One of the co-founders of LoLo, a new wine bar and bottle shop on East Sixth Street, remembers the first natural wine he ever tried. It was a red wine that a friend had described in a way completely contrary to what Adam Wills thought a red wine could taste like.
"My friend said to think of it as having notes of grapefruit and white pepper. And it tasted like grapefruit and white pepper. It was uplifting and refreshing. It was a total mind-blower," he recalls.
That first unexpected sip would ultimately lead him to become co-owner of the airy, low-slung LoLo — after about a decade, that is, of tasting additional natural wines and a few years of dreaming with his partner in both life and business, Christian Moses, about the kind of bar they wanted to open. Next door to the Volstead and Hotel Vegas, Moses’ other ventures, LoLo Wine Bar and Bottle Shop sells only natural wine.
Open as of last week, LoLo has about 150 different natural wine vintages, with room to grow the program. The owners, who besides Wills and Moses include Matt Bowman and Moses’ Volstead and Hotel Vegas business partner, Charles Ferraro, find it important to treat both sides of the concept equally. People can taste wine on-site and then "grab a bottle and take it home and share with friends on their own terms," Moses says.
Hence LoLo’s layout: At the back, perpendicular shelves hold just about all the bottles on offer so customers are free to snag what they like. On the opposite side, toward the front, is a minimalist-esque bar accented with blonde wood and square white tiles, a by-the-glass wine and food menu in the center encouraging you to ask for the full list of wines.
You may be temporarily overwhelmed by all the options, but the knowledgeable bar staff — led by bar manager Bowman, formerly of Bufalina — will be happy to guide you.
Just don’t discount natural wine based on what you might have heard about it, Wills says. He admits that natural wine as a category can be difficult to define and that it‘s not so easy to find around town. (Sunrise Mini Mart and Whole Foods are two local spots with extensive options like LoLo has, but that’s about it for now.)
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Essentially, natural wine involves winemakers engaging in minimal intervention with their products, both in process and in ingredients used.
"That’s one of the things I’m most attracted to about it, that it’s this mysterious little beverage you can discover and learn about over time," he says. "But largely, all of the wines here have (virtually) zero pesticides in the vineyard, zero additives in the cellar. It’s about just letting the grapes do what they want to do without a heavy hand."
Often, winemakers who specialize in these natural wines (which also tend to have no oak character from barrels, no filtering done to them and no cultured yeasts used in their creation) have very small plots of land. They make small batches of wine that Texas gets a tiny percentage of, Austin even less. Moses hopes LoLo will help to raise demand for natural wines, bringing more of them here.
After all, natural wine is all she and Wills like to drink. They are "wild consumers of it," she says, Wills ever since the first bottle of Emile Heredia’s bright, peppery pineau d'Aunis. (He has a fiercely good memory of every natural wine he’s ever had, Moses says, and can tell you who he was with and where they were when drinking it.)
Perhaps even more than conventional wine, the flavor of natural wine can vary widely, and not just because of the region where the wine is made that imparts crucial terroir.
"There’s this misconception with natural wine that all of it is funky or wild or weird," Wills says. "There are wines on our shelves that fit that label, yes, but they can also be clean and elegant and pretty. (How they taste) is up to the winemakers themselves. Thousands of people are making natural wines, and there are thousands of different ways for them to show the personality of the wine."
Still can’t find a natural wine that suits you among the wine bar and bottle shop‘s rotating selection? LoLo serves beer as well. And in the next month or two, a second bar will open along the 3,000-square-foot patio serving Texas draft beers, draft wine and wine-based spritz cocktails.
The LoLo founders took on the task of remodeling the interior themselves. A key element of LoLo’s 1930s-era building is its low ceiling, which partially inspired the bar’s name.
"For us, it was difficult to find a name that sounded right and went with our concept," Wills says. "LoLo came off our lips one day because our building has low ceilings that kind of distinguishes us. We were playing with that, and then we also sell low-intervention wine. LoLo. It looks good, sounds good and doesn’t come across as pretentious."
The lack of grandiosity is important to them: "Drinking wine doesn’t have to be a special occasion. Wine can be the occasion, sometimes," Moses adds. "The name and this room felt approachable, completely without pretension, while we maintain our mission of thoughtful wine buying. Overall, it should just be fun."
LoLo is open daily at noon at 1504 E. Sixth St. For more information, visit lolo.wine.