This Natural Wine Pop-Up Is All Flavor, No Pretension

At Chicago's Los Naturales, the wine and the experience are easy-going.

Los Naturales
Photo: Jack Li

Drinking wine is fun and corner bars are fun, but wine drinkers and corner bars don't mix often enough. Pals Oscar Salinas, Adam Jimenez, and August Marron have changed that by bringing their natural wine business, Los Naturales, to Caminos de Michoacan, a no-nonsense bar in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Since May 2021 the trio has hosted a weekly natural wine pop-up on Saturdays and Sundays, stocking three neon-lit shelves with an ever-changing selection of bottles.

Chat with the guys and they'll help you pick your bottle from their ever-changing selection. If you want to drink it there, they'll chill it quickly in the ice chest next to the cans of Modelo, then toss it in a white plastic beer bucket with a bottle opener chained to it that serves as your ice bucket, and serve it at the bar in big plastic cups. It's an easy way to pass a Sunday afternoon. At Caminos, owned by Jimenez's family, you are likely to hear Federico Villa's corridos alternating with Billy Ocean as you enjoy your La Cattiva Bianco, a savory and lemony young Trebbiano from Puglia. A house favorite, the Bichi Pet Mex, a natural pink sparkler from Baja California Mexico, drinks well in these surroundings.

But such serious wine talk is not a fit. When asked what has surprised him most since they embarked on this project, Marron says, "I would say the amount of support and the random, natural (no pun intended) encounters and relationships made from it. It's been a healthy mix of clientele…people who are not too sure on what they're getting, as well as people who really know wine. It's fun educating people, and just sharing what we are into."

Los Naturales
Jack Li

Much has been made of the natural wine movement since its start a couple of decades ago, but the subset of wines that are characterized as "low intervention," including those vinified with wild yeast and few additives from organically grown grapes, has become less niche and more the norm.

"I think [natural wine]'s having a moment, and I'm not a snob, but I'm very particular," Marron says. "How I view wine is that I want it to be accessible for everyone but I also believe there's like a fun sacredness to it. I want it to be respected by people as opposed to just [be] a new phenomenon."

When we spoke, Marron, an operations manager in the hospitality industry, had just returned from a vacation in Paris, ground zero for natural wine bars. "It was really eye-opening to see how [wine there is] normalized in a way but it still remains in some way sacred," he enthused. "In Chicago, we are constantly told to put the customer first, which is a valid point, but I feel like the experience should be first."

Other revenue streams, like a recent club night that cleaned them out of inventory and sundry events for wine distributors, keep the business cash flowing (Jimenez pays his bills as a kindergarten teacher, and Salinas as a copywriter). But so far, the love of natural wine and easy weekend sipping is enough to keep the Los Naturales at Caminos experience going.

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