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By Elena Kadvany

Palo Alto to get its first natural wine bar

Uploaded: May 6, 2019

Natural wine is hardly new but has exploded onto the bar scene across the country in recent years, including in San Francisco and Oakland, but not so much on the Peninsula. Here, only a handful of places -- Zola and Vin Vino Wine in Palo Alto and Redwood City's BottleShop -- quietly serve some natural wine, which is farmed organically and made without chemicals, known to be funky and more variable.

Kasim Syed, owner of Palo Alto Brewing Co., The Rose and Crown and the Tap Room in Palo Alto and QBB in Mountain View, and his wife Guldem Tanyeri Syed have been drinking more and more natural wine themselves. They've found bottles at Zola but would often drive to Oakland for natural wine bars Ordinaire and The Punchdown.

Frustrated at the scarcity of natural wine on the Peninsula, the Syeds decided to open their own dedicated bar, set to open at 369 Lytton Ave. in downtown Palo Alto by this summer. (The site is the former home of longtime Indian restaurant Janta.)

Named Salvaje, which means "wild" in Spanish, it will be the first Palo Alto establishment — and perhaps on the Peninsula — to exclusively serve natural wine.

Natural wine bottles on Salvaje's Instagram, opening soon in downtown Palo Alto.

The exact definition of natural wine varies depending on who you ask, especially as the category has become a trendy buzzword. The Syeds' minimum requirements will be wine from vineyards that employ sustainable farming practices, ferment grapes using native yeasts with minimal intervention in the cellar and low amounts of sulfites.

Salvaje will serve wines from all over the world from smaller producers, like one of Kasim's current favorites, Milan Nestarec from the Czech Republic, who doesn't use herbicides on his vines, hand-harvests his grapes and ferments the wine first with indigenous yeasts, per an online description. Salvaje's Instagram is full of bottles of natural wines from Mexico, France, California and Oregon.

At Salvaje, the couple hopes to educate local drinkers about the spectrum of natural wines and lesser-known grape varietals.

"It's not just going to be the cabs and merlots and pinots, which we’ll have because one, they’re delicious, and two, a lot of people will expect them," Kasim said. "We hope that people will start looking at things and seeing these grapes that are hard to pronounce and be willing to open up and try something new."

Salvaje will serve tapas-esque small plates that will be more substantial than typical wine bar snacks like cheese and charcuterie but not full dishes, Kasim said. They're partnering with a local chef, who he declined to name, to develop the menu.

Down the line, they might sell bottles retail and offer a monthly natural wine club.

At Salvaje, Kasim said they want to "create a vibe of the places that we like to go" -- laid back with a staff that is knowledgeable but not pretentious.

"We want to create a fun environment where people can come in and enjoy themselves and no one is taking themselves too seriously," he said.