6th August 2015
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Dan Dennison
6th August 2015
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Dan Dennison
Only it’s not just a couple of glasses of wine. What we quickly learn about Erika is that, as well as being incredibly passionate about natural wine, she is crazily generous. She opens one bottle of lightly sparkling rosé while she’s putting together the first dish, a simple summer salad of tomatoes, peach, apricot and mozzarella – and then, after she’s assembled another two dishes (braised lettuce with pickled green strawberries, and a traditional potato cake garnished with bright orange fish roe from the north of Sweden), she opens a second bottle by one of her favourite winemakers, Alexandre Jouveaux.
When lunch draws to a close, Erika takes us for a walk which leads to a nearby walled garden of such size and beauty that we can’t quite believe we’re still in the middle of a city. This verdant oasis, known as Groens malmgård, dates back to the 1670s; in 1983, it was converted into a biodynamic garden providing employment for young people with special needs. Erika’s friend Niklas, a dealer in non-intervention wines2, lives in the gardener’s cottage and – extending the generosity – he opens a couple more bottles for us to try.
Afterwards, in an attempt to reciprocate, we take Erika for dinner at a new neighbourhood restaurant called Bleck. Then, just as it appears that the day is finally drawing to a close, she ushers us back to her place to continue our education. Four bottles later, it is 2am: the interview has gone on for 14 hours straight (though it would be stretching it to call the last eight hours an interview). Unsteady on our feet, though somewhat less shaky in our understanding of natural wine, we stumble off into the Stockholm night.
When I moved to Sicily aged 15. I grew up alone with my father in the centre of Sweden. He wasn’t such a good cook so when I was 12 I started doing everything at home – shopping, cooking. But in Sicily I discovered what real food and wine is.
No I went alone but I had an aunt and cousins there. I lived in the countryside near Taormina. I went to school in Sicily and worked in restaurants making pizzas.
I loved the simplicity of it: making fresh pasta at home and having it with tomato sauce – or just eating the tomato directly. Roasting chestnuts in the autumn with some butter and salt and drinking wine directly from the barrel: so simple. The fish in Sicily is amazing. And the bread – you buy it directly out of the oven…
No, I was living with my Sicilian boyfriend’s family. It was the father, mother, three brothers and the grandmother.
I was. And the grandmother. In the beginning she was really sceptical when I cooked, but I learned fast. I couldn’t speak Italian so we talked with our hands and smiles.
For a long time, my cooking has been focused on vegetables. I make simple food. It makes me happy
In the beginning I did, but then I started doing my own thing. I had a garden outside Stockholm so I started planting lot of vegetables. For a long time, my cooking has been focused on vegetables. I make simple food. It makes me happy.
No I eat everything, but I try to eat less meat. I can’t cook meat.
I’m actually not that good at it, though I make a really good steak tartare.
Yes. I started off working in kitchens. Then I went to sommelier school in Stockholm for a year and have been working with wine ever since. My father always asked me, “But when are you going to educate yourself, when are you going to work in another job?” But I always liked working in restaurants and communicating with other people. I love service, the elegance of it. And I like to see when people are happy.
To be curious and never stop learning. To listen to the guest and to be able to think in new ways. I always find it interesting when I pair wine in a way that doesn’t seem to make sense but turns out to be really good. At Spritmuseum it’s challenging because the menu changes every day. I never get to try the food before so I just have to imagine what will work.
It’s exciting! Working with the same menu for months would be boring. It’s a big challenge but I’m that kind of girl. I’m bored if I don’t have new goals.
I’m open-minded. When I started as a sommelier back in 2007 I was only working with American wines – big chardonnays, really expensive bottles. At the time I thought that was really interesting. Then I wanted to learn more, so I went to Mathias Dahlgren3 and started working with natural wines. I remember a new importer came to do a tasting and I tried this champagne, a blanc de blanc by Laherte Frères, and – wow! – it was amazing.
Yes. So from there I started to understand more. I started travelling a lot in France and Italy and going to interesting restaurants. After Mathias Dahlgren I went to a sushi place called Råkultur4 and worked a lot with sake, which was really fun. Now at Spritmuseum I’m learning about beer as well as wine.
