The natural wine bar The Holly is a must visit in the Near Southside neighborhood of Fort Worth

The Holly, a charming natural wine bar in Fort Worth, is as eclectic as its hip neighborhood, Near Southside. Open since November 2021, it offers hundreds of natural wines from more than 200 small producers.

Customers can discover unusual wines through daily flights or proposals by the glass, and buy bottles to enjoy at home or at the bar. Thanks to the knowledgeable staff and the neighborhood’s sense of community, The Holly has become a hub for learning about “fine” wines and socializing.

Natural wines – a small but growing subset of the wine industry – are made with organically and sustainably grown grapes and vinified the old-fashioned way. This means that they are produced with very little intervention: without additives, and without removing anything – without fining or filtering. Although nothing is added during the making of the wines, small amounts of additional sulfur dioxide may be added during bottling, to preserve freshness.

Liz Mears is the owner of The Holly, a natural <a class=wine bar in Fort Worth.” data-src=”×0/smart/filters:no_upscale()/” class=”dmnc_images-img-module__1-ZBN max-w-full text-white object-contain”/>
Liz Mears is the owner of The Holly, a natural wine bar in Fort Worth.(Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

Owner Liz Mears started The Holly after years of driving to Houston and Austin to buy natural wines for tastings and dinner parties with friends.

“I would joke that one day I would open a natural wine store,” she says. When a corner lot in Near Southside came on the market, Mears and her husband bought it, and the joke got serious. They built a wine bar and took up residence above it. “We live here, we are part of it. It’s an extension of the wine tastings we did in our backyard,” she says.

Mears’ passion for natural wines took root in 2009, while volunteering at a vineyard in Australia. She loved everything about natural wines, especially their more intense expression of terroir and vintages, the extra care taken in the vineyard – including the hand-picking of the grapes – and the stories behind the farmer-winemakers.

Mears’ preference for natural wines brought a bonus. “I feel better drinking them – I definitely feel better the next day,” she says. This is because natural wines are often lower in alcohol than their conventional counterparts.

“Adding yeast or sugar to wine [a common practice in conventional winemaking] makes the wine more alcoholic,” says Mears. Natural wines are fermented only with the natural yeasts present on the skin of the grape, which develop because no pesticides are used in the vineyard.

Mears not only tastes every wine sold at The Holly, but also scrutinizes the winemakers.

“We talk to growers individually to verify that they are organic and to understand their farming practices,” which are often also biodynamic, she says. Mears also pays attention to cellar practices. It only stores wines containing no more than 30 parts per million of sulfur dioxide added at bottling (in accordance with French natural winemaking limits). Some of The Holly’s wines contain no added sulfur dioxide – they are commonly referred to as “zero-zero” wines.

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Daniela Arboleda, manager of The Holly, hosts a red, orange and rosé <a class=wine tasting flight.” data-src=”×0/smart/filters:no_upscale()/” class=”dmnc_images-img-module__1-ZBN max-w-full text-white object-contain”/>
Daniela Arboleda, manager of The Holly, hosts a red, orange and rosé wine tasting flight.(Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

The wide variety of unusual holly varietals produced from single vineyards is impressive.

“Varietals tend to be more varied with natural wines,” Mears says, in part because small growers have revived local ancestral grapes grown before World War II. After the war, modern winemaking stimulated a commercial shift towards internationally renowned grapes.

Among the rare grapes currently sold at The Holly are xarel-lo (a white grape with lively acidity, traditionally used in the production of cava); weissburgunder (a German pinot blanc as friendly as dry riesling; and a rose from Touriga Nacional (a full-bodied red from Portugal with good acidity).

The best-known wines on the shelves come from the Beaujolais and Loire Valley regions, the cradles of natural viticulture in France. Mears says Gamay from these regions is a good gateway to natural red wines. Similar to Pinot Noir, the grape appeals to a wide range of red wine drinkers.

Pet-Nat Wines (short for French natural sparkling, i.e. naturally sparkling), are a growing wine trend. Mears says there’s always a pet-nat included in The Holly’s weekend wine flights (the store currently has 18 different varieties for sale). These fresh, sparkling wines are bottled during fermentation to produce bubbles (this differs from the Champagne method, in which yeasts and sugars are added to fermented wines, which undergo a second fermentation in the bottle).

The Holly also sells hard-to-find orange wines, which are made with white grapes but fermented in contact with the skins. These orange or amber colored whites have more body than you would expect from a white, as the grape skins impart tannins. Fans of well-known varietals and blends will also find plenty to choose from at The Holly.

Wine isn’t the only thing on offer at the wine bar. You can order cheese and cold cuts or bring your own food. Mears says some guests get pizza delivered to the Holly. On weekends, starting this month, Chef Scotty Scott of Cook Drank Eat will bring his food truck to the building.

You can also sip wine while taking a pottery class down the hall from The Holly at Kendall Davis Clay. Mear tenant Kendall Davis uses her ceramics shop for weekend workshops. Students can order wine and food from The Holly while they handcraft clay vases, bowls or mugs. Mears has a suggestion of what to sip during class: amphora, wines aged in clay pots – a 6,000-year-old tradition that’s back in vogue.

Holly is located at 305 W. Dagger, Fort Worth. Hours are 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

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You can enjoy your wine at the bar or on the seats inside and outside the...
You can enjoy your wine at the bar or on the seats inside and outside the Holly.(Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

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