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CLAE Perspectives | John & Jean Stanley

Exploring the Culinary and Wine Delights of Culver City: A Conversation with John & Jean Stanley of Stanley’s Wet Goods

Culver City, a vibrant neighborhood nestled in the heart of Los Angeles, has seen a resurgence in recent years, becoming a hub for culinary and wine enthusiasts. In the midst of this exciting transformation, we sat down with John and Jean Stanley, the dynamic duo behind Stanley’s Wet Goods, a beloved local wine shop that has been a cornerstone of the community since 2017. 

In this candid conversation, they share the story of their journey into the world of wine, offer invaluable tips for budding oenophiles, and reveal their favorite wine and food pairings. Plus, they give us a sneak peek into the exciting trends happening in the wine world that every aficionado should have on their radar.

Passion and Tips

Q: There are a variety of drink options at Stanley’s Wet Goods but wine has always been at the heart of it all, what ignited that interest that played a big role in opening your business? 

A: Wine really struck a chord with me when my wife, Jean, and I started taking weekend trips to Santa Barbara County wine country in the early aughts. I started to recognize that wine can really be expressive of place, but that it’s also influenced by people. I just had to know more, and that quickly snowballed into an obsession to taste and learn as much as I could. Eventually I knew I wanted to work in wine, and I was complaining to Jean about the shops and wine bars in our neighborhood one day, and she said “So why don’t you open your own place?”. That was the start of Stanley’s Wet Goods! 

Q: There are countless tips about how to properly appreciate a good glass of wine, is there really any right or wrong way? What are some things every burgeoning oenophile should know?

A: In short - no! I always say that whatever language you have for what you’re smelling or tasting in wine, you’re right! Everyone has a different sensory memory from where you grew up, whether it’s from foods, flowers, animals, or nature around you. These are powerful memories, and being able to relax with wine, really connect with your own senses, and say whatever comes to mind about it, that’s when it really becomes fun.

If I have one geeky suggestion though, buy some decent stemware. Good wine glasses are like magnifying glasses for wine. If you have them, you can notice all the little details, but without them, you can easily miss out on all the good stuff. You can easily get by with just one wine glass for all types of wine you drink, even sparkling! Just look for large bowls that are wide at the bottom, and taper to a smaller opening at the top. Thin glass really helps as well.

Then it’s just a matter of a quick swirl, and really getting your nose in that glass and inhaling deeply! Aromatics in wine are at least as important as flavor, so it’s essential that you spend at least as much time smelling as tasting. 

John's Sneakers

Wine Enthusiasts

Q: For the casual enthusiasts out there, what are a few bottles you should always have on hand? 

A: To be prepared for just about anything, here’s a few categories to have at-the-ready at all times.

- First, a crisp white is essential - something with zip and energy. Muscadet from the Loire Valley in France is always a no-brainer for this, and super affordable to boot. But there’s plenty others that will do the trick. Just stay away from high alcohol wines (anything over 13% ABV), as they tend to have a weightier mouth-feel and richer flavors. Not necessarily a bad thing mind you, but also not as universally appealing as the lighter, crisper whites.

- Second, a light-bodied, chillable red. This has quickly become a hugely popular category in wine and for good reason - they’re just plain delicious, super easy to drink, and an incredibly versatile pairing with just about any food. There’s some great ones coming out of our home state of California, but there’s plenty of others from Europe and South America as well. 

- And lastly, bubbles! Good sparkling wine doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and it’s definitely not just for celebrations. I always say that Champagne is never a bad idea, but a simple pet-nat can be just the ticket for a mid-week break from the routine. Pet-nats are the simplest and oldest method of making sparkling wine, come in both white and rosé, and they tend to preserve fresh, vibrant flavors in the wine. 

A Sneak Peek at What's Ahead

Q: You can’t talk about wine without talking about food, what is your favorite wine and food pairing?

A: So much to talk about here - picking favorites is tough! But let’s keep it down to earth here. I really love a dry Lambrusco with Pizza. Lambrusco is a lightly sparkling red wine from the Emila-Romagna region of Italy, and comes in a range of styles. The best ones are dry, and carry some lightly earthy tannins to accompany their ever-present celebration of savory red berry flavors. There’s just something about a crunchy crust, gooey cheese and spicy toppings that just sing with Lambrusco. 

Q: What are some exciting things happening in wine that we need to get on our radar?

A: It’s important to think of experiencing wine as an adventure, not a destination. And one corner of the wine world that’s got me buzzing right now are adventurous blends of both white and red grapes. Some of these wines look a little crazy on paper (Chardonnay & Zinfandel anyone?), but are brilliant in the glass. The results can be pretty amazing when you cut white wines with bracing acidity or big floral aromatics like Riesling or Muscat with a rich and savory red like Sangiovese or Syrah (or all four!). There’s even blends with apples and grapes that offer a refreshing alternative to regular wine. Natural wine producers right here in California are at the forefront of this movement, but we’re finding some great examples coming out of Austria and France as well. It pays to take some chances here, but just ask questions at your favorite local wine shop and you should get steered in a good direction.

Q: What Claes do you have on today? 

A: My triple white Bradley mids! I joke that these are my “dress whites”, as they class up whatever I’m wearing. I love the classic look, but there’s luxury under the hood as well. 

Los Angeles

Q: Stanley’s Wet Goods has called Culver City home since 2017, and it’s definitely become one of the most exciting neighborhoods in LA. What are your go-to spots in the area when you both find yourselves away from the shop?

A: My wife and I love the full range of experiences, from dive bars to fine dining. Here are some of our go-to spots:

Mid-day hideaway: Simonette. I almost hate to list this one so as not to let the secret out, as this hotel bar & restaurant is steps from the bustle of the Culver Steps, but feels like my personal hideaway with its open-air atrium seating and French bistro vibes. Really respectable food & drink complete the experience.

Cocktails: Accomplice Bar. Just down the road in Mar Vista, Accomplice has consistently impressed me with their adventurous and cheerful cocktail program. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you can order from their sister restaurant right next door, Little Fatty, where Chef David Kuo kicks out insanely delicious Taiwanese soul food.

Throw-back dining in the best way: Dear John’s. A lot has been written about this restaurant, which celebrates a bygone era of the classic steak house. Any night we can score a couple of seats at the bar, start with an ice-cold martini, and roll through the evening at this properly dark and intimate restaurant, which turns into a great night.

Fine dining: Juliet. A relative newcomer to Culver City, this restaurant is grand in design, has great vibes, and really delivers on service, food, and a great wine list to boot. When we want to step it up a notch, this is the place.

Dive bar: Cinema Bar. So many great (and strange) memories from this place, a neighborhood watering hole for nearly 75 years. Definitely a shot & a beer kind of place, but there’s live music most nights in this tiny space that’s all heart.