Last Updated on May 23, 2023 by mark
Jess Wade is the owner and winemaker for Topophilia Wine Company, Jess who was born and raised in Sonoma County, and comes from a family of chefs. His mom has been employed in some of the area’s popular eateries and his father has been supplying them with handmade pasta through his Wine Country Pasta for many years. Growing up, Wade was often found in the kitchen, and it appears this experience led him to a career in winemaking. Before that, however, he had to learn that banking and city life were not for him. Wade began working in a bank in high school and when he graduated, he moved to the city for college, believing that he was leaving his small-town life behind.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Jess Wade is the Owner and Winemaker of Topophilia Wine Company
- Topophilia means, “Love of Place” and was founded by Jess while living in New Zealand
- The unique business model of taking advantage of any situation that comes your way and taking every single meeting
- His creative approach to making money, such as selling reclaimed bricks from a house in Napa
- How he started with small production Rosé and Pinot Noir wines to generate cash flow
- Leveraging hospitality connections to sell his first vintage, and ship wine to customers across the country
- Corporate virtual tastings were offered for groups that are unable or unwilling to travel
- Topophilia Wines is a brand that focuses on creating a sense of place and hospitality
- The majority of his customers come from word-of-mouth referrals
- Creating a new business venture, Tagline, with his partner Gianna Fugazi
In this episode with Jess Wade
In this episode with Jess Wade, Jess explains how Topophilia means, “Love of Place”, and how he was able to take advantage of every opportunity thrown his way to build his business. How did Topophilia Wines Company leverage its hospitality connections to sell its wines during the pandemic?
Jess Wade is the Owner and Winemaker of Topophilia Wines Company in Sonoma County. Jess shares his inspiring story of overcoming obstacles with hard work and dedication since childhood on a ranch and the journey from 160-170 cases to almost a thousand cases per year.
In today’s episode of the Legends Behind The Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks is joined by Jess Wade, Jess Wade is the Owner and Winemaker of Topophilia Wines Company. He talks about quality over quantity when it comes to wine production and virtual tastings during the pandemic.
Tune in to this episode as Jess shares his motivation for keeping going and his unbelievable hustle story!
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Drew Thomas Hendricks on LinkedIn
- Barrels Ahead
- Jess Wade on LinkedIn
- Topophilia Wine Company
- Bohemian Highway Travel Co.
- Sonoma’s Best Modern Mercantile
- Petaluma Gap – Wind to Wine
- Gianna Fugazi on LinkedIn
- Tagline Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
- Wines Spectator
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.
Barrels Ahead is a wine and craft marketing agency that propels organic growth by using a powerful combination of content development, Search Engine Optimization, and paid search.
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[00:00:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Drew Thomas Hendricks here. I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft Podcast. On this show, I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry.
Before I introduce today’s guest, who’s an owner, winemaker out of Sonoma, I got to do a sponsor message. Today’s episode sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead, we work with you, implement a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy, when that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and connects you with your ideal customers.
In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrels ahead.com today to learn more. Today, I’m super excited to talk with Jess Wade. Jess is the owner and winemaker of Topophilia Wines in Sonoma County. Jess, welcome to the show.
[00:00:42] Jess Wade: Thanks for having me, Drew.
[00:00:43] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, thanks for being on. So Jess, let’s start just right with a name. Topophilia. I was I actually got my major in Attic Greek.
[00:00:51] Jess Wade: Oh, okay.
[00:00:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I appreciate the Greek etymology there.
[00:00:54] Jess Wade: You’re one of the few that knows what it means then. Yeah, so the word Topophilia means a love of place. That’s our direct translation. And I actually have it, on the bottle itself just to help people along. and I found that name when I was living overseas. I was living in New Zealand. I was working at a winery there. Wow. And I had some, pretty lucrative opportunities come my way. From back here at home. I’m from Sonoma.
[00:01:19] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Where in New Zealand were you?
[00:01:21] Jess Wade: I was in Cromwell, so Central, Otago Central.
[00:01:23] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Okay. So yeah, I, I was there many years ago. so up by, that’s east of Auckland?
[00:01:29] Jess Wade: No, Cromwell is on the South Island. It’s,
[00:01:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s a South Island. Okay. I was in the I was in the north island up by, the lake in the ski resorts. Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. My geography’s very rusty today,
[00:01:41] Jess Wade: You know, and not many people know a lot about New Zealand, so they always ask me like, oh, where were you? I’m like, Cromwell. They’re like, where’s that? I’m like, it’s a tiny town of about 2000 people and you probably won’t know where it is.
