How Natural Wine Took Over Manchester Thanks To Caroline Dubois

You’re lying in bed at night in the midst of an insomnia-fuelled online shopping search, you scroll past a crispy, fresh pair of Air Jordan’s and you’re instantly obsessed. Then the very next day, you’re walking to work down Market street and you’ve spotted five other people wearing that exact same pair you obsessed over the night before… instantly you realise that these Air Jordan’s are clearly what’s popping right now and with their vast amount of styles, colourways and generation-based editions, the tone is now set – this brand as a whole, is going nowhere anytime soon.

Well, that’s exactly what is happening with the natural wine movement here in the northern UK city of Manchester!

Whether it’s Caroline’s cute and cosy Isca Wines located in the up and coming residential area of Levenshulme, the surge of online-based natural wine retailers or the litter of natural wine bars opening up from the Northern Quarter to Ancoats, what strikes me most, is that Manchester’s natural wine movement is on the rise and here to stay.

Where It All Began

Generally speaking, when it comes to movement’s and trends like natural wine here in Manchester, it’s always quite difficult to put your finger on just one individual as the instigator, it’s usually a group of ‘edgy’ trend setters or a super keen journalist trying to push an agenda (…sound familiar?). Although when discussing the natural wine ‘trend’, things are done differently. The birth of natural wine in Manchester actually can be stemmed down to one exact instigator, a visionary if you will, who goes by the name of Caroline Dubois. She is the co-owner of previously mentioned Isca Wines, and former head sommelier at the critically acclaimed ‘Where The Light Gets In’ restaurant. For this city Caroline represents so much more than just being the trend setter of natural wine, she’s an incredible example of a strong, independent, successful woman. 

It all began in 2015 when Caroline moved to Manchester after travelling the world for ten years with the main focus of educating herself on natural wine, along her travels Caroline befriended many natural winemakers (also known as vignerons) and would spend a number of days or weeks at any given low-intervention winery, essentially soaking up every last bit of firsthand knowledge possible – an admirable way of earning your craft, quite similar to an apprenticeship. As a result, once she landed in Manchester and her travels had commenced Caroline was galvanised with a plan to revitalise Manchester’s below-par natural wine scene.

Richard Farthing, a natural wine business owner and advocate here in Manchester sums up his thoughts on Caroline’s arrival six years ago in the city – 

Maybe she was trying to replicate what’s so tantalising about the natural wine scene in her home city of Montreal, maybe she wanted to change the entire landscape of drinking good wine in the North West of England, or maybe, just maybe, she just wanted a GOOD glass of wine.”

Caroline and the first two bottles of natural wine she brought to Manchester

After searching high and low, in just about every nook & cranny of Manchester’s wine bars and shops, Caroline consistently came up short. Not a single soul was interested in natural wine at the time and there were zero importers around the city that were willing to explore the possibility of being the first to import such a ‘rogue’ type of wine to the North West of England. So Caroline did what all visionaries do best, and decided to take matters into her own hands, in doing so she went straight to the source, tapped into her network of vignerons that she had met along her travels, and ordered some of their wines directly. 

Those Who Pave The Way 

Through mutual contacts in the hospitality industry, Sam Buckley, who at the time was an up and coming restaurateur, mega proud of his Manchester roots with bags of potential for pushing the boundaries on organic British cuisine, approached Caroline simply inquiring about this ‘natural wine’ crap she kept going on about. Sam organised a meeting to find out what all the fuss was about – After a quick 30 minutes in that meeting, it was obvious Sam & Caroline would make a cracking team – natural wine and organic local-based food, a true match made in heaven. They both had ideals and goals that resonated around the same thing –  Storytelling by creating a narration through food and wine. They wanted their products to speak. And in turn, they together went on to create what is now regarded as one of the best menus in the city at Sam’s restaurant ‘Where The Light Gets In’.

Thanks to Caroline Dubois, the restaurant ‘Where The Light Gets In’ had a wine list (and still does) that was entirely natural wine focused, a game changer for the food and wine scene in Manchester at the time. The pairing of Sam’s locally sourced organic produce, Caroline’s mainly European sourced natural wines and the interior of the restaurant which was designed to guide each guest smoothly through the experience were considered to be a stroke of genius by the critics, resulting in both Sam and Caroline gaining a well-received reputation amongst those ‘in the know’ of the food and wine industry.  

A couple of years had passed since the great success of ‘WTLGI’, and you really could tell that certain people in the hospitality industry were inspired by Sam and Caroline’s collaboration based on the number of new restaurants that were opening up around Manchester. Even more importantly, natural wine was becoming an increasingly popular topic to discuss in these cool new restaurants. Strangely enough, the next establishment to get involved with natural wine was a place called ‘Idle Hands’, which is a coffee shop based in the Northern Quarter who began stocking their shelves with a handful of different natural wines as soon as they opened. Now bare this in mind – Idle Hands is a coffee shop with some of the most delicious vegan cakes and bakes that you’ll possibly ever taste, and in my opinion the decision to stock natural wines, most of which are produced in a vegan manner at a completely vegan coffee shop is absolutely genius. 

Caroline educating an enthusiastic guest at Isca

The coffee/bottle shop model is a thing of the future in my opinion and to verify that just a few years after her wine cellar transformation at ‘Where The Light Gets In’ Caroline followed that same coffee/bottle shop business model and opened up a place of her own called ‘Isca Wines‘ located in the up and coming area of Levenshulme in south Manchester.

Where We Are Today

Another few years go past and it brings us right up to the present day of 2021, where in counting, there are over ten different establishments in the city centre and outskirts of Manchester supporting the cause and movement of natural wine. 

Just to name a few, we’ve now got; Erst, Kerb, Flawd, Vin De Bodega and Another Heart To Feed who are all pushing the wine industry’s boundaries here in Manchester, in fact, what  they’re doing is changing the entire landscape of nightlife culture in their own individual ways. Thanks to Caroline Dubois and her burning urge for a taste of natural wine when she first stepped foot in Manchester arrived six years ago could potentially be one of the most game changing moves made in this city has seen in a very long time.
With there being so many different natural wine bars and shops across Manchester these days, my recommendation would be to go see and try a glass of wine in each of these establishments with an open mind, well…maybe not all on the same day, unless you can handle 8/9+ glasses of wine in one sitting. To my point though go and decide for yourself which bar or shop you fancy the most, don’t let Instagram decide for you (I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past) you could like all of them but for their different reasons!

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