Yes absolutely. And for me, being a woman, many people say “where’s the sommelier?” and they’re waiting for someone else. But I’m good at meeting people. I always try to ask, “What kind of wine do you like? Do you like red or white, light or something more full-bodied?” and make them feel comfortable about ordering.
“19 Glas is the best natural wine bar in Stockholm. They also serve good organic food – there’s a five-course menu but you can grab a bite in the bar.”
Erika on her favourite Stockholm restaurants – see Address Book
Not so many people know about these kind of wines, so in the beginning they sometimes go, mmm, but in the end they’re often like, yeah!
It’s dangerous! Of course I have wines at home, but here in Sweden you can’t buy much natural wine in the store because we have this monopoly – the government controls the sale of alcohol5 – and they don’t know anything about natural wines so they don’t have it in the shops. So whenever I go to Copenhagen, I always leave space in my bag to bring wines back.
Yes, but they only sell directly to the restaurants. Not to me as an individual.
Well then you can go to the monopoly and they make an order from one of the Swedish importers – and then it takes three weeks.
Yes, it’s not for the spontaneous. So that’s why people don’t really know about natural wines in Sweden. Also, the older sommeliers find it difficult to take all this information in and are a little bit negative around it.
No. I think I’m one of few sommeliers here who actually work with it. You have to spend a lot of holiday time travelling to visit suppliers and producers – it costs a lot of money6. But I’m not living with anyone so I’m free to travel, and I have friends all over Europe so there are places I can stay. This is not only a job. You need to be passionate about it.
Cappuccino and a croissant. In the summer it’s granita al caffè or granita al limone, which I’d eat with lots of cream and a brioche on the side.
Yes, when it’s 35 degrees in the morning.
I prefer to have long lunches and skip dinner. Often, because I’m working, I end up having lunch quite late. If I’m having dinner I eat really simply: raw snacks and cheese and some greens. Never a cooked dinner.
When you don’t mess with the grapes, the wine takes care of itself. Some years perhaps it’s not so good but some years it’s really good – it’s amazing
That would be pasta with tomato sauce, made with fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic and oil.
Onion is very important in my kitchen. It’s so cheap and you can make so many things with it.
It’s true. The quality is variable. If you take away all the medicine that protects your vineyard…
Yes. When you don’t mess with the grapes, using no pesticides in the vineyard, the wine is in the natural state and it takes care of itself. Some years perhaps it’s not so good but some years it’s really good, it’s amazing – and of course there are certain producers who make consistently good wines. So I can understand both sides.
The other thing is that people are so used to the big grapes like pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet franc, so when these small grape varieties emerge from unfamiliar areas, it can seem very strange… It’s taken me seven years to learn and understand all the differences.
Wine is big business and many wine houses don’t care what they put into their wine. The most important thing is to sell it cheaply and in big quantities. To do that, you have to keep your costs down – by using machines instead of hands, using chemicals to increase the volume of “healthy” grapes, keeping salaries low. Up to 60 substances can be added during the preparation itself, things like sugar, gelatine, egg, sulphur dioxide…7 But what’s happening in the wine world today is fantastic. People are taking more responsibility for nature and taking pride in having a healthy, vibrant and rich vineyard.
To be certified organic you still can use some sulphur and copper sulfate. For biodynamic wine it is even more regulated. For natural wine, you can use up to 10mg sulphites for bottling in bad circumstances, but otherwise it is as natural as it can be, from grape to bottle, with nothing taken away and nothing added.
Yes. It’s growing around the world, not just in the classic areas like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Loire – and I think sommeliers and consumers alike are becoming more open-minded. People are growing tired of consuming food and wine that taste manipulated. The natural wine movement started as a revolt and a protest against big industry. I think we all have many things to learn from them.
Of course, many of the winemakers are crazy…
Yes, that’s what really touches me about it. When I travel, there are always family dinners where they open up amazing wines you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I visited one guy from Beaujolais who makes natural wines. He took over the vineyard from his father, and when we tried the older wines that used a lot of chemicals and additives alongside with his [newer natural] wines, it was such a big difference. Even his own father would choose the son’s wines, because the wine with the sulphur, it’s undrinkable.
Yes. I think I’m allergic to them – I get spots on my skin and headaches. But also the taste of natural wine is so much better. This is real fruit that hasn’t been manipulated.
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