Updated: May 20
"Let me tell you something Porter, this is the stupidest thing you've done in a long time, and you've done some stupid shit!" The voice rang out loud and clear, from someone I have spent a lot of time with. I replied, "So what you're telling me is you don't think I should take my life savings and start a private wine label in the midst of a pandemic?" "Hell no, dumbass, this is ridiculous even for you!" came the fatherly response. "I've seen you muck some serious crap up, but this takes the cake" the voice slammed back at me. I pondered to myself about the last year; Covid, losing my business, the current state of food, beverage, travel and my future. I mumbled aloud, "So you think because I have been living on virtual tastings and scrambling to be a high end bootlegger, I'm a complete moron for writing this check?" "Hell yes!" boomed the voice, "Call Charles Darwin, we have a winner in the gene pool, and his name is Pandemic Porter!" "And just remember, if the juice sucks you'll be the only one drinking it!" And with that I dropped the check in the mailbox, walked back to my car and vowed not to speak to myself for the rest of the day!!!!
It seemed to start simply enough, a simple text from a winemaker friend looking to sell 8 tons of primo grapes. She had extra at the end of vintage and no where to put them. After discussing thoughts with some other winemaker friends, I had the brilliant idea that maybe I would make my own wine. I mean why not, life had basically stopped the last few months. For the first time in the last 30 years I had free time, which is really dangerous for someone as crazy and geared up like myself. When I got back to my friend she said she thought it was a terrible idea, and warned me against it. While weighing out the pros and cons, I called my friend/foe Chad Melville of Melville Vineyards in California to ask some questions. Before I could even get into the deep dive of inquisitions Melville (acting like I had stood him up at prom) squealed "Wait a second, why am I not making your wine? What the hell man, I thought I was your best wine friend?" he whimpered. As I belly laughed out loud, all I could muster to say with full throttled snark was "Yeah, why would I get you to make it when I can get a GOOD winemaker?!" Obviously offended, Melville retorted in his most mature manor "Fine, I don't want to make your stupid wine anyway"! Seriously amused all I could reply "Oh Melville, when the hell did you get feelings?" and with that the process would begin.
The next week I got the bad news that I didn't get the grapes I wanted, but by now it was stuck in my mind. The research, diligence and business plan had been fleshed out. I called friends and acquaintances on every side of the business and got real input, honest thoughts and mature answers. And then the worse thing possible happened, a few people actually told me they thought it was a good idea! Oh no I thought, do NOT encourage the the chubby kid with cookies. I had the label in mind, the blend was thought through and my mouth was salivating. I wanted this wine, my brand needed this wine, my future events could rotate around this wine. I HAD to make this damn WINE! So with snark in hand, I went back to Melville and asked for help. After two straight days of cussing, sarcastic banter and cross country demeaning, we came up with a game plan and got to work. We would source juice from around Santa Barbara county, looking for finesse, purity, elegance and above all easy drinking lusciousness. The wine should be juicy, round, full bodied, have attitude and love all things food, just likes its owner!!!
The design of the label was pretty easy in my eyes, it had to mirror Heathen Wine Tours logo, but with a little more boldness. Thanks to my man Gary Trout,(whom I've worked with for years) of REM interactive designs, the label came together easier than anticipated. Sleek and elegant, the front label screams for attention and makes one want to drink. As we were designing the back label I thought of all the stupid things I've seen the last 25+ years. As a server, busboy, sommelier and restaurant owner I knew I had to go a different direction. For every generic, grocery store label that promised to go great with fish, chicken and beef, there were a million more that gave no information. Wineries and labels that took themselves so seriously, you'd think you had to be in a library to drink them. I asked myself "Have we not had enough of this crap and pretension in the world of wine?" "Do we really need more snobbish labels to ride Boomers into their grave, and drive new generations to hard seltzer and the closest CBD store?" After conferring with my board of directors (which consists of my 2 best friends) the response was "Write the back label the same way you talk about wine, just leave out the cuss words so the government will approve it." Easy enough, I could do that.....
After sourcing barrels, wine, and conversations with growers/winemakers we had samples. Let me tell you, after buying wine for the last 3 decades as a professional, there's a different conversation and process when your name is going on the label. I could not have overthought the entire thing any more. Like the proverbial hamster on the treadmill I went back again, and again until I ran outta beer each night. The next day the same for what seemed like eternity. What about more syrah, what about less oak, what about another glass of wine, the process never ended. Finally Chad called and said "I'm sick of your nonsense, tell me what you want, we need finish the wine so we can bottle in Spring." Like any logical wine-o making his first private label, with no hesitation I said "You're right dude, let's go with the original blend!' Soon after being hung up on, the bottling machine started.
As if the pandemic had not been long enough, adding a new brand seemed like it took a decade. I had no clue what the hell I was getting myself into. Each state has different compliance laws, logistics, label requirements and government restrictions, etc...the learning curve is steep. After a professional lifetime of sitting on the other side of the table, hearing millions of stories, and tasting thousands of wines, it's now me sitting on the other side of the table. I'll now find out what a pain I was to deal with scheduling appointments, hosting events and teaching staffs. Now I'll be the one waiting for checks from distributors and looking for new accounts. I'll hear how many people don't like my wine because its not vegan, gluten free or doesn't have a puppy on the label.
The toughest ordeal about this process was NOT telling anyone else about it. I basically hid it from everyone except my designer and the board of directors. With this being said, many, many people are asking thousands of questions. I sincerely appreciate the response, thoughts and energy from you all. So I'll be updating the website blog/social media as much as possible. Starting last weekend I had my first trip specifically for Heathen Wines with a private event and sales calls in Rhode Island.
Sunday, June 6th we will be debuting Heathen Wines at Vinya in Key Biscayne, Miami from 2-5PM. Super casual with light bites and plenty of juice. Coming soon, release parties and events in states around the East and Southeast and info on where you can get the juice or come check out the events. It's gonna be the ultimate juice cleanse, so grab a seat in the front row for your dose of Heathenism 2021!!!!