As the popularity of “natural wine” has exploded in recent years, the term has generated spirited debate among the cognoscenti. But to natural wine shop and bar owner John Stanley M.B.A. ’09, it’s easy to define: good farming of the grapes and simple winemaking, where nothing, or very little, is added or taken away.

All wine is the natural outcome of grape juice fermentation. But conventional industrial production demands help from other materials to clarify, color, preserve and aid fermentation.

Stanley suggests thinking conscientiously about wine in the way you might organic foods. “From a health perspective, there’s a lot to be said for natural wine: the lack of additives or preservatives, products that are well-farmed,” he says. “But the wines also taste better, smell better and are more expressive and alive.”

Noah Webb

Stanley’s awakening began during trips to Santa Barbara County vineyards, starting two decades ago. He was struck that “this essentially natural product could be so varied and have so much character.” By 2011, he’d begun learning more about “natty wines” in neighborhood shops in Venice. Along the way, he noticed that the best wines are produced at small operations by people who closely engage in both the farming and the winemaking.

Stanley’s Wet Goods Is Born

Originally, Stanley came to California from his hometown of Northfield, Minnesota to pursue his passion for motorcycles. He had wanted to start his own business before enrolling in the M.B.A. program at the UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2006, just as his appreciation for wine was deepening. Seven years ago, his wife, Jean, convinced him to establish his own shop. In 2017, Stanley’s Wet Goods opened in Culver City, stocked with wines, beers and spirits difficult to find elsewhere in Los Angeles.

“We started to bring in some weird natural wines — cautiously, not knowing what the reception would be,” remembers Stanley. “But it was so positive, I realized it was not just a passing fad.” Today, nearly all of the shop’s wines are naturals.

When it comes to shopping for wines, Stanley offers two pieces of advice: rely on the expertise of the staff members in the shop, and pay no attention to ratings and scores. He says a cheaper, perhaps less celebrated wine could be perfect for hanging out with friends or pairing with a bowl of popcorn.

What’s Old Is New

Big, exciting changes are happening at Stanley’s Wet Goods these days. The bar has recently expanded to increase its capacity by 50%. The outdoor patio space is now permanent — no longer a temporary solution to pandemic-induced rule changes.

According to Stanley, the next big thing in wine isn’t technically a wine, but is something still suitable for sipping in the patio sunshine. “Piquette is a lovely, enjoyable sparkling beverage,” he says. Piquettes are usually about 7% alcohol, which is much lower than wine — typically 12%. The drink, which was popular among the ancient Greeks, is made by adding water to the solids remaining after grapes are pressed for wine. Says Stanley: “It’s a nice afternoon drink that doesn’t get you too buzzy.”

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s October 2021 issue.