Embracing the Past

Vin de California and the lost history of Pasadena winemaking
By Luke Netzley

Photo by Chris Mortenson

During the days of Spanish colonization in the early 1800s, Pasadena’s wine industry was born. Wineries were built in the wake of the Spanish missions that dotted the Los Angeles basin, making the region California’s original wine country.

After the state’s prohibition of alcohol in 1919, many of these wineries disappeared. As time passed and development swept across the county, houses and highways slowly paved over the old wine country, erasing the viticultural history of Los Angeles.

Winemakers Adam and Kate Vourvoulis opened Vin de California and Good Luck Wine Shop on Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena with the dream to revive the city’s buried wine industry through a return to the production of natural wine.

“Natural wine is a return to the way winemaking was done for millennia before the mass-production consumerism of wine,” Kate explains.

Natural wine is made with the mantra that nothing is added and nothing is taken away. There are no added enzymes, acid or yeast, and there is no filtration system used in the winemaking process. The wine ferments naturally after the grapes are crushed, with sugar coming from the juice of the grape and yeast coming from its skin.

“When you have really good raw product to start, a beautiful fruit that’s farmed really well, you don’t need to do a lot to it or manipulate it to taste a certain way,” Kate says. “And natural wine really starts with the farming. The people who are working the vineyards are conscious of their environmental impact and farming organically, with some even going further above and beyond that.”

The origins of natural winemaking date back to the Stone Age, when farmers began cultivating wild grapevines and fermenting the crushed fruit in clay pots over 8,000 years ago. Today, Adam and Kate are hoping to bring the legacy of low-technology winemaking back to Pasadena.

“Our winery is in the location that it’s in solely because of the history of winemaking that was in Pasadena over 100 years ago,” Adam says. 

Though prohibition erased much of LA’s wine country, there were pockets of land within the city of Pasadena that were still zoned for winemaking.

“I grew up here in Pasadena, and I didn’t know this history at all,” Kate laughs. 

“We very much function as an urban winery. We buy our grapes from friends across central California, but we’re able to do full production of winemaking here because of this long history.”

Both born and raised in Los Angeles, Adam and Kate met outside of a wine bar in 2014. After the birth of their son Cy, they moved back to Kate’s hometown of Pasadena. Adam had been working as a sommelier for 15 years and began making wine in 2016. The two built their own winery, and Vin de California opened its doors to the world. Within the winery, Adam and Kate debuted Good Luck Wine Shop as a way to pay homage to the natural wines they produced and other brands that they loved.

“Good Luck was born with this idea of sharing wine that we love with the community that we love, which is Pasadena,” Kate says. 

The shop began with less than 12 wines made by people who Adam and Kate knew and were only available online. Though Good Luck has now become a brick-and-mortar shop with a collection of around 160 wines, the personal connection to the winemaker remains.

“It’s important to know who’s behind the product,” Kate explains. “We want to support small, we want to support natural wines, but we also want people to feel like they’re going to find something that they’re going to like.”

While Adam and Kate strive to produce and sell a product that customers enjoy, they also want to share the message of the larger natural wine community in promoting ethical winemaking and creating positive change in the industry worldwide.

“Ultimately, this is about environmentalism,” Adam says. “We live in California, an agricultural state that has no water, and if what we consume and enjoy can also help this issue, it’s only for the best. The No. 1 thing that concerns natural wine people, more so than the product itself, is how the product is made, where it’s made and who’s making it. That’s what is most important.”

By using ancient winemaking methods and environmentally ethical practices, Adam and Kate are embracing the past to shape the future of the wine industry in Pasadena.

“I love Good Luck,” Kate says. “I love how many people we’ve met through it, and I love how supportive our community has been. We really focus on the people that are in our community, and I think VDC is special because it’s a unique location and accessible to a larger city population.”

“We want natural wine sold at every grocery store in America,” Adam adds. “It doesn’t need to be exclusive to small shops. It doesn’t need to be elite. It’s just a liquid that’s really delicious.”

Adam and Kate are excited to open their new location, Altadena Beverage, this month and look forward to expanding their community of natural wine lovers throughout Pasadena and its surrounding cities.

Vin de California and Good Luck Wine Shop

3225 E. Foothill Boulevard, Pasadena

11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

INFO: vdcwine.com, goodluckwineshop.com

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