212: Organic Grapes | First Vine Wine Imports and blog | Tom Natan | Washington, DC



Tom Natan from First Vine  Wine Imports has been very patient with my schedule and we are talking in August and I am just posting it today in February! To hear the full interview go to www.organicgardenerpodcast.com

Thanks I’ve been listening to a few of the podcasts and its been really fun.

I’m gonna give the credit to my guests because I love podcasting. It’s so great to meet people who think like I do. It just seems like I have been meeting a lot of different people this year. I am in fourth grade this year and the kids just jumped on the composting. Our garden is in full bloom so I’ve been bringing in dragon’s tongue beans the kids have been loving and carrots and apples and zukes for staff and parents!

Tell us a little about yourself.

A chemical engineer by training after college I worked for a food product development company. So my work history at least initially was always about food and I’ve always loved cooking.

a little bit of knowledge

My dad came to US when he

taught us a little bit about it. He was also kind of a beer person. So it was kind of up to me to educate myself. After grad school I ended up in DC. I was working ofr and environmental consulting firm and then I worked for an environmental advocacy organization

I met people all over the world interested in the environment and

I met a woman who was  married to a vineyard in Provence

went to visit in 2002

don’t make it to the US. I don’t think people aren’t aware of how much wine is made all over the world.

In the Rhone Valley in SE France

6000 vineyards in an area the size of the boroughs of Manhattan. The majority of it isn’t gonna make it over here. The idea percolated for a lot of years to get the wines over

We started with 7 wines from 4 producers and it was really fun to get those first shipments. To see those pallets coming in. Then you have to figure out a way to sell them. The whole process of importing wine is full of admin details. A lot of people would find really tedious, but I love that part of the job. I’m not a natural born salesman so that is the toughest part for me

It allowed me to combine my education and work background to doing something completely different

environmental work

As everyone is aware politics is a cyclical thing. You work hard to get something done and the admin changes, they can for the most part can take a lot of it away

directing agencies not to enforce or not directing resources towards projects. Once something gets taken away it takes 2xs as long to get it back.

It was time to get out of that kind of merry-go-ground

Im kind of a bitter and cynical person and that was just making me more bitter and cynical.

by and large nobody’s in the wine business because they have to be

  • make the wine
  • families have been making wines for generations
  • people who drink it obviously they like it

The importer to consumer chain it’s filled with lots of nice people

I’ve really enjoyed it so far

My background has allowed me to delve into

  • fermentation I had to study as an
  • undergrad
  • also theories behind the agriculture
  • how they relate to the kinds of foods that we eat and know

I import wines from

  • france
  • spain
  • italy

definition of organic is different

  • biodynamic
  • sustainable

more and more as how food is produced

probably interested in how their wines are produced.

probably 5-6 years ago, I’m not sure people wouldn’t have given it that much thought

go to the farmer’s market buy some tomatoes and they shake the farmer’s hand at the farmer’s market and go home pick a bottle of wine from their wine rack and not think so much about how that wine was produced. That’s really changed a lot

wine industry

Wine Pairs

  • sauvignon blanc
  • grape Verdejo
  • summer roses


In the summer time  you could also serve a rose with it

Rosé’s vary in level of acidity

if you find one that has a little bit of a tang to it when you drink it that would be better

I think Rosé’s look great on the table

I always encourage people to drink them

my producers drinkRosé all year long

does a lot of good things

I serve Rosé with Thanksgiving

The other thing with that recipe liquid

drink that like Gazpacho. 

Or soak it up with some bread!


Tomatoes and Eggplant – to salt or not to salt?

Something that I like to do with tomatoes and eggplant

well so the big deal with eggplant is do you have to salt it or not salt it to get the bitterness out

The only way to figure that out is to cut some up and taste it.

if it tastes really bitter to you you probably need to salt it.

if it doesn’t taste bitter

you probably don’t need to

It may seem funny to eat raw eggplant

really that’s the only way I can tell

if you stick to the smaller ones

I was gonna say, I like to pick zucchinis, eggplants smaller, like the size of a quarter, maybe a bit bigger for the eggplant.

eggplants that size

not gonna have any problem with bitterness

best things to do with eggplant is to either

roast it or grill it

I think it tastes better. go ahead if you have one of those non-stick mats for baking sheets

parchment paper works well too.

or just put a fair amount of oil on the baking sheet

parchment or non-stick mat I think that works a little bit better.

eggplants just soak up oil like crazy

  • keep absorbing it
  • less oil
  • non-stick mat
  • or paper

will help

  • brush with a little oil
  • alt and pepper
  • slices that are about 1/2 -3/4 inch
  • these will be done
  • take them out

make little stacks with

  • sliced tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • fresh mozzarella cheese is great

if you don’t have fresh mozzarella or you don’t like it 

not everybody does

plenty of other cheese

  • feta
  • something that melts a little bit like
  • swiss cheeses

make little stacks

  • eggplant
  • cheese
  • tomato
  • cheeses
  • eggplant

pop back in the oven to melt

  • drizzle with a little oil

Out they come and you can eat them right out of the oven or cool off a little bit

really delicious that way!

