I first met Shawn Mead when she was the wine director at Campagne. Shawn, always adorned with a scarf around her neck could not have seemed more of a Francophile. Her wine cave was organized by region, geographically - top left, Loire, bottom right, Provence - which could be intimidating for servers. But, she was never discouraging, Shawn knew that knowledge needed to come from somewhere and was always happy to impart what she knew. I remember the first time I sat with her at “table one” to discuss the wine list, the different regions of France and their varietals. I learned that the terrior of a region informed how the wine would taste. (Terrior: the way Shawn says this word, always with a lilt in her cadence, is as if it is the most important word in the world). Shawn's kind eyes and gentle voice brought me to a place where I was no longer intimidated, but excited to learn more. Shawn Mead has given this gift to countless wine professionals in this city, and still provides these moments in her little shop, VIF, on 44th Avenue in Fremont.
Shawn Mead and Lauren Feldman decided to call their place Vif after hearing a wine maker in France say “Le vin c’est vif,”. Vif translates to; bright, live, alive, vibrant so, in essence, the winemaker was saying “the wine is alive.” Whether it’s naturally made wine, well sourced coffee, or beautiful lettuces the term Vif captures the sense of life and health they seek in the agricultural products used in the café and shop. “We now use the word ‘Vif’ so much it has become part of our lexicon. We ask ourselves constantly, ‘Is this vif?’ We want everything we do and serve to convey that same feeling of alive-ness.“
All the wines at Vif can be called natural which very briefly means that they are wildly fermented. Stop by the shop and chat with Shawn about it; and you might hear words like organic, biodynamic, polyculture, diverse planting, herbs and flowers between rows. Each producer represented will make decisions about what works best for his/her own vineyard. Most do not adhere strictly to a single method but employ a mash up organic/biodynamic/sustainable practices. The biggest reason behind Shawn’s support for these tried and true methods of farming is that they bring health to the soils, and soil health translates into vine health, which in turn translates into the potential for delicious wine. The big, end goal for natural wine producers is to make honest and unique wine grown from perfect grapes that will need no additives before, during or after fermentation.
"This can be contrasted with conventionally made wines that come from vineyards where soils are depleted from over use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With depleted soils the fruit will be less healthy and in need of injections of any number of additives and/or physical manipulations. A conventional wine maker will predetermine what he/she wants a wine to taste like and make it happen. The big end goal in this case is control and consistency in the product," Shawn asserts.
The vast majority of wine available is made conventionally. Both methods are valid but consumers should know the difference I’m an advocate for making this information available.”
“Ultimately, I want people to drink wine happily and comfortably. You can know a lot or nothing. Knowledge doesn’t impact if a wine is good. It has been a lifelong endeavor of mine to just get people to relax about wine. We are here to help get the right bottle of wine in the right hands. It’s important to us to listen to what our people are asking for and providing that for them. Tasting wine is not rocket science…just ask yourself is it delicious?“
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Photos by Dennis Wise