[00:01:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: In the South Island.
Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Never had the opportunity at the South Island.
[00:01:57] Jess Wade: I highly suggest it. If you want some, world-class pinot noir that you rarely get your hands on here in the United States, go to Central Otago. They’re doing some really great stuff there.
[00:02:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, wow. Yeah, I definitely will. It’s, been on the plans, but I gotta say on the North Island, pinot up where we had, it was fantastic when we were there.
[00:02:15] Jess Wade: So you were probably a Martin Borough region?
[00:02:18] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, it was, I’m dying. It was just east of Auckland. We were on a surf trip. I was in Raglan and then.
[00:02:23] Jess Wade: Oh, there’s Gisborne over there as well.
[00:02:25] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Gisborne. It was inland. I thought it was a Otago, but it wasn’t.
[00:02:29] Jess Wade: Yeah, no, that’s on the south.
It could have been like North Martinborough. Martinborough’s known for their pinot noir as well. There’s some great producers up there too.
[00:02:36] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I’m Googling it, so anyways, I don’t wanna go down a rabbit hole. Yeah. Anyways, so you’re in New Zealand?
[00:02:41] Jess Wade: Yeah, so I’m in New Zealand. I was gonna stay for a couple of years and I started getting these emails and people were offering me vineyards, you know, these were people that came up to Sonoma, bought these homes. They’d have a vineyard on it. Some as small as like a third of an acre, some of ’em are two, three acres. And through various connections that I had made over, over the years here in Sonoma, some people that were my bosses, people that were friends said, oh, this guy Jess does stuff like this. And so these people just started emailing me and saying, Hey, we have this
small vineyard. We don’t know what to do with it. a lot of the larger vineyard management companies wouldn’t take it on because it’s just too small. And they said, Hey, if you farm these, you keep the grapes. And we just got like a case of wine out of it. So,
[00:03:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’s amazing.
[00:03:32] Jess Wade: Yeah. That doesn’t really happen.
[00:03:33] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s like ultimate micro production.
[00:03:36] Jess Wade: Yeah, exactly. So, the first person I said, you know, I would love to, but I’m on the other side of the world right now and I don’t really have any plans on coming back.
Cause I moved over there with a backpack and a one-way ticket.
[00:03:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, nice.
[00:03:49] Jess Wade: So within about probably a month, month and a half, I get three emails about vineyards. And I have two people that I’d known previously contact me and say, Hey, we want you to be our winemaker. So all of this kind of happened at once and I felt that it was time to come home and start working for myself. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know how I was gonna do that cuz my parents are chefs. So,
[00:04:16] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, are they?
[00:04:17] Jess Wade: Yeah. I don’t come from a family of like a lot of money, so I didn’t have any startup capital.
[00:04:21] Drew Thomas Hendricks: But you were raised sort of in the wine and food industry.
[00:04:24] Jess Wade: Yeah, I mean, I was literally raised in my parents’ kitchens. My dad’s a fresh pasta maker and my mom’s a chef, so, oh. I was raised, you know, in a pasta shop, in kitchens. So, I figured, I was like, Hey, you know, this is a pretty unique opportunity. So I flew home, bought a tractor, couldn’t afford a sprayer, so I bought a backpack sprayer used, oh geez. And I, that first year I farmed, was it like eight acres, with a little tractor I bought and a backpack sprayer, and it was
[00:04:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: How many plots was that eight acres, was it?
[00:04:56] Jess Wade: Oh, that was six different plots. No, five different plots. Oh, wow. That’s, yeah. So, luckily, they were all kind of in the same area, so I would just drive my tractor from where I stored it at this barn on one of the properties. I just drive my tractor down the highway. Okay. So, yeah, I started with that and started making wine for, two labels.
Started making wine for Topophilia, but as you’re aware, wine takes, you know, from the time you start growing it until it goes into a bottle 20 months, 22 months. So in this meantime, I knew I needed startup capital. And I am, very stubborn and I don’t like asking people for things.
So I went back to working in the hospitality business, because I put myself through college, working in restaurants and bars. So I went back to a local restaurant. I. I was a server there at night. And then also the local bar here, the sports bar where I worked for many, many years, they hired me back on, and for two years, with very few days off, I worked every single day farming and making wine and then every single night serving or bartending or doing both.
