work with one grape, one appellation that I see every day.
I have hundreds of grapes, hundreds of appellations that I can use because we also work with different terroirs, with different appellations.
So we're not really focusing on the mainstream grape names.
We are focusing on the local produce tradition and taste. And so my range of flavors at Noma just opened.
I used to work with a few wines. I will drop my glass.
I used to work with a few wines in France. And then I go to Noma and suddenly a lot of wines came to me and it was fantastic.
So after a couple of years with René Redzepi at Noma, I continued traveling.
I was also related to Australia at that time, so I spent five years in Australia.
And cutting it, I kept working with natural wines, natural chefs in Australia, but I moved to Singapore in 2018 to join Restaurant André.
And here it's a completely different approach. We work with haute cuisine, quality, high standing, but there is a refinement and an idea of local identity, which was great with André and this is why we could match.
So André wanted to have the best local, rarest, most confidential natural wine in France.
And for me it was perfect because we can do it. So André was a second milestone because with André I started to import natural wine.
Before, when the restaurant closed, I started my own business.
So we created a top wine list in Asia and in the world, we had about 500 wines.
We also get awards, international awards for the wine list and definitely everything was 100% natural.
So from Noma 10 years ago to André two years ago, they've been a constant improvement, which is exciting.
Yeah, so we'll cover a little bit about natural wines in the next few minutes.
But before we go there, I wanted to ask you, you're our first sommelier on the Sommelier series and it seems like you have a lot of experience in many countries, many famous restaurants.
So could you share how you became a sommelier?
Like was it for your love of wine or was it something else? Well, sommelier is...
thank you. Sommelier is an achievement.
So initially I'm actually a trained chef. And the thing is when I started to cook, I started when I was 15, first with summer jobs, then the summer jobs.
Oh, I finally prefer the summer jobs. So I'm going to do it on the evening, on the weekend.
And the part-time job became a real job after 18. So that was really about the kitchen because there was something exciting in it for me.
And it was really the old traditional French cooking.
Nevermind, I spent a couple of years then in a kitchen in Monaco because I'm born in Nice.
So I'm just next to Monaco.
So I worked on the Riviera for a couple of years. And it's because I have also some computer skills and language skills that I went out of the kitchen.
I know when you speak a few languages and when you can play with a computer, I studied mathematics until 18 at the same time I was cooking.
So yeah, I found it interesting also to be on the front of house.
And I kept this status to be once in a kitchen, once in a front of house.
At the same time, I started to work in hospitality at Plaza Athénée, at Negresco, in big, big places.
But it's when I moved to Denmark, when I moved to Noma, that I found like, okay, I really need to now be a sommelier because I cannot work in a restaurant and don't know about wine.
So that's a whole journey to become a sommelier.
It didn't happen with one year study.
I never went to school. I actually met with my manager at Noma, Lo Richter. One day he asked me a question about, oh, you know about this appellation in the south of France next to Bordeaux, Sauternes?
Yeah, yeah. And I had to find the grapes just during service.
And I couldn't remember two of the grapes because there are three grapes allowed.
I just remember Semillon, I forget Semillon Blanc Muscadet.
So he said, oh, you should know about wine. Okay, I'm going to be a sommelier at the end of the year.
And at the end of the year, I became a sommelier. I registered myself online at the school.
I never went to school. I studied at home and I passed the sommelier the sommelier exam, diploma in France.
So no WSCT, no, just at home studying.
I am at home right now. So it's a bit the same. You put the bottles out, you put the books, you read, you read, you speak to sommelier, you go to see the winemaker, and then you become a sommelier.
It's a lot of dedication.
Like if you want to be a sommelier, you need to learn the basics.
You cannot start with natural wine, open a bottle.
And of course, a lot of people knows about wine, but sommelier, you need to know how to combine the food, how to serve the people, how to entertain the people in the restaurant.
And that comes up so with practice and you also need to study.
So there was one year of sacrifices. Everybody asks you to sell wine.
So for those who don't know, so during the lockdown period, due to COVID-19, Romain is my personal sommelier and wine seller.
I'm so glad to have met him.
And I must say like, you know, Romain, for yourself to obtain your sommelier certification on your own, that's a really great feat.
