For many people, the love of wine begins with the simple pleasure of eating and drinking. Some get more invested, the geekiness of the process drawing them in. Travel begins to center around wine-growing regions instead of beaches or museums. Guest rooms become makeshift cellars. And for some, the wine obsession grows deeper and, like any true obsession, takes hold of a life and changes it completely. That's what happened to Lou Amdur.
"I started to really pay attention to wine in the mid-'90s," says Amdur, who has divided his 53 years more or less equally among L.A., New York City and Minnesota. "And it just got worse and worse and worse." At the time he was working in the software industry, but eventually he found himself bringing wine books to work with him "and closing the door behind me."
As Amdur got more serious about wine, taking courses and getting involved with tasting groups, his dissatisfaction grew with his career. "I don't want to present it like a midlife crisis, because that's not what it was," he says. "Why does anything find you? The sirens called me and I listened."
On a trip to Paris in 2001 with his wife (he's married to New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis), Amdur was struck with a plan. "We were at Jacques Mélac['s Bistrot à Vins Mélac], which is one of my favorite wine bars in Paris," he says, "and I suddenly realized that there really aren't any chill, neighborhood wine bars in L.A."
That realization eventually became Lou, the wine bar he opened in March 2006. In the six years that Lou was open, Amdur became L.A.'s unofficial wine guru, although, he hastens to add, "not through any calculation or intent." He says, "I think I was in the right place at the right time. There are a lot of thirsty people in L.A. who are interested in trying new things."
At Lou, Amdur taught people about wines they'd never heard of, particularly varietals and winemaking styles that have been pushed out by big moneymakers, and gave them reason to be invested in those wines. A natural storyteller, he made those narratives incredibly compelling.
When Lou closed in April 2012, many people were devastated.
Amdur cites many reasons for closing Lou, including a bad landlord. But also, "My relationship with wine was being throttled." The stresses of having to stick to wine that would work in a wine-bar setting, as well as the pressures of running a full-scale food operation, were beginning to sour that glorious obsession. "I decided I wanted to work with wine, period."
Which is exactly what he's doing now. Last September, he quietly opened Lou's Wine and Provisions on Virgil Avenue; the tiny wine shop carries only a small selection of interesting, value-driven wines.
He plans to open a second shop, Lou Wine & Tastings, at the corner of Franklin and Hillhurst in Los Feliz. The selection at that shop will be bigger, the price points more varied, and Amdur will host tastings at the shop a few times a week.
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Best of all, we again have access to Amdur himself, his passion and knowledge, singing his own siren call.