Health and nutrition educator by day and all-around enthusiast by night, LA-based natural wine lover Andrea Jaramillo has her hand in a lot of different things. From creating TikToks about natural wine–which successfully put #orangewine in the spotlight–to her own natural wine newsletters and podcasts, Andrea promotes sustainability, inclusivity, and accessibility within the wine world.
For Andrea, interest sprouted from one neighborhood store with an abundance of natural wine–before natural wine was as well known enough to be a buzzword. It wasn’t yet a trendy topic but on the outskirts of the wine world, and Andrea would later realize that her early dabblings led to a burgeoning passion for low intervention, sustainably made wine.
Diego and I caught Andrea on Zoom one afternoon last month to discuss the climate of the natural wine world. Wine conversations are prolific among a select group of people, but, as Andrea has mentioned in her own podcasts, wine knowledge is often “gatekept” from the more general public. Not everyone built a career around the study of wine, but that doesn’t mean that only those who do have the right to discuss it. We wanted to hear about Andrea’s experiences having these conversations in life and through her content.
While the natural wine world has been more inclusive in some ways, it can be just as exclusive in others. Have there been specific instances where you were looked down upon because you don’t have the standard credentials?
Andrea: Generally, no. There was one specific incident with someone I know who happens to be a sommelier. They commented that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not a sommelier and they do because it’s what they studied.
Generally I think people are welcoming. There seems to be a shift in the way people consume wine education and knowledge. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for sommeliers. They know a lot. They know more than I do. What they do is relevant. At the same time, I think we can learn something at our own pace. Not everyone has the energy or time to commit the way that certified sommeliers do. There is room for everyone. As long as there’s love and passion for wine—or any topic for that matter—everyone should be invited to that conversation.
Dave: It can be a question of access, too. If you’re working in fine dining as a sommelier, you’re going to be able to taste a lot of fine wine, as opposed to someone working retail or someone pursuing wine education on their own. If you aren’t being paid to work with it, it’s certainly expensive to just start trying stuff.
Andrea: Totally. Sommeliers have the access and opportunity to try, like you said, but also they’re learning from other people with the know-how. All somms start somewhere and don’t know everything all at once, so having that access to other somms or distributors familiar with the types of wine they’re tasting is definitely helpful. As a sommelier, you have access to that information by learning from someone else. Someone like me, on the other hand, I’m not at that table with the experts being poured that wine. So unless I go out of my way to find someone who can teach me about it, I’m doing that research on my own, which slows down the process considerably.
Have you had success with wine education offerings? How do you do that research?
Andrea: I took Cristie Norman’s Online Wine Course, which I imagine is probably similar to the WSET Level One. Christie is a sommelier who does a lot of wine education. I took her course to familiarize myself with basics like terroir, regions, and flavor profiles. Her course was a broad overview that was also centralized. I needed that; left on my own, I would have gone in different directions, and that would have caused me to take much longer. It was a great way to get my feet wet, and it was quarantine, so I had the time.
I also learned a lot from Marissa Ross’s book, Wine. All the Time. While Marisa is not a sommelier, she’s deep in the wine world. I found that she writes for the average wine drinker—not sommeliers—so that when I read her book, I found correlations to my own journey; for example, I also drank two-buck chuck in my dorm room because I thought that was what I was supposed to be drinking.
Dave: I think one of the best things about Marissa Ross’ book is that her story begins when she knew very little. It was the early days of her grabbing the cheapest bottle at the corner store. I like that it shows people not to be intimidated, and that they can start from wherever they are, figure out what they like, and go from there.
How does your experience with natural wine compare to that of traditional wines?
Andrea: My wine journey has unintentionally leaned toward natural wines. When I was in college, I lived next to a natural wine shop in Boulder. At that time, in 2013, natural wine wasn’t the buzz word it is today. The shop sold low-intervention and locally produced wines, but they weren’t pushing it because it was trendy. I was drinking a lot of it, but I was unaware that I was participating in the early days of natural wine. When I moved to Colombia in 2015, the selection was more limited: mostly very bold Chilean and Argentine wines. I didn’t know at the time, but I actually preferred a chilled light red.
When I moved back to California in 2018, I started to hear about natural wines in restaurants and in natural wine-specific stores. It was organic for me to lean into natural wines because of the background I had in Boulder. I love an aged wine and indulge in them from time to time, but I’m not as well versed with more traditional wines. I drink really young wines not meant to be aged.