And could you share a little bit about how is it like to be a sommelier?
What is it like?
What is a day in the life of a sommelier like? Yeah, every restaurant will be different depending if you work in a three-star, if you work in a bistro.
Sometimes it's more entertaining to work as a head sommelier of a bistro.
But in general, you have a few basics.
I will look down on my notes just to be very tricky.
But basically, you arrive, you meet your team, you say hello to the chef. If you don't say hello to the kitchen, why do you go work in a restaurant?
So that's the first thing every sommelier should do, say hello to your team and meet the chef, meet the service.
And you have to delegate. If you are a manager sommelier, you need to delegate the task for the day to your assistant.
You're going to prepare the glasses.
If you have to polish the glasses, you're going to prepare the setup.
If you have to set up the tables, you're going to prepare the wines. Everybody has his own schedule.
If you start at 9 a.m., 9.30, 10 a.m., some restaurant will start earlier, but it's not recommended because you finish late.
So that will be the first steps.
Then as a head sommelier, you have assigned your duties, and then you need to check your emails and and your reservation.
So quickly check your emails, deal with the emergencies, and then at the same time, you need to schedule your day because you often have a wine supplier, you often have meetings, you often have calls with the winemaker if you are an importer as well.
So this is something you need to think ahead because once the service starts, you don't have time for anything else than service.
And then you check your booking for the day.
You look at the repeat guests. You always take notes of who has been here, what did they eat, how they came here.
Six months ago, they had a bottle of Sébastien Riffaut from Sancerre.
They loved it. Okay, when we go to the table, we need to know they had it, and we need to ask if they want the same wine, if they want something different, something similar.
So that's what you prepare ahead. And then you need to check with your chef what is the menu.
Are we going to do a wine pairing at the last minute?
Are we having some flexibilities? You also have to check your wine stock.
Once you check the chef the menu, if you have to do the pairing, then you check your stock and you see what you're going to do for the service.
Usually, I do it just before service because this is the most flexible part.
You take the bottles out. You see you have one, two, three bottles of this cuvee remaining, and you want to clear the stock.
So you take notes and you tell your sommelier, we have to sell it today.
You drink if you tell it. Sounds good. Thanks for sharing.
I always thought as a sommelier, your job is to show up at five o'clock, make sure the wines are in order, and then people drink, recommend them a good wine, and then you just drink with them.
What a great job, right? Once in my life, I wanted to be a sommelier because I thought that's all it is.
But now that you share, it's a lot of knowledge and work behind a restaurant before it opens.
In the interest of time, and you have a lot to cover, I wanted to ask you, Ramon, why did you decide to set up Cogito Wines?
Why? First, it's been the journey.
I have a knowledge, so to start producing wines, it's the first point. We have the knowledge, we have the experience, so we can work on it.
Secondly, Cogito Wine is very specific.
It's only natural wine, so there is a reason why I work with natural wine.
It's because the quality of the wine is very interesting.
A lot of people, they know about Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, but then you go with natural wine, and then you have to know about Grèce de Montpellier.
You have to know about all the different Beaujolais village population.
You have to know about the crazy grapes, such as Mosaic, Landelel, and you need to know the difference between Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Mellier.
You have something in your hand, which brings you all the knowledge to do a serious job.
And why natural wine? I explained it. My first encounter was with natural wine in Australia, Motobola, in Mudgee, next to Sydney in 2007.
I went to see winemakers, and the first wines that I tried, natural wine in my life, was in Mudgee, in Australia.
I realized that the wine was actually the one I liked the most.
So that's the only one I bring back to France to make my family tasting. And since I only work with natural wine, so Cogito had to be with natural wine.
There are also, they are written, I have the knowledge, I have the experience, I have produced that I believe in, and also the demand for natural wine is increasing, and the demand for alcohol is increasing in Singapore.
It's about 40 percent in within four years, after 2015.
So here we are, we are in a hub in Southeast Asia, which is rising, and we can bring quality.
We have done it before, restaurants are closed, so it's time to go on my own.
That's great. First time to do it, perfect, perfect condition.
And I'm so glad you set up your business. So we have a question from a viewer, and you mentioned it a lot of times.
So what exactly is natural wine? Can you share with us, like I think a lot of people ask, is it organic, or like what is it?
