Discover the benefits of drinking natural wines, with Cogito Wines
This may come as a surprise, but Rani and I love wine. But after learning about the shocking amounts of chemicals, additives, petro-chemicals and bleach that many mainstream winemakers use, we were desperate to find a way to still enjoy our evening glass of red without the hidden nasties.
The solution to our problem came in the form of Romain Cousout, founder and director of Cogito Wines. Cogito imports niche natural wines from European producers who follow these principles:
” NO CHEMICALS “
In the vineyard (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilisers, repellents, heavy machinery…)
” NO ADDITIVES “
In the cellar (filtration, fining, artificial yeast, stabilisers, fining, acid control…)
” NO MARKETING “
In the distribution (privately owned wineries, not chosen for the name, no agent, no intermediaries, no price speculation, zero marketing cost…)
We first encountered Romain at a regular organic market held on the rooftop terrace of Hotel Jem on Orchard Road. The wines he had on tasting, the stories of how, where and who he sourced these incredible products from had us instantly hooked!
We recently sat down with Romain, so that we could capture his story and share his passion with the Ground Cloud Community!
Hit the play button to listen to the full conversation or enjoy the shortened transcript below.
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Check out Cogito wines online and on social media to find out when and where the next tasting is. The website has a wealth of knowledge about natural wines, and an order form for you to grab a few bottles for yourself!
Cogito Wines Website
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What was your journey in the creation of Cogito? (2:59)
My journey started 15 years ago, but the decision to start Cogito wines was made after the decision to close Restaurant André. I was with André Chiang for 2 years and a half, and I wanted to stop and start something on my own. I was importing wines for the restaurant, I had good connections with winemakers and I knew how to import wines. I wanted Cogito to be done without investors, so I used the same winemakers I used for restaurant André.
What is the story behind the name Cogito? (8:30)
Working with the industry for half of my life, needed a name that was a representation of me. I couldn’t use a French name, as I've lived outside of France for years. And I couldn’t use an English name as it is not representing me either. So first, it had to be Latin. And then it had to mean something. So, I was thinking and thinking, and in Latin ‘thinking’ is ‘Cogito’. And it’s that simple, I just kept thinking. And when you think about what you drink, you go beyond the name and the marketing of the wine. Most of the time people don't think about what they drink - they just get what people tell them. Here at Cogito, we know the winemaker, we taste the wine, we use the wine in our everyday life and it's really thinking about the wine and not just saying ‘this is what we should sell’.
Why is natural wine so important to you? (11:20)
Natural wine is a commitment - a personal choice. It’s no compromise. Natural wines go all the way back to where I am, who I am and what I do. In everyday life, I don’t believe in chemicals in our food or in our produce. So I use organic producers. If I have to go beyond organic producers, I also have to think, ‘how do I buy it? How is it supplied to the producers?’ So natural wine is a good way to synthesise this. They are made without pesticides, without additives, with minimal mechanical intervention, and they are made without marketing. And this is how I would love every produce we buy to be.
I want natural wines because it is the way it should be. And when you work with natural wines you step out of the crowd. You have already over 300 wine importers into Singapore, and the number keeps increasing. People are looking more for who I am, than what the business is. And there is no real boundaries between me and my business. So whatever I drink, if I’m out or at home, it must be natural wine.
Can you explain the differences in organic wine classification? What is the best wine that you can possibly consume? (15:33)
It is very hard, as we twist it with marketing at the moment. When we say natural wine, we must define what is natural wine. There is a way to do wine without chemicals and additives by respecting a combination of natural elements (seasons, life in the vineyard) so it can be quite complicated.
As far as the different wine classifications, organic is your entry level. This decreases and controls the additives in the wine, which is an improvement. However, I am not interested in this, as you still have 36 molecules that synthesised in a laboratory. It’s an improvement, and people should have access to it, but for me this is not natural wine.
A step further is bio-dynamic wines, which allows only 6 treatments or synthetic molecules in
the wine making or agriculture of the grapes. The farm as a whole is seen as an organism, a self-sufficient system that produces its own manure and animal feed. Here, wines are produced from chemical-free grapes (without pesticides, herbicides or any heavy treatment) on vitalised land by hand (or by minimal impact from machine tools) with the use of preparations based on esoteric principles, though it may contain some sulphites added during wine making (at a homeopathic dose).
Natural, for us, it is beyond this. Natural has no definition - but we want to be as natural as possible. So the additives, such as sulphites, have to be made naturally. You don't need to add sulphites. If you do it, its because you want your wine to travel well, and stay well after opening.
Some organic wines can use chemicals. You can be organic, but you can use additives in the wine making, because organic is only a certification on the agriculture. But there is no control of what you can do in your cellar. So if you're organic, but you want to add acidifiers or synthetic sulphites from petro-chemicals, you can.
A lot of people are into organic produce, but we should not aim for organic produce in a supermarket, it doesn't make sense. But we are in Singapore, and everyday I wake up it’s not what I want, so it gives me the motivation to try and do my share. If I was in Hobart or France, there is not much to do - it is already done. Here we must build the organic community. So I try to do my share and to do my best. So the winemakers that I work with, if I describe their wines as just organic, they would not be happy at all because they go way beyond.
How do you go about acquiring your range? (21:35)
The main struggle for natural wines in Singapore is the sourcing, because you can't call any winemaker that I work with and say “oh, I like your wine - I work with natural wine and I'm going to import it.” Winemakers reply - “Ah actually no -you can't get my phone number, and you can't get in touch with me if you don't speak French, and I don't have stocks for you”. But the winemakers will do business with you, if they want to have their wines with you. So how to source it is the main struggle, you need to be able to convince winemakers that they will be represented properly in Singapore.