That does sound so good. Mozzarella you get in New York is delicious but my friend Eve who I interviewed  on the mountain who makes homemade mozzarella to die for. I was thinking ricotta would work

in order to


what you should do is put the ricotta take a sieve and line with

  • leave overnight
  • talking about lb. of ricotta
  • 1/2 cup of liquid out of that
  • can save it,
  • give to your pets don’t throw that away
  • use it in bread it’s delicious
  • drink it
  • give it to your pets
  • once the ricotta is drained it will whole hold together


I like to drain it a bit, especially if you’ve got a

good brand of supermarket ricotta they just tend to have more liquid.

Ricotta cheese is really expensive in Montana. IDK why. When I get to NY I’m like omgosh how cheap that is? That can’t be?

if they make mozzarella they probably make


means recooked

after mozzarella gets made they take the whey that’s left over

add some sort of acid or renett to it

make ricotta cheese from that

chances are if they’re making

if they’re not making

using milk and cream and making it that way which is delicious but a lot more expensive

raw material

I’m always surprised at how expensive dairy products are on the east side of the mountains which seems so counter intuitive because here I’m on the open plains and there’s tons of cows and it’s so much less expensive on the west side where we live. It all seems to come from Spokane produce so that might be why, more gas etc.

I want to give you more one more recipe tip but I want to make sure we talk about organic and biodynamic wines.

Pairing Secrets

A little secret about pairing wines with food a lot of times your pairing wine with the sauce.

we were talking about zucchini earlier

pairing wine with food secret

pairing with the sauce

  • rather then the featured product
  • you have chicken relatively mild in flavor
  • sauce that has lots of onion
  • caramelized onion and stock
  • more flavor

made your chicken and you’ve got a little lemon and parsley

then you’re probably gonna want a white wine with that

  • not only are you pairing wine with the protein 
  • sauce flavor is what your are going to taste so go with that.

A lot of Italian fish dishes have tomatoes in them

pair it with the sauce

those are a few hints

hours and hours about pairing food and wine

Their mouths are probably drooling like mine and thinking about food. You should do a cookbook!

been thinking about that


for so long

Wine Production

I wanted to touch briefly on wine production

we’re eating organically grown food

we probably like to see if we can get organically produced wines.

It’s a bit difficult.

The USDA definition for organic in the US

is pretty much the same as it is for other ag products except is they don’t allow for addition of sulfites into the wine.

hundreds and hundreds and years to preserve it

if you don’t have sulfites

2 things


You can tell if it is oxidize it smells and tastes like sherry.

If it tastes like sherry it’s been exposed to too much oxidation

shouldn’t happen quickly

the other thing is that wine can spoil and turn into vinegar


into vinegar

also help protect the wine of too much oxygen, they are in very small qualities.

headache myth

people believe that they get a headache

it’s really not true

if you can eat dried apricots and not get a headache, chances are you’re eating  a whole lot more sulfites in a bottle of wine

  • it isn’t the sulfites

got that reputation

This is not to say some people aren’t allergic to sulfites. The reason you have a label on the wine bottle that says “contains sulfites” is because some people have respiratory allergies and they will get what is to get akin to an asthma attack

any time a wine contains more then 10 parts per million ppm

sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process

all wine contains some sulfites

10ppm is the level that FDA has determined won’t harm people

In order for a bottle of wine need to be labeled Organic not only does it have to be the same as everything else that’s organic but it can’t be added sulfites in the wine

after fermentation

it’s put into storage tanks to be aged in barrels

that’s where they add sulfites

a very small amount

white wine tend to contain more sulfites then red wines. The compounds in the grape skins also preservatives so red wine doesn’t contain

chemical analysis

upper limit that is allowed

if it has less then 10ppm of sulfites they don’t have to label it as it contains sulfites.

Wine that is labeled Organic

Organic wine in the us

labeled USDA has to not contain 10ppm

this leaves out almost every wine from Europe. They routinely add sulfites, they want it to last. 

want product to last


if I’m paying $20 for a bottle of wine and I forget it in my basement I don’t want it to spoil – I want it to be drinkable

plenty of people against adding sulfites that say it detracts from the natural character of the wine. I respect their opinion on it. I don’t feel the same way.

When you get wine from Europe that’s made under the standards satisfy grape growing

made with organic grapes they are not labeled organic wine

same thing occurs with US producers, if the grapes are grown organically it can be labeled organic grapes

It’s a small distinction but I think it’s an important one.

should know

I first of all that the USDA rules need to be changed for organic wine

talking about naturally occurring sulfites added to wine

It’s not a petroleum chemical. I’m not sure what the issue is with that. 

biodynamic wine

The other thing people might see is biodynamic wine

by and large made like organic wine

There are some tenants of biodynamics

to the casual observer that might seem a little odd.

Your winery should be oriented in a particular direction

lunar cycles in biodynamics

The thing most people find funniest is your supposed to bury cow horns with manure in your vineyards to help with grape production.

What I like is biodynamics really focuses on health of soil. I think people would believe that makes sense. 

Healthy soil is gonna make better grapes

agree that would make sense

healthier grapes comes from healthier soil.

I think that biodynamics is good concept

I lost the rest of the interview? Yikes! Sorry everyone?!

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