Can you share with us, what does it mean to be a natural wine? Well, a natural wine is a wine made in a natural way.
And what does that mean, made in a natural way?
It simply means that there is no pesticide, herbicide, no chemicals are used in the vineyard.
I won't make it too complicated. People will say, oh that is organic.
Yes, it's an interpretation of organic. No pesticide, no herbicide, no insecticide.
Well, we keep the vineyard clean. Second thing is, our approach in natural wine has to follow the natural cycles.
Basically, we follow the moon cycle, the sun cycle, the seasonal cycle, and the life cycles.
How? We will avoid simply destroying the soil.
We will keep the bacterial life. We will keep the natural yeast on the grapes, and we let the grass grow.
So the insect, they will come during the spring.
So okay, that sounds very beautiful. It's a bit bucolic with a lot of flowers and an insect, and that's how it is.
And people who know about it, they will say, oh but this is biodynamic.
I thought it was the same. Actually, a step further after organic, you become biodynamic when you follow the natural cycles of the plant.
And you avoid also mechanical use. Awesome. So what I'm hearing is, let's say organic wine could be like organic grapes, but in the process, perhaps they use like some machinery or the way they process, it could still, there would be some like colorings are addictive to it.
In natural wine case, there are no colorings, no addictives.
The growers just pick the grapes and let it do its job.
And then depending on how the moon and the sun and the energy works, every bottle of wine or every batch of wine tastes different.
Yeah, exactly. You don't create a brand, you follow nature.
So there are the ups and downs. It's a bit romantic, but this is what nature decided.
Awesome. I love romantic wines. So today's session is about like technology and winemaking.
And I know you have some very interesting stories to share.
Can you let us know like, you know, what are the kind of technologies involved in natural wine?
In terms of technologies for natural wine, we are in the 21st century.
So we do have a few winemakers who are very medieval. And of course, even the most medieval winemakers that we have, which I will mention a bit later, he still drives a car.
But we have a few winemakers who don't have a mobile phone.
In terms of modern technology, there is one technology, but it's more of a science.
Now today's natural winemakers, they have a lot of knowledge because they know about bacterial life, they know about enzymes, they know about all these natural elements, how it works, which they didn't have, obviously, in terms of knowledge a few generations ago.
And for making natural wine, you will try to limit the technological and mechanical intervention.
So it starts with a vineyard.
In a vineyard, basically, there is nothing modern.
You can plow the vineyard with a horse or a small caterpillar. It plows with the horse to the vineyard.
Why? Because the horse is only 700, 800 kilos, and it's one step at a time.
So the soil does not damage the roots, which are in the soil, are not compressed.
So there is a good circulation of the air, of the water, of the roots in the soil.
If you bring a big caterpillar several times a month, you will compact your soil and there is no life potential.
So that's one of the ideas of being natural.
Why do we do it? There is a reason. It's not just because we like to smell the horse.
It's actually better. And the fact that you respect the life, you will create more fermenting elements on your grapes, because there is life in your vineyard.
So the reaction between this fermenting material, so on the skin, you have the yeast.
You don't need to bring chemical yeast created in the laboratory to start the fermentation.
The yeast is already there because it didn't break anything.
So the symbiosis is perfect. What you can use as a technology is more, for some winemakers, they work a lot, they will often use a mechanical press.
This one? The mechanical press? This one is a more natural way.
It's a manual press. Manual press? The screw on top, it's made by Hubert Rosseur.
This is the winemaker we have here. No spring flight.
He plows the vineyard with a horse. And he doesn't use any electricity for making wine.
I can't imagine, man.
So like if it's nighttime and it's dark, he would have to grind the grapes in the dark.
So when he presses, of course, it's a bit slower. So his Riesling doesn't taste like this very bright, exotic, aromatic Riesling from Alsace.
It's a bit darker and healthier because it's slower. If you want to do it with a machine, you're going to damage the grape.
You're not going to respect the produce.
And in the end, you end up with a very standard taste. And everybody in Alsace kind of tastes the same, more or less.
I mean, I'm not being nasty, but it's true.
You can definitely smell the Riesling and taste it, but they don't have the same history.
They are all from kilometers away from each other. So this is how we interpret his vineyard and his work.
