After a year of operations in its breezy Alabama St. bungalow, Light Years Natural Wine Shop and Bar already has its sights set on bigger goals.
Although Light Years, owned and operated by Steve Buechner and John Glanzman, is the only wine bar and shop that exclusively sells natural wine, finding its footing during the business’s first year has been a relatively smooth process.
“We intentionally started off small scale so we could grow incrementally and naturally, and we were able to do so,” Buechner said. “We intentionally did that so as not to swing too big.”
The wine bar offers about 250 bottles on the shelf and 20 unique glasses at the bar each day. Unlike other wine bars, however, guests will quickly notice there isn’t a printed drink menu.
“We don’t print a list; instead, we create a dialogue between the drinker and our staff,” Buechner said. “People are remarkably open-minded and they really love the wine because it's infinitely more drinkable, delicious, and the stories surrounding it, too, are way more interesting.”
While these conversations help Light Years’ staff pick a glass of wine its guests may love, Buechner mentioned the conversations during the wine shop’s first year often included just what, exactly, natural wine is.
Conventional wine—what most Americans have been buying in grocery stores and bars for decades—is grape juice with industrial yeast and other chemical compounds added, while natural wine is produced through a much more hands-off approach with little to no chemical intervention. Additionally, natural wines are typically made from grapes harvested from biodynamic, sustainable, and organic vineyards at a smaller scale.
Although selling exclusively natural wines and not printing a drink menu isn’t the norm in Houston, Buechner said guests have returned during Light Years’ first year.
“We have regulars from different countries and states because Houston has so much business travel,” Buechner said. “Every time they’re back in town from Chicago, San Francisco, Denmark, they’re coming back here, and that’s awesome.”
The funky fresh wine bar has also been a hit with its neighbors.
“We have people who’ve lived in Montrose for 40 years who will come around and hang out in the garden and have a glass of wine a couple days a week,” Buechner added. “Across the course of the week, it's a huge range demographically and age-wise, and that’s also reflective of what Houston is—a truly diverse town.”
While in its first year Light Years focused on retail sales from its Montrose bungalow, this coming year the duo is expanding its operations within Texas by selling cases of natural wine to other businesses.
“We’re about to embark on the distribution side of things,” Buechner said, “which just happened officially on our trip to New York, which is really exciting and reflects our desire to spread the wealth and share the love not just within Houston.”
Buechner and Glanzman also have their sights set on introducing untapped markets to natural wine, including Dallas.
“Our goal is really to get this wine in as many people’s glasses as possible because we believe in five years it’s not going to be called ‘natural wine,’” Buechner said, “it’s just going to be called ‘wine,’ and then everything else is going to be called ‘conventional.’”
Lights Years also wants to expand its food offerings and host more public events. Importation, selling across state lines—it's all part of the mission.
“We don’t have any importing lined up at the moment,” Buechner explained, “but we do have the capabilities, and that would allow us to actually sell to other markets as well.”
Light Years is one of our favorite bars of 2019. Read about all of our Best New Bars in the December issue of Houstonia, on newsstands this week.