“We’re just friends hanging out. We pour wine into plastic cups because that’s what we’d do if it were just the three of us chilling and opening a few bottles,” says Adam Jimenez, co-owner of Los Naturales in Chicago.
He’s talking about the authenticity driving the natural wine bar and shop concept he founded with his friends Oscar Salinas and August Marron. At the bar, strangers often share bottles they’ve purchased, eager to let each other in on what they’re drinking.
Los Naturales is one of a handful of wine businesses focusing on inclusion that sprung up during the pandemic, due mostly to a desire to connect with people in one way or another over wine.
These include Paradis Books & Bread, an employee-owned restaurant, library and sourdough bakery, among other things, in Miami; and Bar Part Time, a wine bar, bottle shop and discotheque in San Francisco, to name a few.
Back in Chicago, Slik Wines, an event, consultation and education platform that hosts virtual and in-person tastings and classes, was founded by Marie Cheslik and Kyla Peal. “[It’s] whatever we want it to be, which is the point of starting your own business,” says Cheslik.
The two founders have taken on varying degrees of responsibility depending on their schedules outside of Slik and make a point of partnering with local wine shops and restaurants.
Los Naturales, which resides in Jimenez’s uncle’s bar, Caminos de Michoacan—best known for micheladas and karaoke—is an extension of pre-pandemic nights when the founders would share wine with each other. Only now, everyone is invited.
Slik Wines is more specific with its goal of inclusion, hoping to open the wine world to people who have historically been excluded and marginalized by industry gatekeepers.
“Nobody wants to teach you anything if you don’t know anything,” is how Peal described her experience as a wine novice, which shaped her desire to make wine education more fun and approachable.
Digital connection is also at the core of Emily Sher and Cub Dimling’s Rainbow Wines, an online natural wine shop and “food, wine, and feelings blog.” The pair muse about recipes, bottles, vineyard visits and, generally, how they’ve been impacted by various people in their lives. They are constantly trying to figure out “what to do with this drink,” as Dimling put it.
These educational and personal posts seek to create a link between their experiences and the wines they’re drinking, with the ultimate intention of helping readers connect to wine in a way that feels familiar. This philosophy extends to their shop, where Sher said they are especially excited to “share the energy that has been put into these wines and continue putting money in the winemakers’ pockets.”
This level of interpersonal connection isn’t novel, but each of these businesses is rooted primarily in a desire to share wine with people in a way that is fun and digestible.
These founders spend much of their time working other jobs that provide consistent income, yet they all find their wine businesses to be life-giving and important enough to focus on them daily, while also remaining open to what’s next.
For Marron, that means keeping the concept fluid and “taking it as it comes.” Sher says she can’t imagine what the big picture goal is, though she and Dimling have discussed many ideas for what a future collaborative physical space could look like. Regardless of the clarity of their visions of the future, these entrepreneurs will continue to make a mark on the wine industry in Chicago and beyond.
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!