Josh Nadel spent 10 years studying the world of wine on his journey to become a Master Sommelier—including passing an arduous three-part exam that Forbes has dubbed “the world’s toughest test.” We sat down with him to learn more about his love for clean wine and the incredible effort that went into his curation of the Thrive Market wine collection. Read on for the full scoop.
Q: How did you become interested in wine?
A: While I was studying art, I became interested in wine as part of Romantic culture … traveling through Europe, Italy, Spain, France and things like that. I've been into wine for as long as I can remember, probably since early college.
Q: For those that don’t know, what is a Master Sommelier typically hired to do?
A: A Master Sommelier is generally hired and looked to to provide guidance in choosing wines. Most of us work on the [restaurant] floor or have worked on the floor at one time in our life, in service five to eight days a week. And as a result, we have an opportunity to expose ourselves to a lifetime of wine probably every five or six years, for better or worse. We just have an incredible opportunity to taste through the world of wines and provide service to our guests.
Q: How has your appreciation for wine changed over time?
A: The more I drink wine and the more I stay in service and build these programs across the country, I'm much more interested in the everyday wines—the wines that are delicious and the wines that resonate with everyday people. Because that's what wine is—wine is something that should just go on the table and you shouldn’t have to think about. Just grab a bottle from the stack or from the fridge, put it on the table, and hang out with your friends and let it enhance your life. Let conversations last 10 minutes longer, let dinner last another half an hour. And I've returned to that kind of very sincere love of wine.
Q: What was it that drew you into learning more about organic wine producers and practices?
A: I try to eat as healthy as I can, and I believe in mother earth and planet earth and that being what this is all about. And whether that be plants in the garden, or food that we eat, or wine that we drink, or the way we treat other animals and people. It makes perfect sense to me. So, how does this relate to wine? It's better for you; you know that farmers are treating the earth in a more sustainable way. Over time, it's going to result in a healthier vineyard, which is going to give you more delicious fruit and better wine. Because you want bugs, you want life in your soil, you want competition, you want birds and roses and wasps and nitrogen-rich crops in the ground. You don't want to run over your vineyard with a tractor and spray it with RoundUp and have no life. That doesn't make interesting wines. For me, this is the way forward—this is the way wine should be made. And the flavors are more genuine, more aromatic, more true in these wines.
Q: What were the goals of the wine program in terms of standards and accessibility?
A. One of the major hurdles we had to launching this program was the cost of wines. Most of these wines cost quite a bit more in a wine shop or in a restaurant. So you really have to go all the way directly to the source, which accomplishes two things: It allows us to vet the farming and the winemaking in a way that we felt was necessary to achieve what we call the Thrive Market Wine Charter. It also allows us to find the wines and get them to everybody at a little bit of a lower price than you'd find them in a store.
Q: How are clean wines defined in the Thrive Market wine program?
A: For us and for the farmers with whom we choose to work, there's a belief that a natural way of farming and an organic way of farming produces better fruits. If you apply pesticides or certain types of fungicides or heavy metals and fertilizers into your soils, those things will stay with your plant. They'll stay with your fruit. They will get into your wine. So, it's important to us that we find wines that mimic [the ideals of] clean eating. The way we want to eat is the way we want to drink, also.
"What we're looking for in the wines that we source for Thrive Market are farming standards that are in line with organic or biodynamic farming principles."
What we're looking for in the wines that we source for Thrive Market are farming standards that are in line with organic or biodynamic farming principles. When it comes to wine making, we're looking for wines that are far lower on the sulfur spectrum and don't have any additives or flavor adjuncts added into the wine.
A lot of the more commercially farmed wines aim to taste roughly the same every year, and they just aim to taste like a palatable product, which can be dependable and which you can just go to year after year, where there isn't that much variation or much indication of how a wine is grown or where it's grown. That, to me, is just a little bit sad.
Q: For you, what’s the most exciting element of the Thrive Market wine collection?
A: At the end of the day, we want to provide wines that everybody thinks are tasty and that everybody likes to drink. Another huge facet to this program is transparency about your source, about your farmer—about how what you're eating or drinking is being made, where it's coming from, and what's inside of it.
Q: Walk us through the short version of how the wine collection came to be.
A: So, the first thing we did was we reached out to a few people, and after about 100 to 150 wines, we realized we needed to provide a very clear charter about what types of wines we were looking for and the quality. I can tell you that from those first 100 to 150 wines, none of them made it into the program.
Then we reached back and things started to converge a little bit— but 50 to 75 wines later, we had two or three wines that were going to make the program. We had to get through wine growing, we had to get through winemaking, then we had to get through budget, then we had to get through availability.
To put together our first few boxes, it's taken many months and hundreds of wines to get to where we are today. We're thrilled with what we have and I think, going forward, we're going to be able to put together a really amazing wine program.
Want to learn more about the Thrive Market wine collection? Get up to speed on clean wines, plus our farming and winemaking standards.
What is Clean Wine?
A clean wine needs to tick a specific set of boxes to be considered for the Thrive Market wine collection. Instead of adhering to commercial standards for consistency, high yield, and low cost—the same goals in place for conventionally processed packaged foods—the wines we’ve sourced are farmed organically or biodynamically, and developed with minimal intervention in the winemaking process.