[00:06:05] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh my lord. that’s around the clock job there.
[00:06:07] Jess Wade: Yeah, it was really rough, especially towards the end. But, I did that. I saved up all my tit money, and that is literally how I got the capital to start Topophilia, you know, it paid for barrels, it paid for custom crush, it paid for other grapes because some of these vineyards that I was farming, I was actually selling the grapes because I wasn’t using ’em for Topophilia, it wasn’t in line, with what I was doing yet,
[00:06:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I guess, why would people have these vineyards just let you take all the grapes?
[00:06:33] Jess Wade: I mean, I have no idea
[00:06:34] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So I guess they want the vines trained and they want the vineyard maintained and they may have a long-term vision of eventually monetizing it
[00:06:41] Jess Wade: No, these are just people that wanted a beautiful vineyard but didn’t know what to do with it and had no idea how to do anything with it.
[00:06:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh. Like they might have the house and the environment and it’s like a second vacation home and they’ve got vineyard there.
[00:06:53] Jess Wade: Oh, yeah. No, these were like second, third, and fourth homes.
[00:06:56] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, okay. Okay. So I get it. So they’re wealthy like the wine country environment, but to them, okay, sorry, slow on the uptake. What a unique business model. I mean,
[00:07:06] Jess Wade: Yeah. Yeah,
[00:07:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: payout comes in a long time though so.
[00:07:10] Jess Wade: Exactly. So the payout does come in a long time and I’m still farming some of those vineyards to this day and, you know, my business model was basically take advantage of any situation that comes your way and take every single meeting.
I mean, I got very creative one year to buy barrels, I sold bricks, I found a house in Napa that had all these bricks in the backyard.
[00:07:33] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s awesome.
[00:07:34] Jess Wade: And they were just giving ’em away, they had no concrete on ’em either, so they’re, you know, beautiful. They have a nice patina. So I pulled out 8,000 bricks out of a house on my trailer, stored ’em, and then sold them online as reclaimed bricks.
[00:07:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That is awesome hustle. And the turnaround, I mean, in bricks. I know, I just bought a few myself. I was, I think I was paying 45 cents a brick or so.
[00:07:58] Jess Wade: Yeah, I was charging a dollar a brick.
[00:08:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh my. Oh yeah. Well, you’re in the North Napa area. I’m the Home Depot brick. Yeah. That’s awesome.
[00:08:06] Jess Wade: So really, you know, my start for myself, it was just kind of piecing it together and doing whatever I could, you know, it’s pretty unique for this industry. A lot of people come into it from, you know, maybe they were in finance or in tech, and then they come in and they buy the winery, get the winemaker.
I didn’t have that option, so I just did what I could to make it work.
[00:08:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: This is one of the best hustle stories I’ve heard, I’ve interview a lot of winemakers and there’s a lot of people that come out from previous currents and law firms, or the hedge fund industry or whatnot. Yep, just from the ground up on that, talk about sense of place, you’ve gotta really understand the place in order to monetize what you’ve got going on right now.
[00:08:45] Jess Wade: Oh yeah, absolutely. And you know, my parents instilled a good work ethic in me. I started working when I was a kid. My dad’s pasta shop every day after school because that’s what you did. You work with your family. That’s what he did, I grew up on a 40 acre ranch up in the mountains, so, you know, weekends were spent working on the ranch and working on the property and constant remodel of the house and whatever you need to do. You did.
[00:09:09] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s awesome. So, talking about this hustling, you’ve got all these vineyard plots and you’ve got your first release of Topophilia coming out. How did all those, patchwork of plots culminate together to the first wines?
[00:09:22] Jess Wade: So, first wines were rose of Pinot noir and a Carneros pinot. So it was, Rose, came outta one vineyard. We did direct press for that. I don’t do any Saignée because I was growing that vineyard specifically for Rose.
[00:09:36] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Okay,
[00:09:37] Jess Wade: so more crop load retains the acidity doesn’t have as much color, which is exactly what I’m looking for.
[00:09:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:09:43] Jess Wade: The vineyard could handle it, so that’s why I chose that particular vineyard, the other
[00:09:47] Drew Thomas Hendricks: And smart if you’re getting paid out on the crop, you don’t wanna like get your harvest down to too small.
