“I wasn’t that big into wine,” says Steven Ventura, owner of Dirty Bacchus in Beacon, “until the natural wine thing started, I just wasn't really moved by it.” Ventura was more partial to spirits. His whisky obsession led to a blog on independently bottled Scotches called The Maltfreak and a gig curating the brown liquors for Palate Wines in Newburgh when it first opened over five years ago. “I ended up just doing the wine too,” Ventura says. “That is really my only previous work experience in this line.” A fellow employee began introducing Ventura to low-intervention wines. “We were never really able to convince the owner to go in that direction,” he says, somewhat ruefully. But his own interest had been piqued.
Ventura kept learning, reading, and tasting, and last June he opened Dirty Bacchus, dedicated exclusively to low-intervention, organic or biodynamic, sustainably farmed, vegan wines, as well as a selection of organic ciders, meads, and sake. “This was kind of a retirement project, but now I’m working six days a week,” says Ventura, who also co-owns the restaurant, bar, and music venue Quinn’s in Beacon. “I’m really enjoying myself and I’m meeting a lot of great people.”
Ventura conceives of the store as a farm stand for products sourced directly from small, independent producers whenever possible. “Wine is an agricultural product first and foremost,” he says. “Wine made from organic or biodynamic grapes, and made simply, with few or zero additives, is more healthful, more healing and beneficial, than conventional industrial wines, and better for the planet and for humanity’s future overall.”
The shop carries a wide range of wines from around the world, including Western Europe, the US, and a slew of under-explored winemaking countries like Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Greece, and Mexico. Given the unfamiliar provenance of many of these wines, Ventura does a good amount of customer education. “People don't just walk in and buy a $50 bottle of wine from Quebec,” he says with a chuckle. “But once they do, they come back and buy more. I haven't based this store on any kind of market research. Everything in here is wine that I love. This is like my private collection and I let people buy bottles from it. That’s the beauty of having my own store—there are winemakers I've always been curious about but never been able to find them before. Now I have them. I’m learning more all the time.”
Ventura opened the shop with about 75 wines and now has 392, among which are a number of “unicorns” you can’t find elsewhere. “I haven't taken a penny out yet. I just keep building the collection,” he says. “At the moment, I’m staring at 21 cases of wine that I have no place to put. My enthusiasm is getting a little out of hand.”
The shop is designed to be accessible to both new and seasonal natty wine drinks, and includes a section of $20-and-under picks, another of guzzleable wines dubbed “Glou Glou, Oops I Drank the Whole Bottle,” and another titled "You'd Never Know," of low-intervention wines that taste like their conventional counterparts.
"I love the extraordinarily broad spectrum of aromas and flavors and styles that natural wine as a category encompasses," Ventura says. "One can get so specific when pairing these wines to foods!" All the wines he carries are vegan, organically or biodynamic farmed, wild fermented, made with as little SO2 as possible, unfined, and largely unfiltered. He tends to avoid new oak, which masks terroir. “The ideal of natural wine is that nothing’s added, nothing’s taken away,” he says.
Ventura estimates that about 95 percent of the wines he stocks are hand-harvested, another thing that contributes to the higher price tags. “It's incredibly labor-intensive to make wine this way,” he says. “That’s my one problem with natural wine: It’s wine for the people, but most people have a hard time affording. I have a $20 and under section that has about 60 bottles—that is my hardest section to keep full. If it's going to meet all my other criteria chances are going to cost more than $20.” Still Ventura’s doing his best to democratize access to natural wines.
Ventura had trouble picking a favorite wine, but he is a fan of wunderkind winemaker Francois Saint-Lo. “He lives and makes his wine in a cave in the southern Loire Valley,” he says. “And his wines are just fabulously alive and full of energy. His sister does the labels and they’re crazy.” Another top contender was Verre de Gris, a natural wine from Quebec produced by Pinard et Filles. "It smells and tastes of wild strawberries," he says, "but there is also something about it that is reminiscent of waking up on a cool morning camping in the open deep in a north woods pine forest. Hard to put into words."
Dirty Bacchus is open Monday through Wednesday, 12-6pm; Thursday through Saturday 11am to 7pm; and Sunday 12-5pm.