The Afternoon Houston Became the Hamptons

Hampton Water Wine Company rosé

Tucked nicely into the office one random Thursday settled in for a writing/research day (read: not ready for face-to-face with humans) when a friend sends over an email. Highly aware of my almost absurd level of Bon Jovi love, she was taking the time to inform me about a meet & greet for Hampton Water Wine Co…  that day! (Please refer back to the “not acceptable for public consumption” look mentioned earlier.) The meet & greet was with Hampton Water co-founders, Jesse Bongiovi and Ali Thomas which burst onto the market with their first offering, a roseﹶ. The connection between the wine and the rocker being Jon Bon Jovi created the award-winning rosé with his son, Jesse Bongiovi and acclaimed French winemaker, Gérard Bertrand.  Needless to say, I had decided I was absolutely NOT going. There were story deadlines, design work that simply wouldn’t design itself and, I gently remind you, I was wearing a bathing suit cover-up and sporting zero makeup.  Since learning this wine, I often wondered if it would even make it to the Houston market. Who knew how big the production of their first vintage would be? (Apparently it was 500,000 last year with a goal of one million this year.) I kept reopening the email and finally decided to call A’Bouzy where this little event was happening to gauge how busy they were expecting it to be (ugh, crowds, right?) Being constantly on the hunt for fun stories… off I went. In true rock star fashion I slid into the swanky, dressy-uppie River Oaks Champagne bar with my flip-flop wearing self and zero apologies. While taking in the surroundings I sat quietly outside studying my beautiful little glass of Hampton Water in all of its pink glory reading all of the background information prepping for my ambush interview.

Jesse and Ali showed up almost as casual as I was lending an instant feeling of comfort and compatibility with my good company. I mingle nearby eavesdropping on conversations ensuring I won’t ask the questions they’ve already answered 200 times when I’m greeted with a warm smile and a glass of their wine. Imagine two tall, healthy, handsome, former athletes wanting to serve a lovely glass of roseﹶ to you, I wasn’t upset for myself.  My first question noted the music the venue’s music selection, saying Bon Jovi was on heavy rotation would be an understatement. Having an awareness that Jesse is working hard to build his own name, business and brand I asked how he felt about it, “I think it’s funny when venues play my dad’s music, but we don’t want this to be a “celebrity wine” though. It’s a high-quality product that happens to have ties to Jon Bon Jovi.”

Ali Thomas and Jesse Bongiovi Photo Credit: Hampton Water

Bongiovi and Thomas met in college at Notre Dame as roommates in the sports dorm. Jesse played football and Ali played hockey. After graduation they joined the work-a-day world before transitioning full time to Hampton Water, Bongiovi: “I was working at Slice, a pizza delivery startup in New York City doing sales while I was working on Hampton Water. I left Slice just before we officially launched Hampton Water.”  Thomas’s answer was a bit more philosophical, “I started in finance right after college while we were still developing Hampton Water. I’d been active my whole life, always on the go and I’m a very social person, so I wasn’t a huge fan of the mundanity of waking up, going to work, sitting at my desk, going home, sleeping and doing it all over again the next day. So, I was extremely happy when I was able make Hampton Water my full-time job – this is the perfect role for me.”

Pizza delivery startup and finance actually aren’t that far from building a business requiring logistics, sales, distribution, etc. but I was still wondering the obvious question. How Hampton Water Wine even come to be? Most people don’t wake up one day thinking, “Hey! I’m starting a wine company today!” It’s no secret that JBJ (Jon Bon Jovi) is something of an oenophile so of course he would enjoy some juice with his family from time to time

Jon Bon Jovi and son Jesse Bongiovi enjoying a bottle of Hampton Water Photo Credit: Doron Gild

One evening during the summer of 2016, Jesse, Ali and JBJ were sharing a few bottles around the back porch at their Hampton’s home when they began to toss around the idea of creating their own. JBJ offered Jesse one last glass of ‘Pink Juice’ before calling it a night to which Jesse responded, “No, Dad, you’re out in the Hamptons, you’re drinking Hampton Water.” Responding with laughter JBJ joked, “That’d be a great name on a bottle” And it was born. Ali and Jesse kept thinking about the idea so they rounded back up with JBJ who told them to create a business plan and present it to him. After two years of incredibly hard work Hampton Water hit the shelves in January 2018. Diving deeper into how they got their feet wet in such a challenging and product dense industry, Jesse shared, “In the very beginning we did a lot of networking – meeting and talking with different successful entrepreneurs, business owners, and people in the wine industry, etc. We worked hard to educate ourselves on how to start a successful business. We studied the wine industry, specifically rosé then put together a legitimate business plan.”

DISH’S personal bottle of Hampton Water heading off to a bar-b-que

The first thing you’ll notice about the bottle is… everything. The label, artwork, glass stopper and strawberry design on the punt. It’s quite glorious, sophisticated, detailed, and… well… professional, which, I won’t lie, came as a bit of a surprise because, come on, it’s a celebrity wine. However, taking into account how everything JBJ does is 1000%, top of the line, no playing around, why would the wine be any different? Yet somehow, it still seemed like a significant step away from pay what you can restaurants, an effort at professional football team ownership and music. He respected the world over for his marketing prowess. If you have ever watched this man for 5 minutes, you can’t help but become acutely aware of his ability to create and market a brand, find and size up the target market and make a direct hit. There is no flying off the cuff with this one.

The angels are in the details, “it really started with a great name and a great label and took off from there.’ Bongiovi said, ”essentially, we wanted to bottle up the Hamptons and how we feel when we’re out there – relaxed and just enjoying life with the people we love most – and share that with everyone who takes a sip Hampton Water.”

Winemaker Gérard Bertrand, Jesse Bongiovi, and Jon Bon Jovi picking the grapes used in Hampton Water Wine

Creating the perfect flavor profile and acidity happens in layers. Curious to understand I asked more about their story and vision and why rosé? “We knew French rosés were always our favorite, but we did our due diligence and explored rosés from all over the world. The verdict? French rosés were still our favorite.” Bongiovi stated. Next was to find the perfect wine maker. There was an instant connection upon meeting French winemaker Gérard Bertrand who hosts an annual jazz festival in France. According to Bertrand, making great music and enjoying great wine accompany each other, they elevate the entire experience. “We were introduced to Gérard Bertrand and quickly bonded over our shared vision .” Bongiovi recalled.

They all worked together to create the fresh and light rosé “My dad, my business partner, Ali Thomas, and I all made our own blends using the different grape varietals. It was like a science project, we were using beakers and glass droppers. We tasted all of the blends, and my dad’s ended up winning. From there, we refined the blend further to create Hampton Water, which is made of the perfect blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes grown in the French Mediterranean. Then it is aged for 30-45 days and after that 20% of the wine is aged in French oak for 20-30 days.”   This painstaking process earned them the honor of being the top ranked rosé in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2018.

Wrapping up the unexpected afternoon another unexpected thing happened, Master Sommelier Guy Stout strolled into their tasting in Houston. After enjoying a glass he remarked how much he enjoyed their creation. Sharing this tidbit with Bongiovi he responded with kind humility, “We’re thrilled Master Sommelier Guy Stout is a fan of Hampton Water. It’s a huge compliment when a Master Sommelier is a fan!”

Indeed it is.

CHEERS from Jesse Bongiovi, DISH, and Carmelo Sherman at A’Bouzy in Houston, TX

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