A newfound interest in wine brought three friends, Adam Jimenez, August Marron, and Oscar Salinas, together to create Los Naturales - a Latinx collective dedicated to building community around natural wines.
Salinas inadvertently kicked off the endeavor following a life-changing, two-week solo trip to Spain and Portugal in winter 2018, where his admiration for wine and natural wines deepened. He brought that love back to the U.S., hoping to find a kinship with his friends and family back home in Chicago.
Salinas soon got Jimenez hooked on natural wine and the pair often got together to buy and try different varieties. That quickly turned into a ticketed wine night series; however, the COVID-19 pandemic stymied their events and their plans went on the backburner.
That is, until Marron contacted Salinas last winter, asking if he and Jimenez were still working on the project. That’s when Los Naturales was born.
The three Chicago natives and college friends set their sights on the Pilsen community, and specifically the dive bar Caminos de Michoacán, known for its Friday night karaoke, michelada, and top-secret Caminos shot. Jimenez’s family owns the bar, which has become Los Naturales’ official headquarters: the trio can be found there every weekend, serving a curated selection of wine on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Everything connected in a way even without us trying and that's just the vibe we're going for,” Jimenez said. “Just being connected to our community is who Los Naturales is.”
Even with regular jobs—Jimenez is a teacher, Oscar is a creative writer at an advertising and marketing agency, and Marron is Blind Barber’s operations manager—they’re gearing up to make Los Naturales as dynamic and effective as possible in Pilsen. Their forthcoming ventures include another ticketed event, a monthly wine club subscription, merchandise, and monthly mixes with their favorite DJs.
Below, we talk about why the trio was drawn to natural wine, the beginnings of Los Naturales, and how community is a cornerstone of their collective.
Where did the interest in wine come from?
OS: Me and my friends have always been dabbling in something, whether it’s cocktails or spirits. I just naturally felt tired of drinking beer and hard liquor, so I started getting into wine. It wasn’t until I took a trip to Europe that I was introduced to natural wine and a more direct, hands-on way of making it.
It was the camaraderie behind the people I was drinking it with—complete strangers. I went on the trip by myself, so I was just meeting people along the way and they showed me nothing but love, which to me was super powerful. Coming back to the United States and trying to find that same community inspired my own research on finding places that would sell the same type of wine that I was drinking in Europe. It became a beautiful thing to find and be able to share with friends and family.
Is there a story from your trip that especially resonated with you?
OS: My first night in Barcelona set the tempo for the trip. I landed and all I wanted to do was eat good food and drink good wine. I made it a point to visit L’Anima Del Vi, arguably my favorite natural wine bar. It’s small, unassuming, and tucked in a small alleyway. The street it’s on dark and quiet, yet once you step in, it’s welcoming. It felt like coming home, even though it was a place I had never been to.
I sat at the counter, overlooking the kitchen where the owners whipped up tapas, and we drank wine from the bottles they had open that night. The owners told me the story of how the place came to be; a french man fell in love with a girl and followed her back to Spain and together they opened L’Anima Del Vi. They made me feel like I was a regular, so much so that I went back the following night and did it all over again.
I was overseas in a place full of strangers, not knowing a single soul, and yet natural wine is what brought me together with these beautiful people. That, to me, is what natural wine is all about. From the makers, to the sellers, to the buyers, and the drinkers - it’s an ecosystem full of so much organic love.
What is the difference between natural wine and regular wine?
AM: Overall, the process. I guess how I explain it to people is if you go to a farmers market versus a major grocery store, likely the berries from the farmers market are from a smaller farm, with practices that are organic. They are a little bit more thoughtful and intentional in their process. When it comes to natural wines, it’s the same thing: independent producers who are a little bit more thoughtful and radical in their approach and are just a little bit more intentional in what they're trying to make versus mass production.
When it comes to natural wines, it’s the same thing: independent producers who are a little bit more thoughtful and radical in their approach...
Every winemaker has their own methods, but the process essentially has two parts: growing and picking grapes, and then turning them into wine through fermentation. The natural wine, though, is made from grapes not sprayed w/ pesticides or herbicides. Often natural winemakers handpick their grapes versus relying on machines to harvest them—it's a very intimate process.
