Summer In A Glass: Hampton Water

Lifestyle

Hampton Water Wine is available throughout the tri-state area in restaurants, through grocery chains, and at most wine retailers. They have expanded to areas throughout the country as well and the wine is available online.

Jesse Bongiovi may not be a recognizable name. He’s perhaps best known as the son of Jon Bon Jovi, the New Jersey native who has been rocking the airwaves and topping the charts for 30 years. But Jesse’s venture into the world of rosé wine may soon give him a following as large as the crowds that have flocked to see his famous father perform. The collaboration between world famous winemaker Gérard Bertrand, Jesse, and his business partner Ali Thomas, along with some assistance from Jon, has rocketed their Hampton Water Wine rosé to the top of the charts among wine connoisseurs around the globe.

Produced in the South of France, the rich and fruity wine, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault that’s aged in oak barrels, has captured the attention of the wine industry. The latest vintage was awarded a Gold Medal at the Best Wine of the World competition. That means 190,000 wine professionals from 115 countries loved this rosé. Past vintages have scored just as well. Wine Spectator has given the wine a 90 point rating for three years running and the 2017 vintage was named a Top 100. It has also been awarded Market Watches Best New Product Wine and Wine Enthusiast gave it a Wine and Culture Wine Star Award. It’s little wonder that Hampton Wine is also the most followed wine brand on social media, @hamptonwater, with more than 325 thousand followers. VUE recently sat down with Jesse and Jon to find out how the wine came to be, what’s next, and what it’s been like to work together to bring this dream to life.

Where did the idea to start making and marketing rosé come from and how did you land on the name?

Jesse: Dad was always a big rosé drinker, so it was always around. When I was old enough to drink, I joked that I drank more rosé than water and coined the name “Hampton water”. One late night I got home from a night out and my Dad offered me a sip of what he called “pink juice.” I made fun of him for calling it that and said it flowed so freely it was Hampton water. A lightbulb went off that this was a great name and the conversation turned to making a rosé named Hampton Water. My dad encouraged us (Jesse’s friend and now business partner Ali Thomas) to figure it out if we were serious, to bring the plan back to him. Ali and I spent the next nine months calling around to learn how this whole wine making process works talking to importers, makers, marketers, everyone we could think of. We brought it back to dad fully vetted. He was excited all over again and said let’s figure out how to make it real. Jon: I really thought that was a great name. I said, go and take that degree you got from Notre Dame and put it to good use. He and his college roommate worked on it for several months and came back with a plan and I thought it was really viable. It’s been a fun four years. We have a great product. Winemaking beat making tube socks. It was a lot better than soap. The guy had an idea and it was something I enjoy. We saw a lot of runway– you want to be the first in it not the last. We didn’t want to jump on anyone else’s bandwagon.

Jon, you’re from Red Bank so what’s your connection to the Hamptons?

Jon: I float between New Jersey and New York in the Hamptons in the summer months. But I’m still Monmouth County rooted. That’s my home. Back in the day, you didn’t even go out to the Hamptons if you were from Jersey. We had a great Jersey shore and that was a long hard drive to get to the Hamptons. I didn’t go out there until I was on my fourth child but now the Hamptons are a big part of my life.

How did you end up working with world-renowned winemaker Gérard Bertrand?

Jesse: We asked friends who worked in spirits who to contact and we were introduced to Gérard. We first asked to meet him at an educational meeting. Our intention was to ask him what he thought of this idea since he had success in rosé already. His brands revolve around the lifestyle in the south of France which is so similar to what we live in the Hamptons. We talked to him for hours and in the end, he loved the idea and told us to come to France. We didn’t go in thinking he’d want to work with us so it really kind of blew us away.

Tell us about the brand? What is the Hampton Water life?

