Tiny East Austin wine shop uncorks sustainable selections for natural wine club
Saba San’s, a tiny wine store in Bento Picnic packed floor-to-ceiling with bottles, always places an emphasis on what it calls “low-intervention wines.” This means seeking out small growers that are either certified organic or practicing organic (since the certification itself can be an expensive process), on which buyer Veronica Meewes takes the lead. Especially without the certification, finding those wines is not easy.
In September, the Saba San’s Wine Club is tackling a hot topic that amplifies that central value: sustainability. More specifically, to separate the monthly theme (which in the past has ranged from regional focal points to “pool wines”) from the baseline Saba San standard, the discussion is about climate change.
The wine club is a fluid experience that, instead of tying patrons down to a set of bottles shipped to them, allows several choices throughout the selection process. At a basic level, a membership is a commitment to buy three or six bottles of wine every month, spiced up by a curated selection and the opportunity to learn while branching out. Members can accept a default package, or they can select their own combination from the list; if they love one of the selections and want six identical bottles, they are welcome to them. The bottles vary in price but are deeply discounted from the store’s usual offerings.
This month, Meewes selected eight wines (three for everyone, three more for bigger packages, and two optional add-ons) all showcasing some sustainability innovation or working around changing growing patterns. “New generations of winemakers are rediscovering native grapes, planting experimental grapes in areas where other varieties are now failing — regions that have been neglected for decades are now waking up, and of course, emerging regions are developing across the globe,” she says.
One wine, Vistas (2020) by Usonia Wines, is from the Finger Lakes, a cooler region that traditionally grows Riesling; it showcases a blend of varieties from the region as rising temperatures allow a longer growing season with unpredictability tempered by the lakes. Another, Astro Bunny Pét-Nat (2021) by Wildman Wine, is made under similar conditions in Australia, where Italian varietals are taking hold as things get hotter and drier.
The local(ish) wine in the lineup, First Rodeo (2021) by Alta Marfa, is grown in West Texas using a dry farming method that uses wood chips to cool the ground and retain the small amount of rain water it gets. In addition to its sustainable provenance, it doesn’t carry the same carbon footprint as importing bottles from overseas. Another water-saving technique comes from the Garnatxa Peluda variety (“hairy Garnacha”), a mutation that developed little hairs under the leaves that hold moisture. This varietal is used in the Rosé (2021) by Alta Alella.
The rest of the wines in this batch include the 2020 Flat Brim Sparkling Riesling, which creatively masks the effects of wildfire damage; the 2021 Folk Machine Parts & Labor, which comes from a carbon-neutral facility; the Chapel Down Classic NV Brut, which is all-around sustainable, grown with indigenous grasses, exceptional water management, and more; and the 2021 Moonland Co-Ferment as an additional option for those who like more than just grapes in their wine, made with apples and pears.
“In short,” Meewes writes in the selection announcement, “climate change is really putting to test the old adage: struggling vines make the best wines.”
Saba San’s Wine Club is accepting new members for the September selections until Monday, August 22. All orders must be picked up at the shop in Bento Picnic, at 2600 E. Cesar Chavez St. More information and a sign up link are available at sabasans.com.