And yeah, in terms of technology, you try to avoid it from natural winemakers.
It's very medieval. So you see the vineyard, there are plenty of insects, plenty of snails.
The soil is very, how to say, fluffy because there are roots, because there are humps.
It's not compact and sandy.
It's alive. Yeah, it sounds like a really good way to work out and have wine at the same time.
I think I'm going to sign up for that. Put me in touch with your winemakers.
Winemakers are very happy. I am sure. So before we go to the last part, could you share a little bit more, because you shared with me this photo, which is like crystals.
So how are crystals involved in natural winemaking? So this is a quartz crystal you saw, or what we are looking for the quartz, it's a silice, one of the minerals which we find in elements in the crystals of quartz.
And this is actually more related to the biodynamic philosophy.
It's a philosophy, to make it quickly, a philosopher from Austria back in 1926, yes, Rudolf Steiner, developed a theory that if you follow the natural cycle, and if you follow natural elements, you develop better agriculture.
Because already 100 years ago, you could start the development of industrialization within the agricultural part.
And you could see the damage, years after years, about this mechanical practice in the vineyards.
So it's simply recommended to use natural preparation. So this is like a medicine.
You see something is wrong in a vineyard, you're going to use a natural preparation.
So you have some names for it. The silice preparation, the quartz is preparation 501.
Basically, you use it when you don't see, when you see there is not enough sun, like right now, the clouds are here for many days.
So there is no photosynthesis.
What you do is you crush your quartz, you create a silice powder, and you spray it on the vineyard.
And by doing it, the quartz will create reflection of the sunlight.
So there is more sun in the vineyard. And this is one idea of how to use natural elements in the preparation.
Because you could simply use fertilizer to help the grapes growing, but...
Okay. I don't know. How to create compost.
This is preparation 500. This is probably the most famous. Because you can use fertilizer to help your vineyards growing, or you can put a lot of water and irrigate to make sure there is always water.
But to find the great nutriments, and especially to find the energy, because there is a meaning of energy in it, the winemaker will borrow a co-manure underground in the soil, in a co-horn.
So they use the head and the bottom, basically.
And after some time in the soil, it will get the energy from the soil.
And this will be sprayed on the vineyard as well.
I tried to make it short, but these are element preparation who help us correcting what we miss in the nature.
Because it's not because you follow nature, it's going to be perfect.
There are a lot of challenges to develop wine in a natural way.
Sounds good. Thank you. And so we have three minutes left. Let's go have some recommendations, something fun.
So we are all working from home right now, and sometimes I have Zoom calls like now, and I want to have some wine while I'm having an important meeting with my manager.
What will you recommend for a wine that you have business on top and party at the bottom?
Yeah, for business, what I would say is take something easy, take something bright and floral, something you can easily smash and not focus too much on.
You can take a wine from the Loire Valley, a Chenin Blanc.
This is made by Domaine Moss. It's fantastic.
We just did a Zoom call with him last month. Awesome. I have that too, I think.
And another about is our engineers, they want to have something to geek out, to do coding and be really focused.
What would you recommend? Okay. Coding sounds complicated.
I actually stopped just before my friend started studying it.
So for me, I think it's very intellectual, so you need to have a brainstorming.
I think something a bit orange like this, a bit intellectual wine. You see the color?
Yeah. It's gonna make you thinking. So your head is working, your palate is working, everything works together.
And this is by Pierre Roger, one of the most natural winemakers in Auvergne.
Sounds good. And let's say when we...
How do I put it? If I made it in life and I'm extremely, extremely rich and money is not a problem anymore, what wine would you recommend?
Oh, for this, you can have as much money as you want.
You cannot buy wine with money, you have to buy it with your heart.
It's simply because the most demand is the rarest natural wine, they won't be worth any money.
They are a taste, they are philosophy. Sounds good. Thanks for your recommendation today.
And now we're at the end of the segment and really appreciate it.
I will share with the viewers how they can get natural wine from you offline, but thank you so much for your time today.
I've learned a lot. Thank you so much.
Everyone feel free to join the mailing list. There was a big email and a new shipment just arrived yesterday.
So Saturday we send a new wine list.
So feel free to join us on the website. Awesome. Thank you so much for inviting me.