Jesse: In going out with friends, hanging at barbeques, going to pool parties, all the fun things you do all summer long, those universal things–that’s the Hampton life and our wine is about living it. With our wine, you’re a part of that lifestyle. It’s about how you feel when you drink it where you are, who you’re with, the feelings that are hard to describe. Jon: It’s a lifestyle brand much like Miami Vice was when I was a kid. You’d watch Don Johnson with the 80’s clothes and Ferraris or Baywatch with the Malibu red bathing suit. That was Miami and Malibu. The Hamptons are an aspirational lifestyle even if you haven’t been there. It’s a place that you think of in the same way you would Malibu or Miami. It’s not called Hamptons with an S because we created our own fictional place. We created an aspirational place, a state of mind–Hampton.

What process did you go through to launch and what’s been your role?

Jesse: Ali and I first went to work designing a label on our computer, initially using images we found online. That was the one thing we thought we knew how to do. Our original idea was to use a diver image because you dive into the rosé and the lifestyle. I guess subconsciously diving into this was how we felt too. We had this crazy idea to shrink wrap the bottle and were told you DON’T shrink wrap rosé. After our first meeting with Gérard, I went back and spent time at the vineyard to learn as much as I could. I brought my dad and Ali back to the vineyard later to do the blending. We spent days testing and learning about varietals. At the end of those days Gérard brought out two big magnums with our labels on them and we had our first two bottles of Hampton Water. It was crazy. Every minute of every day since we’re in this–from Instagram to driving delivery trucks. We just hired a national sales team, but the first two years Ali and I spent 170 days plus, each year, traveling and living in hotels. Jon: It’s really a tip of the cap not only to Gérard but to Jesse. They sit there with eyedroppers for days to get the blend right. It was interesting to be part of that process. There are five grapes involved in the mix and it’s literally done in test tubes with eyedroppers to get the right combination of grape and then that becomes the formula. Now I’ve become sort of the chairman of the board, the guy who gets to weigh in. But there are very able bodies running the day to day, starting first and foremost with Jesse. He is the brains behind the operation. Sometimes I’m like Santa and you come sit on my lap once a year and take a picture.

Jesse, what have you learned about yourself through this experience?

Ali and I both played sports in college which built a work ethic that we pride ourselves on. We were up at 5 am to work out, then class all day, then we’d study films and do homework at night. We’re not afraid of an 80-hour workweek. We’re not afraid to work and get our hands dirty and jump into the deep end to figure it out as we go. We knew nothing about the alcohol industry. We dove in and learned to swim. We learned how to do it and we’re growing rapidly every day. It’s been exciting and stressful but an incredible experience.

What is it like working with each other?

Jesse: It’s been a lot of fun working with Dad. If I would have tried to go into the music business it would have been different. Any idea I had if I went into music, he’d have the answer for. Wine is so new for both of us so it’s been a very collaborative experience. I ask “what do you think”, and he says “I don’t know what do you think”. The opportunity to learn and grow in it together has been so cool and so much fun for the both of us. He’s had an amazing career. To be at the top of his class for so long he has to be legit so it was an opportunity to learn from him about general business practices and to see him operate in meetings. We went to dinner with CEOs and department heads and I’m nervous. He’s not at all because he’s him. He is not as day to day in the business as I am, but I watch him masterfully go from a story of the road and then to just know when to drop the hook. I see how the people jump to help. That’s amazing. Jon: 99.9% of the time we see eye to eye. I think he’s doing a great job I’m really proud of him as any Dad would be working with their kid but I happen to agree with what he’s doing. Seeing someone’s dream come to life has been the most fun I’ve had. Watching a young entrepreneur fight hard and scrap daily–none of it is easy and I see him work very hard. That’s my greatest joy watching the little victories.

Any future plans to expand the line?

Jesse: We are planning to expand but we keep pushing it out. We expand distribution every day and expanded the team and every day we just continue to push the story. We do hope to expand the line at some point. Jon: There’s a legit argument that we should broaden into whites but there’s a lot of runway in America where rosé hasn’t caught on. You could do a premium blend, you could do a spritzer. If they wanted to do a white I’d be supportive but right now our focus is solely on rosé.

 

By Wendy Larimer

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