[00:09:53] Jess Wade: Yeah, exactly, you know, it’s all about balance buying health, you know, for pinot obviously we don’t want as much crop. And so I used, three other vineyards for that first release. And, it was 60 or 70 cases of rose and about a hundred cases of Pinot. Oh wow. So talk about tiny but that’s because I knew that I needed to make some money back. So I was selling grapes as well and just looking enough to get myself started and as every year I was keeping more grapes and selling less grapes. So just kind of slowly building it because I just wanted it to kind of grow organically. And I couldn’t afford to have a ton of wine left over after a vintage and store it while I’m trying to make this other one I needed that cash flow because I knew I was gonna be quitting the restaurant and the bar. So started out with that and I’ve been steadily growing. Let’s see, 2017 was the first vintage, I think it was March 23rd, 2019 was first release of the month. Okay. So we did a release party. I rented some space at, a local, it’s like this old Victorian, absolutely gorgeous, has a full kitchen, used to be a restaurant.
So I rented that space and, instead of hiring a caterer, my family helped me because they are chefs. So I literally did, my mom and I did the cooking for the first release party. I spent two days before prepping. I went into the space beforehand, her and I were working in the kitchen. I changed my clothes, went out and did the party,
[00:11:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I love these DIY startup stories, yeah, the exact type of way I would probably do it if I ever tried to run a winery. How did you get, did you leverage the hospitality connections to sell this first vintage? How did you actually. What about the wines? How did you sell ’em?
[00:11:40] Jess Wade: I sold it by working with a company called Bohemian Highway, the travel company. So we were doing, I was doing tours for them, and I would just tell people about these wines that I’m making and they would buy ’em. And then also while I was working in the restaurants in the bar, people would ask me, they’re like, oh, you know, a lot about wine. I’m like, yeah, I’m actually a wine maker, you know, I’m starting my label. What’s your information? So I would get these people’s information. I have a whole stack like this of pieces of paper with people’s name and email and when I went to do the release party, I emailed all those people and most of them showed up and a lot of ’em were still customers to this day.
[00:12:19] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’s awesome. Total underground.
[00:12:21] Jess Wade: Yeah, and these are people that live all over the country. So once they tried it, I would ship ’em wine and then their friends would try it and they would start buying wine. And it’s just growing like that. I mean, I did have one restaurant placement. My first placement was at bouchon in ya. So I had it there, and then a couple local small wine shop here.
Sonoma’s Best has been great to me. Good friend of mine runs the wine program for the whole hospitality group, but really my focus has been direct to consumer for this brand and it was just kind of building it organically and, you know, not about a year later we’re in COVID. So we don’t have people visiting anymore. So I’m like, okay, well I was, you know, selling wine, you know, using my connections at Bohemian Highway, doing tastings that way. That’s all gone now. So I started doing virtual tastings. I just created, these little, you know, packets online that said, Hey, here’s your bundle. You can get these two bottles. We can do a tasting, you can ship bottles to your friends and we can do tastings and I sold a ton of wine doing that. It was really great. I gained a lot of new customers, a across the nation and, you know, I’m still willing to do ’em. Its just people aren’t really doing those anymore and there’s, you know, they can travel now and I don’t blame it.
[00:13:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. I’m always curious on the wineries that still keep doing ’em, and it does make sense for a lot. I mean, yeah, really it’s gotta be a mutual fit. You can always tell the wineries that were just doing it because they felt they needed to do it, and those that actually had the love or had a format for it.
[00:13:57] Jess Wade: Honestly, the last ones I’ve done have been like corporate stuff. So where people can’t really travel or aren’t willing to, we’ll get together and do, like, you know, do it for a corporate group or something like that. But I haven’t done one in. I don’t even know how long probably eight months, nine months.
[00:14:14] Drew Thomas Hendricks: And that a great idea. I had someone on the show just about a week or so ago, and they, one of their specialties was these corporate events where if you have a sales team that’s in five or six cities. You would send out the samples to each one of those sales people come and do the, you know, 10, 15 minute tasting to kick off the sales meeting or end of the sales meeting and give everybody like this bonding experience.
[00:14:35] Jess Wade: Yeah, usually I recommend it. They do it at the end because we are drinking wine and also it’s gonna go along, it’s never gonna be 15 minutes. And I always tell whoever the lead is. I’m like, yeah, you say 15 minutes, double it. Yeah. Just be aware of that. I think that’s a one, one of the best things to come out of these virtual tastings is that corporate kind of community event.