Diego: I come at this from the opposite direction. I was lucky enough to work somewhere where we went through numerous bottles of old burgundy on a nightly basis. I was a sommelier at the time, but it was still a learning curve, tasting all these old vintages. You’d have a lot of variations, which was a tricky part of the job. But you start to look for cues in certain wines, and from there you can start putting together what each bottle or vintage should taste like.
How long did it take working in that environment before you felt comfortable?
Diego: I still don’t think I would consider myself an expert. Some of the guests we worked with have a lifestyle built around these kinds of wines. I would always taste to ensure bottles were sound, but I knew I could always be called out on my selections. You never know what’s going to happen when you pop a cork. There were plenty of instances where I had an awesome, textbook vintage, but ten minutes after I open the bottle, the wine goes dead; or the opposite: it takes an hour for the bottle to evolve.
Andrea, I’m sure you’re at the point where friends are asking you for wine advice. How comfortable are you answering those questions?
Andrea: I’m pretty comfortable making recommendations because I’m not going to suggest something I’ve never tried. I’m always learning and studying wine, always doing some sort of research, but still, sometimes I’m talking to people, and I guess I forget how much I’ve learned. So I’ll start discussing something and realize “Wow, I didn’t realize I knew that—that’s cool.”
I’m comfortable sharing information with whoever asks, but I do get intimidated when speaking with other folks who are more legitimately situated in the wine world. I have winemaker friends who get together and geek out about technical things, and I’ll feel a little bit out of the loop. They’re not being condescending; the situation just alerts me to the fact that I have a lot more to learn.
Dave: There’s always value in talking about the technical side of things, but I think a lot of people get hung up on that. I think it’s more important to have that taste memory of a wine—knowing what it tastes like and what it would pair well with. With natural wine in particular, it’s a lot more difficult to know exactly what it should taste like. And much of someone’s understanding of typicity is out the window when dealing with natural wine that doesn’t follow the traditional rules. In that case, it’s about having tasted it and remembering that particular wine.
Andrea: Yeah, that can be hard. I try to take as many notes as possible, both in my head and with the notes app on my phone. I do have wines I come back to, but generally when I go out, I’m trying a new wine or a new region or a new producer. I want to try everything, but that means it’s a lot harder to remember because there’s no consistency. People who have a really good taste memory—I want their secret.
Last week I hosted an event at Good, Clean Fun. Ahead of the event, I got with the rep to taste the wines, and I asked as many questions and took as many notes as I could.
Do you see yourself doing more event work?
Andrea: Yes, I love doing events. I’ve always had a knack for event planning, but I never thought about doing it for wine until recently. Someone suggested a meet-up where we all get together and try wine. I hosted that first wine event at a restaurant, so the technical stuff was handled, and I tried all the wines the rep bought. Day of, though, it was big-time work. I was the only person pouring wine, the tables were full, and everyone was on a different wine. I would like to do more events and expand into experience-based things, but I want to find a way to make them more sociable.
When it comes to natural wine, what’re you looking for?
Andrea: All wine should be ethically and sustainably made, whether you add sulfites or not. A wine doesn’t have to be zero zero to be considered sustainable or good for the environment or for people.
There’s this discourse around what is an authentic natural wine. I started out as a purist with really rigid standards on what wines could be considered natural.But as I explored more about farming or production or selling, I learned that each area comes with its own sustainability practices. I’ve become a lot more flexible since then. Now I look for things that signal care; farming practices, water conservation, and native yeast, for example.
I think there are wines that are more accessible, but that may not meet rigid natural wine standards. But at least these wines are made sustainably, and they give folks who may not be able to afford or find traditional natural wine the chance to explore this sector of wine.
Andrea’s newsletter, Mas Vino Please, talks all things natural wine–from pairings to buzzwords and everything in between. Be sure to subscribe to get the details for her upcoming podcast in 2022. When not out and about, you can find Andrea sipping her current favorite varietal, Syrah, and hanging at home in Downtown Los Angeles with her boyfriend and two cats.
Whether you’re a studied sommelier or just someone who really likes to drink wine, this conversation is for you. There’s plenty of content out there to educate a new audience on all things wine–from aeration to zymology and everything else in between. Join us at the table.