Is that the draw for you?
OS: Yeah, a lot of these people really consider themselves farmers more so than winemakers when you talk to them. It’s cool that somebody has that much love and respect for the Earth and the grapes that are growing. It's really romantic in a sense.
AM: The intentionality is definitely an attraction, similar to fashion. Oscar and I, we’re into independently, well-crafted garments—items that are made with thoughtfulness and intention. That kind of interest or appeal translates into so many things, but for now, it’s translated into an attraction to different wine producers and how they're making their wine; the thought process and the intention of using different methods and techniques. It's exciting and interesting.
That's where Caminos de Michoacán comes in. You’re going to have a cup of wine, not a glass.
How did Los Naturales come to be?
OS: It started off with a wine night. Whenever we would post what we’re drinking on Instagram, everybody would always be like, “hit me up next time you pop a bottle.” There was no way that we could fit all those people in our apartments, so Adam and I got the idea to do a wine night in Pilsen and buy all the wine ourselves and sell tickets.
Wine night sold out, and then maybe about two weeks later, COVID happened. We didn't do anything until November or December, when August hit me up. This guy was going crazy on natural wine during the whole lockdown, so we all got together and came up with the idea.
What do you want your community to learn about wine?
AJ: You don’t have to be a sommelier to drink wine. You don't have to know shit about wine, right? Just come out. We want to bring out that family, camaraderie—that idea. And that's where Caminos de Michoacán comes in. You’re going to have a cup of wine, not a glass. We serve wine in plastic cups at the bar. Just come in and relax—we're not there to talk about grape varieties because there are hundreds of grapes in this world.
AM: Overall, we're just providing access and stripping down the walls of whatever misconceptions or preconceptions that people may have with regards to wine—especially for Pilsen, a neighborhood that doesn't really have an outpost for natural wine.
OS: I think the most important thing is making people feel welcome because wine can seem intimidating. That alone makes people not even try it. It's more of a labor of love and a passion project—all of us were just drinking wine because we love it. I think we saw the need to provide something to the Southside of the city, which deserves something cool too; you don't have to go all the way up North to get you a cool bottle of wine. I think it's about bringing people into a different part of the city that they might not really go to too often and providing access to people who are already there.
We flip the script—we're drinking wine at a dive bar in Pilsen, and we're offering a bridge to natural wine.
Why do you think there's so much stigma attached to wine?
AJ: It’s about changing the narrative at the end of the day, right? When people first think of wine, what's the narrative behind that? You have to be rich, you have to be white, you need to know every aspect of the winemaking process. We flip the script—we're drinking wine at a dive bar in Pilsen, and we're offering a bridge to natural wine. I'm just amazed at the amount of people that we've received that have lived in Chicago for 10, 15, 20 years, and have never been to Pilsen or driven by. Now it's like, “I could come and get these tacos and you guys have wine!” We’re breaking down walls for people.
How does your cultural background intersect with wine? And how does that converge with this community that you're building with wine?
OS: In Mexican culture, families always offer what they can to make someone feel welcomed. Guests are always made to feel at home—even if it’s just a simple glass of ice-cold water. It’s a cultural thing to be welcoming to your guests, to be a good host, and offer what you can to make your guests feel comfortable. We’re trying to extend those same morals and upbringing to wine. In many ways, they already exist so it’s an easy, natural extension.
A lot of these farmers and wine producers are the same way: they offer you what they can and make you feel welcomed; they appreciate you taking interest in their wines because that is their livelihood; it’s how they keep the lights on. Wine isn’t some big, glamorous thing—it’s purely a labor of love to most. What we are trying to build with Los Naturales is that same welcoming environment, somewhere where strangers can come in and leave as family. Somewhere where they will want to bring back friends for a good time because they didn’t feel judged for mispronouncing a wine or not knowing a region.
And at the end of the day, we just want to have fun. Fun with wine, fun with the idea, fun with the shop, our supporters, with whoever we sell to or buy from. It’s still early on and very much fluid; that’s the beauty of it, the possibilities are endless. And also, everyone is human at the end of the day—we’d rather be happy than down and sad. We just want to have fun and be happy.