If we wrote a book about human history entitled, “Our Earthly Voyage Across the Milky Way," we'd document water as our favorite beverage because human beings believe in survival. Accordingly, wine would be a close second; after all, if you can't have a good time surviving then what's the point, eh, old sport?
Today, the production of wine has become a global industry with just about every country throwing their hat into the ring. “The reason that we have a wine industry, in the way that it is today, is because people wanted to make wines like the French,” says Alvaro Cardenas, proprietor and shopkeeper of DTLA’s best-kept secret— Wine Stop DTLA. "French Wines are truly sublime."
We always feel bereft when it comes to the language of wine— perhaps it’s the highfalutin jargon that connoisseurs so often use in discourse. “Wine is a beverage that needs to be enjoyed, everything else that you learn about it is extra,” says Alvaro in a moment of ‘real talk’. “The abstract, esoteric, snobby thing they try to make it into is BS.” It was refreshing to hear Alvaro speak plainly about the industry but you learn right away that he’s not your average shopkeeper and Wine Stop is not your average shop.
The concept behind his boutique, which is located on the corner of Santa Fe & Sacramento in Arts District South, is ‘Vineyard to shelf’. “I literally travel to the vineyards, meet the families and import the product directly to the shop,” says Alvaro, standing amidst his bottles, like a fine art gallery owner. That’s a good way to describe Wine Stop: a carefully curated collection of family owned vineyards from across Europe.
“Most are producing right from their home. I’m sitting with them in their kitchens and the cellar is right down there,” he passionately states, pointing to an imaginary door beside him. “I’m selling real wines, not made up stuff. All of these wines that you see here, you won’t find in any other retail shops.” We pondered, how does one get to a place where you’re connected to a dynamic list of local European producers?
“I was very fortunate because James groomed me, he trained me and James has truly an amazing palette,” says Alvaro about his mentor James Koch. James is a wine importer and the owner of JK Imports based out of Pasadena. Their motto is, 'Great wines from small producers'. “I was in college and James needed an Italian translator— I went to school in Italy,” says Alvaro very matter-of-fact. He started in the office making phone calls, helping James communicate to the vineyards abroad, “I would have to call the producers and remind them to put paper in the fax machines. This was before email,” he says with a grin.
Over time, Alvaro started tasting wines, then selling wines, and not before long, James was taking him on trips to Europe. “James was truly the first one to bring real, authentic, local Italian wines to the United States.” He seems pretty grateful and a little emotional when talking about his mentor, which makes sense. The two are very close and because of James’ tutelage, Alvaro has been able to build a career for himself as a respected importer, sommelier and now DTLA business owner.
“When did you stop working for JK,” we inquire. “Oh, I’m still working for JK. Wine Stop is possible because of JK. We bring all the wines through the importing company.” It's this direct connection that makes their prices so affordable. "Alcohol passes through a lot of hands here in the US, that's how it's regulated. And each time a percentage is added to the price," says Alvaro. "At Wine Stop, there's truly no middle man." At the center of the shop stands a table offering amazing wines for $10/under or $15/under. In all seriousness, you might not purchase anything beyond this high point due to its lethal combination of quality and price, oh my!
However, Alvaro’s knowledge of wine, and his willingness to share that knowledge, is what makes Wine Stop unique. Imagine the years of travel, research and hard work discovering what truly is the 'best of the best' among local European wine— imported right to the neighborhood for your enjoyment. “I am a reference point,” says Alvaro speaking to the subjective nature of wine. Still trying to understand the way of the grape, we ask, “Can you explain to us what makes European wines special?”
In Alvaro’s words, he breaks it down like this:
OLD WORLD & NEW WORLD
There are old world wines and new world wines. The Old World is Europe; the New World is everything else. Old World wines are subtle. They are truly designed to go with the local food. Each wine, each town, if you go there that’s what they are drinking. That’s what they’ve been drinking for hundreds of years. New World wines pack a punch, they make a statement. Cabernets, Syrahs, Merlots are big, bold and juicy— they give it to you— even the bottle is heavier.
Wine stop is a perfect example of what the great DTLA awakening is about... real people, establishing businesses with their talents and expertise. After all it's the American Dream!
Wine Stop • 1025 S Santa Fe Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90021 • 1-888-946-3329