Owners Chad Starrett and Clayton Taylor sat in the lounge. Photo by Mario-Sebastian Berry.
Sugar Land has dedicated its first wine shop to the growing natural wine movement. The recently opened Imperial Wine SLTX is a neighborhood bottle shop at 106 Bay View, less than a mile from the old Imperial Sugar Factory – but refined sugar is an ingredient you won’t find added to any of the wines carried in this charming shop.
An important part of the ethos of natural wine, also known as low or minimal intervention wine, is to provide a true snapshot of its terroir and preserve its purity by not adding adulterants such as sugar or coloring, or anything removed by clarification and filtration. In addition, natural winemakers typically do not allow pesticides or harsh chemicals in the organic vineyards they work with. This winemaking process also includes spontaneous fermentation with naturally occurring yeast. The final product is bottled with little to no sulfite additives.
The store is owned by two residents of Sugar Land, Chad Starrett and Clayton Taylor. After 24 years of teaching and coaching, Starrett decided to leave his teaching career after the hurdles of COVID left him unsure about his future there. He befriended Taylor several years ago and they often discussed Starrett’s concerns during trips to their local coffee shops. Starrett had heard about natural wine while watching Chef and Musician Action Bronson talk about his appreciation for it. But he had his aha moment when he sipped his first orange wine — a style made from white grape must that stays in contact with the skins, adding a range of unique flavors and orange hues (no other coloring!) — at Light Years, a natural wine bar in Montrose. He was immediately sold.
He began looking for natural wine retailers in and around the 610 Loop, such as The Heights Grocer and Bodega Bellaire, which sadly closed in late 2022. From there, an idea began to ferment. He discussed running a natural wine store with Taylor, which led to much “market research” being conducted on many shared bottles at the aforementioned wine suppliers. The duo soon came up with a plan to open their own wine shop.
Their approach is eager and unpretentious. Starrett and Taylor both enjoy meeting people and striking up a conversation. Starrett says, “We like natural wine to ‘converse’ with the drinker. Wine should be shared and if the wine has something to say, the conversation will flow between friends!
It’s this personal touch that really takes the shopping experience to the next level. The store is airy and uncozy, with an inviting lounge complete with a vinyl record player in a back corner and a window overlooking Oyster Creek. Although Imperial Wine is licensed only as a shop, guests can enjoy a bottle creekside in an area with tables and a small viewing deck shared with the business next door.
Eventually, Starrett and Taylor would like to operate Imperial Wine as a bar with retail space, but the permits required will eventually come down to Sugar Land zoning laws upon application. Starrett’s brother Clint, who owns N-tegrity Hemp next door, is all too familiar with the struggles of navigating those laws. For more than two years, his company operated just outside the city limits before being allowed to move it within the city limits after multiple interviews with local news outlets and a meeting with the mayor. N-tegrity Hemp is also currently home to Rasa Libre Coffee, a quality pop-up coffee bar that guests can enjoy before, during or after shopping at either store.
Despite the strict zoning laws, Starrett and Taylor always knew they wanted to open the shop in Sugar Land to share their love of “natty wine” with their neighbors. If wine isn’t your thing, Imperial Wine also offers a selection of craft beer and mead, including a WildFlyer Mead Company lineup, which is owned by a fellow Sugar Land resident.
Imperial Wine offers happy hour tastings every Friday from 5-7pm. Guests can sample featured wines and food pop-ups often take place on the terrace. It’s a great way for those curious about natural wine to see what it’s all about.
If all this sounds like something you might have a natural affinity for, take a trip to Sugar Land to visit Imperial Wine SLTX. Maybe you’ll see me there!
Disclosure: Author is a wine and spirits retailer and counts Imperial Wine among his clients.
Mario Sebastian-Berry is a wine and spirits salesperson who has been in the hospitality industry since 2002. He currently represents Blanco, the Texas-based Andalusia Whiskey Co. and multiple wine labels. Somehow, he also finds time to be Houston Food Finder’s social media manager.