So you want to drink natural wine in Denver and you have no clue where to start? That’s how we felt until we sat down with Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges of Yacht Club, owners of the up-and-coming wine-, cocktail- and dive-bar that pegs itself as an anti-club social club and is making big waves on the Denver bar scene. Founded in 2021, a mere two years ago, they’ve swept awards. Debuting on the 2023 50 Best Bars North America list at no. 42, they were also named most sustainable bar, as well as making it to the Top 4 finalists for ‘Best New US Cocktail Bar at the 2022 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards’ and most recently one of the Top 4 finalists for Best U.S. Bar Team at the 2023 Spirited Awards. They have claimed their stake as a staple in the community, welcoming everyone with open arms, and best of all have one of Denver's hottest natural wine programs.
This team is clearly stellar, so ‘naturally’ we thought we would come to them with all of our natural wine questions.
So to start, what really is natural wine?
“You can’t put it in a neat little box,” says Mary. “The type of wine we work with is hugely important to what we do and it’s all the way from farming practices, to how people are treating their farmers and of course to whatever goes in the bottle.”
Natural wine may seem new, but in fact, it’s as old as wine itself. There are varying opinions in the industry on what it is and is not, but simply put it’s wine produced through low-intervention methods; that is to say minimal chemicals, additives, and technological intervention. The fast-trending wine style is here to stay and has grown a reputation for being different from what you might be used to at your white tablecloth haunts, without compromising production excellence.
Natural wine can be more susceptible to certain flaws since it doesn’t rely on herbicides, pesticides, chemicals, correctors, flavorings, etc., but in skilled hands (and nature/the vintage willing) we’re getting a more beautiful and pure bottle than we could possibly otherwise.
“I like to think of it like cheese,” says Mary. “For example, processed American cheese vs. a local product reflective of where it’s from/the season/etc). Cloudiness and funk are out there, but they’re not necessary and certainly not what has to be expected! On the same token, though, those definitely do not have to be negative attributes. Like anything in life, it’s about understanding and balance."
So what better home for a beverage that’s authentically itself, sometimes a little funky and misunderstood than the bar that reads "All are welcome."
“Yes!” says Mary. “You know, Yacht Club really is the club for all. And that's our number one. We want to make you feel like you've just stepped into a place that wants you to be there.”
In line with this ethos, Yacht Club's pursuit of natural wines builds relationships with producers who share their values, prioritizing winemakers committed to ethical practices and authenticity.
The Break Even Bottle
One of the standout features of Yacht Club's wine program is the "Break Even Bottle." This initiative demonstrates their dedication to accessibility and education. The Break Even Bottle allows their community to explore unique, special and often expensive wines at an affordable price. The team offers up a noteworthy bottle every night and guests can enjoy it by the ounce at cost. By breaking down the barriers of cost and exclusivity, Yacht Club provides an opportunity for people to broaden their wine horizons or let the fanatics get a taste of something they may not be able to access on their own, fostering curiosity and enjoyment, an ethos that they share with their partners.
So with the Break Even Bottle, we couldn’t help but ask what’s an example of a wine that makes fanatics go crazy?
Mary highlighted a producer they are honored to work with, Hiyu Wine Farm, a natural wine producer that shines in the context of YC and its own culture and ethos. From the culture that Nate Ready fosters, to their unwavering commitment to the land and community of Hiyu, to the constant evolution of what they're doing to push themselves to be better stewards and put forth a better product.
“We could go on and on,” says the duo. “We are completely in awe of everything they do and the seemingly limitless heights they are capable of reaching by sharing the same values and goals, constantly questioning what they can do differently or better, and never settling for anything less. And truly, the end result is wine that is out of this world, bottle after bottle, and vintage after vintage."
They add, "These wines are profound and can certainly make you think, but they're also infinitely enjoyable and delicious, and that to us is the epitome of a great wine. If you're wondering where to start, try one of their Smockshop Band bottlings and let curiosity lead you down the rabbit hole."
Yacht Club stands as a testament to the power of defying norms. Their anti-club club ethos, combined with a commitment to natural wine and community, sets them apart from the traditional bar scene as they make some serious waves in Denver. The accolades they have received are a testament to the success of their approach and their philosophy embodies the idea that a bar can be more than a place to drink; boasting Denver's hottest natural wine programs, and shattering the wine stereotypes as we know it along the way.