The Unordinary Wine Philosophy of Bradford Taylor

The Unordinary Wine Philosophy of Bradford Taylor

May 17, 2019 Off By readly

I stepped out of the cab and into a pile of slush, looking around the freezing-quiet block as the polar vortex settled in. I felt very alone: the only person on the street (Diversey Avenue) in an unfamiliar neighborhood (Logan Square) in a city (Chicago) far from home, looking for a wine shop I’d never visited, full of people I’d never met. Just as the gutter ice began melting into my boots, my eyes caught a glow in the window of my destination: Diversey Wine.

As soon as I opened the door of the Chicago wine shop, I was bathed in warmth and welcoming. My spoiled Los Angeles bones were restored amid the white walls hugged by cozy Douglas Fir shelves lined with the friendly faces of bottles I’d loved, lusted after, or couldn’t wait to meet. It was Diversey’s Sunday tasting, and I found myself in conversations about cameras and cats in circles of strangers who didn’t feel like strangers at all. Bottles were popped and shared. I felt at home.

This might all sound hyperbolic—perhaps the high of a good heater or the half dozen tastes of the Australian Lucy Margaux wines talking. But it’s not, and to understand why, you have to get to know Bradford Taylor. Technically, the disheveledly handsome 33-year-old is the wine shop’s owner, but truthfully, he’s a philosopher. Not in the aimless collegiate way that makes eyes roll or blows dinner parties full of hot Nietzschean air, but in true practice that is shaping modern American wine culture.

“Wine is supposed to make you happy,” Taylor says, casually swirling his glass of Jean Ginglinger’s Pinot Gris around the back table of Diversey Wine the next day. We were alone aside from the hum of the heater, but Taylor radiates so much tranquility and openness, it would be impossible for the walls around him not to reverberate with the same energy. (And I’m saying that as someone who does not own any crystals.)

Taylor never planned to open a wine shop, let alone three. After studying literature at Swarthmore College, he spent a year in Paris working at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop and hanging at classic wine bars like Le Verre Volé, where he began to drink natural wine the way most of us did—without realizing it. In 2012, Taylor was working on his doctoral dissertation on the concept of taste in modernist literature at UC Berkeley and living in Oakland when a visit from his father made him realize how ridiculous it was that every time he wanted to buy wine—the kind of wines he’d fallen in love with in France—he had to drive 30 minutes to Kermit Lynch’s shop. So, with a small loan from his father, he opened his own.

Wines on tap at Ordinaire.

Erin Kunkel

Ordinaire was born in Oakland in 2013 and quickly became the West Coast’s capital of natural wine. As both a store and a bar, it was (and is) the antithesis of what most Americans have experienced when it comes to wine. Unlike the snobby and sterile shops that make you feel like you’re being watched and judged by a side-eyeing suit at a Chanel store, walking through the entrance of Ordinaire feels like stepping into the Cheers you never knew was there.

Rather than treating Ordinaire as an isolated experience, Taylor used it as a template to spread natural wine across the country. In 2016, he and Josh Eubank (the importer for Percy Selections), Ordinaire alum Quinn Kimsey-White, and Matt Coelho of the Bay Area–based Woods Beer cofounded Brumaire, the wine-fair turned party in Oakland that brings together natural wine producers from around the world. Now in its fourth year, it sells out in days. In 2018, Taylor opened Diversey Wine in Chicago and became an investor in Los Angeles’ Psychic Wines, owned by Kimsey-White and chef Zach Jarrett. Taylor’s academic work focuses on how taste as a sense can be used to form alternative communities, and his projects are the physical evidence of his philosophies.

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