Richard Garcia and Jamie Zoeller have both spent years working in the hospitality industry, but always for someone else. Now, along with Jamie’s wife, Liz, the two partners have come together to open their own venture: Big Mood Natural Wines in the Crossroads Arts District.
As Kansas City’s first exclusively natural wine shop, Big Mood has a wholly approachable vibe and a mission to get people interested in drinking natural wines. Although there is no strict definition of natural wines, the term typically refers to wines made from grapes that have not been treated with additional chemicals or additives during the winemaking process.
Zoeller and Garcia have both managed several restaurant, bar and wine programs for a number of popular, well-established spots in Kansas City. When the pandemic hit, however, they both found themselves without work. They used the extra time to plan their wine shop together with Liz, who was working her full-time job from home at the time.
“Jamie and I have been friends for a long time; we are both in our 40s with families to support, and we suddenly found ourselves out of work during a pandemic,” says Garcia. “We saw the booze business still going strong even as restaurants were closed and realized that it was the right time to put our plans in motion to open our own natural wine store.”
Garcia, most recently, was the general manager and wine steward for Fox and Pearl, where he curated the restaurant's natural wine list. Among other spots, Zoeller worked as the general manager at Voltaire in the West Bottoms, where he was known for his spot-on record selections.
“We had already been talking about opening a natural wine shop together before the pandemic, but when everything closed down, it just accelerated our timeline,” says Zoeller. “We formed our LLC for Big Mood in May and started reaching out to people looking for the perfect place to put our wine shop. We always knew we wanted to be downtown.”
They looked at a few places on the Westside before getting a tip that a small space with two levels located directly across the street from Lidia’s restaurant was available. The space had most recently been a T-shirt shop and before that was home to few different carryout lunch spots.
The team has refinished the gorgeous terrazzo floors and worked with Lawrence carpenter Brad Keirns, who built their custom checkout counter and wall display, which hangs like a massive wood sculpture on the wall behind them, draped with green plants and bottles of wine. Aaron Marable, an artist from Lawrence, is responsible for the art that hangs on the wall at Big Mood.
Zoeller has brought his impressive stereo system and record collection with him to Big Mood, where he will occasionally pop up to the upper level and put on something to set the tone of the shop.
Eventually, they plan to add a bar rail and a few tables and chairs up on the second level for people to sit and enjoy music and a bottle of wine, and, in the future, maybe even a cheese and charcuterie plate.
The first floor houses Big Mood's curated collection of over 120 bottles of natural wines from all over the world, which range from sparkling to white to orange to rosé to red, along with a fridge for those looking for a chilled grab-and-go bottle. The prices of each bottle are written in marker right on the bottles themselves, a trick that Garcia saw in Europe and employed at Big Mood for ease.
On the rack, the wines are arranged by color and flavor instead of by country on the rack. There are also no shelf-talkers or rankings hanging off the shelf to help you decide. If you are new to natural wine, choosing a bottle by the looks of the label and color of the wine is one strategy, or you could just ask Zoeller and Garcia for a recommendation.
“We want to help you find something you know you would enjoy drinking, based on what you already enjoy drinking,” explains Zoeller. “The whole reason to get into natural wines is there is less pomp, less pageantry and no Robert Parker rankings to tell you what to drink. There is simply more adult beverage options for you to explore.”
Garcia estimates there are around 50 wine shops open today that exclusively specialize in natural wines from around the world, with the majority of them located in larger cities like Paris, Barcelona, Tokyo and San Francisco. “Kansas City got turned on to natural wines by a few dedicated sommeliers in town who started putting them on their menus, like Barry Tunnel at Tannin, Kelsey Alt, Sarah Hogan and Caitlin Corcoran at Ça Va, Leslie Goellner at Antler Room and many others,” says Garcia.
When it came to determine which natural wines they wanted to stock at their own shop, it came down to research – and lots of it. The partners liken the experience to the local food movement, in which diners want to know where their food comes from, who grew it and what they put on it or in it to make it grow.
“We appreciate the fundamentals of farming first, and so we carry natural wines made by small family-owned and -operated farms that do not use synthetic or petrol-chemicals in their fields,” says Garcia. “We research every bottle we bring in to ensure we carry winemakers that do not add anything to their wines to correct for color, texture, flavor, acidity or sweetness, like many conventional winemakers have for years. The truth is many of us simply do not know what wine in its natural form really tastes like.”
Garcia and the Zoellers recently launched their $50 and $100 wine club memberships for those who are ready to start exploring the world of natural wines. The wine club includes either two bottles at the $50 level or three bottles at the $100 level, plus 10 percent off in-store and online purchases through October, a special Spotify playlist and first crack at limited release offerings.
Big Mood is open for retail business and is offering contact-free curbside pickup. The shop is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 7pm and Friday and Saturday from 11am to 8pm. Same-day delivery is available for orders made before 3pm.
Big Mood Natural Wines, 2020 Baltimore Ave. Suite 102, Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.866.0799, bigmoodnaturalwines.com