Q & A With Lou Amdur: On Selling His Wine Bar, Software Insomnia + Drunks in the Parking Lot
|Lou Amdur at LOU|
SI: And sleep? How much sawing of logs do you do on a regular basis?
LA: My sleep is still fucked. When I first opened, I started to get less and less sleep. Pretty soon I was getting one to two hours of sleep a night. It was something I was familiar with from my software days: When you're in crunch mode, you get diminishing sleep and your ability to adapt, to be responsive, to be smart, starts to decline. I lost about 40 pounds. I could barely eat because I was so anxious. My wife had to bring me grotesque protein shakes. I think my sleep patterns have been permanently messed with. Even today. I come home and I can't get right to sleep. Suddenly, it's 3 a.m. and I'm watching a rerun of Game of Thrones. That's not healthy. I get about five hours of sleep a night if I'm lucky.
SI: You once poured us a glass of wine that you described as "barnyard-y."
LA: Was that bad?
SI: Please. It had the distinct, nostril-assailing, eye-watering aroma of chicken shit.
LA: [laughs] And you are saying you have a problem with that?
SI: Yes. But drinking it also expanded our idea about the range of wines that we knew existed. What wines are you proud to have introduced to the people of Los Angeles?
LA: I think it's important to acknowledge that my own tastes in wine have changed a lot since I first opened. I look at some of my wine lists when I first opened and wondered, "Why? Why did I like that? Did I just think I had to have a wine like that on there?" I'm not embarrassed, but I think it's important to acknowledge something that happens when you fall for wine. One thing that happens is that you want things forever to be the same, it's like chasing the first time you got high: You always want it to be that way. It's like "I want a Pinot Grigio," and you want it to be the same way each time. Or you start to realize that drinking a traditionally made wine that is new to you will have flavors your tongue is not accustomed to, and that's mind-expanding. That's what began to happen to me: We are graced with fantastic importers in Los Angeles. The wine scene here is made exciting because of the wines we're able to get. So within the first six months [of LOU], I got turned on to the wines that are brought in by Louis Dressner, an importer who is extremely important to me, more important than I'm sure he ever knew. And the scales began to fall away. At the time I didn't think much of Beaujolais and I thought nothing about Madeira. Now I pour Beaujolais all the time and Madeira is my absolute favorite thing to drink.
SI: Now for a famous kerfuffle that could only happen at LOU: A customer went all super-crazy wine entitlement on you because you had no "buttery Chardonnay" on your list. Thoughts?
LA: If you like buttery Chardonnay, it's not like we're running out of it in California. Many colleagues I adore and love have delicious buttery Chardonnay on their lists. But it's my name on there. I only wanted to work with stuff that I dig. Otherwise, I just could have stayed in software and made a lot more money and been a lot more secure. If you're making a decision to try to do something you love, don't be a hypocrite.
It's a balancing act: Just because you have fallen head over heels for oxidated wines from the Jura region of France doesn't necessarily mean they have to be on your wine list. I still sell wines from the Jura but I've tapered off from the oxidated ones. The last thing you want is for someone to make a face and push the glass back from the counter and say, "I don't like that wine" about a wine that is empirically delicious. That just hurts me internally. There's plenty of other wacky wines that I can get into.
SI: Over the past several years, we have discussed biodynamic wines, sparkly red Lambruscos, wines made from Menu Pineau grapes and how if you're at a supermarket looking for a nice bottle of wine, maybe it's better to just buy beer. You have explained why California wines with an absurdly high alcohol content might not be a good thing.
LA: The ship is turning on that last one. There is a winemaker I know who is now picking a full two weeks earlier than he did when I first knew him. I never cared for his wines because they were too overripe. But I think our palate is changing in California, which is exciting. Not only is that great for California wine but it opens people up to traditionally made wines from elsewhere in the world that are also lower in alcohol.
SI: We have asked, "Lou, what's a good Fourth of July wine?" and "Lou, what's a good wine for New Year's Eve?" So now we come to you with a question that somehow feels so much more personal: "Lou, what's a good wine to drink to celebrate the ending of one thing and the beginning of another?"
LA: My gut reaction is to drink a wine that takes you to another place. Sometimes I taste a wine and I don't buy it immediately, but it sits there in my consciousness. Then I taste it again and go, "Gosh, what is that wine?" Then you taste it a third time and you go, "Jesus Christ. I got to get [that wine] in my life." The wine that I think will take you to another place is a wine that I just ordered. It's not a wine for everybody, but it certainly is for some people. It's a wine from a part of Sicily that is the heartland of Marsala but is not one -- even though it is made from the traditional Marsala grapes. The thing to know about good traditional Marsala is that it is a wine that in our lifetime has ended. Literally, no exaggeration, there is one family that cares enough to make it. Every other Marsala is basically industrial. One family, the di Bartoli family, makes traditional Marsala. One of their sons has started to make some exceptionally fine, dry wines from the traditional Marsala grapes. The wine that I am thinking of is the di Bartoli Lucida. It's a dry table wine and made from a grape called Catarratto.
To me, it's a wine that's 3-D. But it speaks to your third eye. It's a wine from another world. It's a wine that's emerging from the ashes of the end of Marsala and indicates the future of where dry white wine in Sicily might go. I hate to say this, but I'm getting kind of shivery just talking about it. And it takes me to a different place entirely.