R.I.P. Joe Dressner, Natural Wine Importer and Advocate


Wine drinkers can be boiled down to two types, really: those who know and seek out bottles imported by Joe Dressner, and those who do not. Joe — founder of Louis/Dressner Selections and a fierce advocate of a particular type of wine some people refer to as “natural,” others refer to as “slow,” and others still simply call “real wine” — died on Saturday from complications associated with brain cancer. He was 60.

The wines Joe so loved and pushed were typically made with as little human manipulation as possible, by small producers, mostly in France and Italy. He brought wines to America that might otherwise have never found their way here: wines made from grapes grown organically (however uncertifiably so), fermented from naturally occurring yeasts (in most cases), and bottled with as few preservatives as possible.

Eric Asimov pens a vivid character sketch of the man in Diner’s Journal, depicting him as passionate, irascible, and unforgiving. As Asimov points out, he was a reluctant advocate, unwilling to claim the role of leader in the natural wine movement. In my limited experience with him, he sometimes distanced himself from the movement, claiming that some of its proponents were too fanatical, promoting wines based on some elusive philosophy as opposed to taste.

Joe loved wine and blogged about it, and even blogged about his illness. In a blog separate from his wine blog, called The Amazing Misadventures of Captain Tumor Man, he wrote, in his wry way, “I will be using this blog as a venue to pursue petty vendettas against relatives, acquaintances and people in the wine trade.” And he did.

Those of us who know and seek out wines imported by Dressner/Louis Selections need not appreciate Joe’s biting sense of humor or prickly personality. But we can appreciate that someone was knowledgeable and committed enough to good, real wine to go out and find it, then bring it back to America so we could try it. I appreciate it, anyway. And razor-sharp acidity — be it in a wine or a wine importer — is something I can appreciate, too.