A trip to southern California has been a real stroll down memory lane.
It has made for remembrances not of a time before the time we live in now. But stretching back to the time when a native California and lapsed New Yorker headed back to their home state in search of a new beginning. The year was 2007 and Alice Feiring had yet to publish her watershed tome The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.
Back then, “natural wine” was a locution bandied about jealously by just a handful of wine importers and distributors. It was still a club to which you were admitted or excluded. With no official or widely accepted definition, it was an ideal, a Platonic one at that, a world view, a loosely circumscript attitude object toward winemaking and wine consumption.
Today, nearly a decade and a half later, natural wine is indelibly woven into the fabric of the southern California viticultural landscape. And it’s blessedly no longer ghettoized within the wine industry’s sometimes heartless hegemony.
Back in 2007 as the financial crisis loomed and the forever warriors soldiered onward, it would have been inconceivable to think that a place like Vino Carta could exist in the wine dessert once known as San Diego.
When a wine trade observer commented on the shop and wine bar’s novelty in a city where jammy oaky Zinfandel once drove the vinous discourse, owner Patrick Ballow nodded in agreement. It was a still bold move to open a natural-focused retail and by-the-glass program in San Diego in 2016. But today, as the city begins to open up again, Patrick’s business is vibrant and engaged with its community.
Above: Lou Amdur opened his groundbreaking Lou wine bar in Hollywood in 2005, long before the expression “natural wine” graced the lips of the proletariat. Today, his wine shop in Los Feliz is a hallowed outpost for the natural wine traveler.
Where Vino Carta bemingles its natural and classic wine selections, the Wine Country in Long Beach (an amazing store and deserving of our attention in so many important ways) now has its own “Natural Wine Center” and natural wine-focused buyer. Would we have been able to imagine such a conjugation in the now fuzzy and distant 2007?
Of course, no natural wine tour of southern California would be complete without at least a one-night stand (or better a three-dog night) at Lou, the southland’s earliest outpost of natural wine. Where else in the world can you walk up to a wine shop’s pandemic-era kiosk and be handsomely rewarded by a cornucopia of wines after asking for something white, oxidative, and perhaps macerated?
In the mind of said traveler, the exclusively natural Lou seemed to close the circle: an entirely natural selection, a co-mingled natural selection, and a sui generis natural selection.
A coat of many colors to warm a weary but newly heartened wine journeyperson on a cool and overcast day in otherwise sunny southern California.