Worthy Convos: Liz Mears of The Holly Talks Wine, Microbiology, and Fort Worth
Liz Mears’ love affair with wine is, well, a natural one. Having grown up in California’s wine country, Mears developed a respect for the land which eventually led her on a journey seeking out wines that are made the way nature intended- with minimum intervention. After logging many miles driving to natural wine shops in other cities, she decided to open Fort Worth’s first natural wine bar and shop, The Holly, in Near Southside, to share her love with the community she loves.
What led you to the wine industry?
I have always loved wine and food as a vessel for gathering with friends and family and sharing stories. My entry into the natural wine world was as a passionate consumer of wines made by growers that were treating their vineyards like a living ecosystem- each bottle had a story to tell of a time and place that you can taste. Prior to settling in Fort Worth, I lived and traveled abroad and in other cities in the U.S., always seeking out the local natural wine shops. Sharing the stories of the growers and makers with friends is where it started for me.
What inspired The Holly?
At the core, it was the lack of transparency in the wine industry for the end consumer. Today, 90% of the wines in the world are made conventionally (meaning with some level of mass production). There are hundreds of additives that can go into wine without ever going on a label. And in the vineyard, the focus tends to prize high yields and a standardized product. All in all, true natural wine accounts for a very small proportion of the wine world. It is this tiny group, led by independent small grower-winemakers, importers and shops, that I revered as renegades and rebels that inspired The Holly. My husband and I were often driving to Austin, Houston or to other states to source natural wines and felt it was about time Fort Worth had its own destination.
Natural, sustainable and organic are all buzz words in the industry. What is a natural wine and why focus your entire business model around it?
While no legal definition of natural wine currently exists, various official-ish ones do, set by groups of growers in various countries, including the U.S., France, Italy and Spain. Our wine list is curated by their set of requirements: A minimum of organic farming in the vineyard where grapes are always hand-harvested. In the cellar, the wines are made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything. No additives, lab-grown yeasts, processing aids or animal by-products are used in any of our wines, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology. For our vegan friends out there, that means all our wines are vegan friendly. Working organically and biodynamically in the vineyard ensures that grapes have all the native microbiology and bacteria they need to naturally become delicious wine. If you care about where your food comes from, wine should be no different.
Any misconceptions about natural wine that you’re trying to set straight?
That natural wine is not a flavor profile, but rather a method and philosophy of farming and winemaking. The range of grape varietals in the natural wines on our shelves is extensive, leading to extensive flavor variability, from the classic to the more obscure.
How did The Holly get its name?
From the California Holly, a native drought-resistant plant surrounding vineyards on the central coast of CA. It’s also a nod to the Holly neighborhood in East Austin where we spent much of our time while designing our building and planning The Holly.
What drew you to set up shop in Near Southside?
We love the community support and camaraderie of Near Southside, for us it encompasses everything we love about the Fort Worth cliche of “small town, big city”. We lived in Fairmount before constructing from scratch the building that houses The Holly and our residence above, we knew we wanted this shop to be here.
You have one wine you can drink for the rest of your life. What is it going to be?
That is a tricky one because my personal goal would be to try it all, from all over, and go on as many adventures as possible. But if I must choose, I’d have to say Gamay from Beaujolais all day!
Although she prefers burnt orange to purple, Hannah Bush is happy to call Fort Worth her new home. She began freelance writing a few years ago to break up the monotony of her 9 to 5, and to prove to her parents that she’s making good use of her journalism degree. When she’s not hanging out with her cat, Hannah can likely be found on a patio with her husband, talking about her cat.