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Finding Success in Wine

10 Mar


This month’s Wine Writing Challenge  is “Success”, as determined by Loie of the blog Cheap Wine Curious. Ok #MWWC15, let’s go! wine-stain1-3



Success In Wine

I make my living in the world of entertainment. I’ve been enjoying success in this industry since I was a child, to be quite honest. And at the half-century point in my life, I recognize that from age to age, I’ve judged success by many different scales. When I was young, I wanted entry to the business, and then to find recognition. There was a time I dreamt of fortune, and a time I wanted fame. As I got more successful, I realized that none of these are quite what you envision them to be, and I adapted my life, my work, and my goals to focus on making me happy, which is yet another goal, and a different yet very real version of success.

So how does this relate to wine? Simple: I’m going to discuss three winemakers that I consider to be very successful, and yet each is successful in a slightly different way. They are among my favorite independent winemakers and you should know about them if you don’t already.

Success story #1:
Dave Phinney. Who? Never heard of him? Ok, let’s try Orin Swift. How about “The Prisoner” wine, found in steakhouses across the USA.


Who is this guy? Young, smart, and dedicated to his craft. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself at the series of wines he has at I first tasted his wine at a steakhouse where it was suggested, it was a red, fruit-forward blend and I adored the pairing. I have been tasting his work ever since, and there is always a bottle of Dave’s in my cellar. What level of success? He made 385 cases of The Prisoner on the first run, since his explosion on the scene Dave actually sold both Saldo and The Prisoner brands to Agustin Huneeus Vintners and they reported selling 75,000 cases of The Prisoner in 2009. BAM! Talk about success! Here’s a killer video that will tell you a lot more about the guy:


Success Story #2:

Blair Fox, Blair Fox Cellars. At an evening event at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Barbara CA, my table hummed with a whisper: “Go taste the Blair Fox wine before its gone!” I didn’t need to be told a second time. The small pour of syrah in my glass was heavily concentrated, with bold fruit upfront followed by dark, savory elements and then oak- a dense, complex mouthful that made me crave more, and provided a great demonstration of the talent of the winemaker. I made it a point to meet Blair and Sarah, learned a little about his education at UC Davis, we talked  their wine, and I became a fan. Here on the East Coast, I’ve yet to find a local distributor but am thankful for wine clubs and the bottles currently sitting in packaging outside my cellar door, waiting for space.

Blair gained success as a passionate, talented winemaker first at a family wine operation: Fess Parker. Check out this video of him discussing the 2008 Fess Parker viognier:

All the while, Blair has been cultivating his own brand (in his backyard) while winning both fans and accolades. Successful? Heck yes! Try being named Winemaker of the Year in the largest competition for that title, and pair that with a series of 91+ point awards from Robert Parker. Does anyone need more proof of success? I think not:


Success Story #3:
Jason Moore, Modus Wines and JJM Wines. This youngster dropped everything to leave Dallas and move to Napa to pursue his dream making wine. Not classically trained, you get a very different experience from his style and his wines. I was introduced to his product by a sommelier who was just crazy about Modus Wines, to the point where I HAD to buy a bottle of Modus cabernet. After tasting it, I, too was hooked. So I tried his other wines, and loved them as much if not more. Jason’s success is more like The Grateful Dead: he has a strong group of dedicated followers who are as passionate about his product as he is. Here’s my proof: the largest number of bottles from one winemaker in my cellar are from Modus.

The success of Modus Operandi has allowed Moore to branch out and develop a new series of wines, Gratia and Gravitas, both of which I’m excited to try as they are released. This winemaker has amazing talent, and seems to not have to follow the ‘classical’ rules in making wines that are quite stunning. Don’t trust me, try them for yourself.



As I learned growing up, Success comes in many forms. What matters is that it brings happiness to both you, as an individual, and to those who enjoy the fruit of your labor. For these three winemakers, three of my favorites, success is only one part of their fascinating stories.


à votre santé!



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