What are the main struggles with being a natural wine importer in Singapore? (26:40)
Its very hard, as if we go back to how to supply natural wine in Singapore, most of the time if I drink something I like in Hong Kong or Australia, its great - but it doesn't mean you can bring the best wines into Singapore. So first you have to make your supply very short. And how to make it short, is to know your produce very well. How to know your produce very well is to go through the producer directly. So you have to take the time to avoid any agent or supplier. And this is what we did to convince the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore that we are amazing because we don't have to go through these extra costs or procedures and we go directly to the winemaker.
At the same time there is a lot of personal investment in it, but when the when the wine arrives in your hands, in your box or on the market, wow - you just have to look at the pictures we took, and it's not really how I used to buy wine - it's something else. So this is how to penetrate the market in the beginning, you have to start small. There is no way you can start big with it.
From my beginnings, I've worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, I've been in the kitchen, I've grown olive trees in the mountains of Nice. Winemakers are keen on working with us because of this experience - not just because we like natural wine. It’s the whole story behind it, and it’s now almost 20 years since I started to work.
What's the best way to store natural wine in Singapore? (31:30)
The winemakers in France have their own process, so the wine will leave the winemaker packed and wrapped with control. Then, it's in a temperature controlled container until it arrives at the equator line - and you will spend a lot more than in France to keep it under temperature control!
But we do our share, and this is where the costs of the wine will increase. We have to pay a lot for the carrying and storage facilities as everything has to be under temperature control.
But I cannot do like in Hobart, Australia, where the wine arrives I can do it myself and take some pictures - but no, its 32 degrees outside, so it's go go go! You're sweating when you get your wines! I like to say at the moment we’re like a start-up. We have a computer and a wine fridge, not the glamorous image of having wines everywhere. So anyone that wants to keep wine, needs to invest in a big fridge.
How can people navigate buying more organic/natural wine in a normal bottle shop? (34:33)
If you want to access natural wines, you have to change the way you drink wine, and then you will find it! It's a bit like if you say, I want to buy healthy food! But you only eat junk food...so you have to change your way of consumption, and then you will somehow find the people who provide the foods and wine you are looking for.
But the first thing if you want to have wine which is made in a more sustainable way, without going to Cogito wines, you have to search a bit more to find them, as there will unfortunately not be any sustainable wines in main supermarket brands. There are a few wine stores that are now a bit more independent, even on Orchard road.
But at the moment, it's really the consumer that has to do the step to find it. But the first step is to go the healthier way, and once you go for healthier food you consciously start to look for side supply, and you will go to the market to find small supplier names in food and wine. Cogito does not mean to just stick to only wines forever - it’s a community.
At the moment, we have a lot of people in Singapore who work in finance, who are curious and open minded - however not ready yet to completely change their way of drinking. But we have a few people who are actually changing their way of thinking because they are curious and more health conscious, so they come to us directly. So for the people who are saying “oh, I want better food”, if you don't change something it's not going to come to you. It's still at this stage in Singapore, so be patient.
But even for myself, it is very hard at the moment to find my own food. Because if I want to get sustainable food, I have to wait for some markets or go to a specific address. At at the same time I am so selective, and some people are supplying sustainable food a wine but more for the ‘newbies’ in this environment, I am already beyond it. But it’s the first step and building a community is good. And I also have a dark side I cannot share - I am originally from the restaurant community, and it's not big and beautiful all the way, even if you market yourself as someone who uses natural or seasonal produce - I've seen the darkest side of the restaurant industry. But it's great, even from a marketing point of view, that we speak more and more and more about it.
Quick Fire Questions (41:40)
What is your favourite product in your range?
Mylene Bru, Lady Chasselas.
What was the last thing you bought that supported a small producer?
Arita Yaki - Arita is a town in Saga prefecture, Japan, where they make their own porcelain, and it goes back 400 years. But why did I buy it? Because it was Christmas!! I don't like this world-consumerism of Christmas, but I had to buy something for a very important person - my girlfriend - and I don't want to buy something you see everywhere which is made by a process factory, or something expensive just because it's Christmas. So I bought a porcelain Arita and I know the man who made it with his own hands - for me it was the best.
What is your number one recommendation to live a cleaner lifestyle?
It will come to you if you don't think too much and you stick to daily exercise. I've always been a sports man - I could have had a career but I injured myself and had to stop. I don't know if it's due to it, but as soon as I started to keep training I somehow improved my healthy lifestyle. If you have a daily exercise routine, somehow you cannot eat junk food, and will help you to be motivated about healthy eating.
I can't say natural wine is ‘healthy’ - but it's better. So please drink natural wine; it saves the environment and to save your health from a very bad industry of wine making. Even in the highest range of Singapore’s society we have clients, because they cannot drink these wine made of chemicals as it impacts on their health too much. I have a very close friend who can only drink with me, because he has an allergic reaction to mainstream wine. People speak about sulphites, but it's more the cocktail of chemicals (including the sulphites) in the wine that will have a negative repercussion on your organs. And some sulphites from laboratory (non-natural) are derived from petroleum - so to make it short, you're drinking plastic
What can we and our viewers do to support your mission?
When they see something or someone trying to push on the organic community, simply support the movement. Show interest and speak about it with others. But just showing a little interest, you will have people around you that will also show interest.
In the world of Cogito thinking, you also think about everybody. And it's very important to pass on the message of the winemaker to the supplier, which could be a restaurant, a client, a friend. So on our website, we put a lot of information about the winemakers, as they are the most important people.