Raising the Glass
Natural wine is a something of a liquid unicorn: ever-changing and equally elusive. Odds are you’ve seen it on a menu or heard it dropped in dinner party conversations like a secret club. So, what exactly is it? It’s a bit ambiguous. At its most basic a natural wine is one with nothing added or subtracted: No chemicals, no filtering, no added sulfites. At its loftiest, natural wine is punk rock meets pinot; an adventure, where each layered notes feels new and exciting. No surprise, it’s spawned a new breed of oenophiles, few more passionate than Quinn Kimsey-White and Zach Jarrett. As the co-founders of newly opened and already cult-inspiring Psychic Wines in Silver Lake, they’ve created a destination for both the enthusiast and the curious to discover and share in the experience of natural wines. We sat down, opened some bottles, and invited Quinn to take us on a journey down the rabbit hole - open up and enjoy.
Can you lay out for us a mini “beginners” guide to buying natural wine?
Natural wine is not easily defined, which is one of the things that’s so beautiful about it. It’s collectively defined by the people who make it, sell it, drink it. It is fluid in it's identity, which is frustrating for a lot of people, but in my opinion that flexibility leaves the consumer with a lot of room to develop a unique and subjective idea of what they're drinking. But in regards to identifying natural wines in a retail setting or restaurant, get comfortable talking to your neighborhood wine merchant or sommelier. It's their job, and hopefully they take pride in pointing you towards the right wines.
But what if we’re left to navigate a wine list on our own?
Narrow it down by importer. Look at the back label and keep an eye out for any one of these seriously dedicated small importing companies: Percy Selections, Louis/Dressner, Scuola di Vino, Selection Massale...the list goes on. If it's got one of those names on the back, chances are it's pretty tasty.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in wines?
I worked in kitchens for several years, and eventually burnt out on the lifestyle. I knew I wanted to continue working with food and agricultural products in some capacity, but needed something that could offer itself as a more clearly defined intellectual pursuit. So I attended a culinary school in New York that had a formal sommelier training program. I thought I would work in restaurants after graduating, but my first gig happened to be at a natural wine shop in my neighborhood. From there I moved out to Oakland where I helped run a wine bar called Ordinaire, opened by my good friend Bradford Taylor. That was a hugely formative experience. It taught me a lot about community and natural wine's ability to bring people together.
What was your journey like to open Psychic Wines?
Long and full of delays. A true exercise in patience.
Favorite way to enjoy a new bottle?
Over a meal with people I love.
What’s something people tend to assume in relation to natural wines that isn’t always true?
I think a pretty common misconception is that in order for it to be natural, a wine has to fit a certain aesthetic deemed as "funky". Whether it be cloudy and unfiltered, spritzy, maybe boasting some aromas that could be described as "rustic". There are plenty of delicious natural wines that have these characteristics, but there are also a lot fitting a slightly more classic profile that are just as soulful and delicious.
Do you have a favorite wine region? On that note, is there a certain wine region you’d like to explore?
Right now I'm pretty excited about wines from Alsace and the South of France. Both of which I've visited, and they resonated with me on a deeper level. Maybe that's why I'm so partial to the wines! I've never done any traveling in Italy, that's a wine culture I still have a lot to learn about.
Current shop soundtrack?
It varies a lot, especially depending on who is working. Right now I'm listening to Broken Social Scene, earlier I listened to a couple Coleman Hawkins records. Jazz is the perfect cure for music fatigue, which becomes an issue when you spend this much time in one space!
What has surprised you the most after opening psychic wines?
Everyone is so nice. Almost every customer who comes through the door is a pleasure to engage with. I guess I wasn't expecting that. Gives me faith in humanity!