[00:14:58] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:14:58] Jess Wade: Absolutely. So yeah, you know, I started with 160, 170 cases. Now I’m up to almost a thousand cases a year.
[00:15:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s good growth.
[00:15:09] Jess Wade: Yeah. I have, you know, multiple single vineyards designates. I just sold out of my Carneros blend. I do have a Sonoma Coast blend for next year, just cuz I have some more vineyards out in like mm-hmm. Petaluma Gap, Russian River areas.
[00:15:23] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Are you currently soliciting more of these Micro Vineyard management?
[00:15:26] Jess Wade: No, I’m not managing any more vineyards. I still have the original ones. But people have been offering me vineyards and I’m like, I don’t have time for that, I live on a two-acre vineyard.
[00:15:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You got a whole operation going?
[00:15:37] Jess Wade: Yeah. I’ve got everything I need right here, but I don’t need any more vineyards. I’ve got my hands full there and honestly, there’s one that’s really, really small.
But it’s kind of my Zen vineyard. It’s where I go where I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just need a day to myself or a half a day at least. I go out and prune the whole thing myself every year, you know, cause I acreage You need people to help work.
[00:15:59] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. What’s about this vineyard that makes it so special?
[00:16:02] Jess Wade: It’s tiny and I can do it by myself and not have to worry about it.
[00:16:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I get it, yeah.
[00:16:07] Jess Wade: It was actually one of the first too, so it just kind of coincidentally is, but because it is so small, I know that I can blast through and do the operations myself, without having to be stressed about it, whereas, you know, two, three-acre vineyards, you know, I gotta call my guys out and yeah.
Say, Hey, we gotta get this done, we gotta do this, so.
[00:16:24] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Awesome
[00:16:26] Jess Wade: But yeah, no, I’m sourcing from different growers now, doing different things. Right now I have a rose, a pinot on my website, topophilia wines.com. And I’m doing a Grenache Rose this year. I made it last year and it was sold out before it was done fermenting, so I had to go buy some Pinot and make Rose a Pinot.
Oh. But this year we got more grapes, so, doing Grenache Rose. I’m doing Chardonnay now. I started last year with a 2021 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. It actually just got 94 points from wine enthusiasts.
[00:17:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, congrats.
[00:17:01] Jess Wade: Thanks, yeah, a couple weeks ago.
[00:17:02] Drew Thomas Hendricks: And we’re recording this for those listeners, right during the harvest. So we’re particularly honored that you’ve taken time out of the harvest. How is this 2022 harvest going?
[00:17:10] Jess Wade: it’s been challenging for several reasons, you know, we got some heat spikes. So water is an issue there, some vineyards didn’t have water, some did. If you did, then you’re looking pretty good, luckily, I did so I was able to get a lot of water on there also, you know, just some of the cultural practices that you can do, timing of leafing, how much you’re gonna do, you know, where your vine health is overall, is really important.
So that, that was definitely tough. Things came in light for me. I think it came in probably around 20 to 40% light from a normal year, quote unquote. I saw other people where it came in 60%, 70% light. Oh, wow. So we’re looking at low yields. It happens, you know, mother Nature runs a show, we just try to keep up. So you can’t really dictate it. I’m doing, Cabernet now. I’ve done, I’m doing Red Blends. I had someone just plant a Cabernet Franc Vineyard for me. Oh wow. one of my growers that I buy from, he asked me if I wanted anything and I said, yeah, your site’s great for Cab Franc. So I’m expanding.
And you know, some of these vineyards are growing with me and, planting what I really want. Which is great. but overall I’d say 2022 vintage. I think the quality’s gonna be there. I think it’s gonna take a little time for it to kind of homogenize and come into its zone. I was actually just talking to a winemaker friend yesterday over a beer, about that. And yeah, I think it’s just gonna take a little time, but I think it’ll be good. That’s good. We’re excited to see it
[00:18:43] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s good to hear. We need a couple, even if they’re low harvests, we need a few smooth harvesters. it’s been some strange years over the last three or four.
[00:18:51] Jess Wade: No more 2020s. Cuz I walked the entire crop that year.
[00:18:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh man, did any of those, small vineyards that you get your fruit from, did any of those houses get lost?
[00:19:00] Jess Wade: No, nothing was lost from the, from the physical fire. It was all smoked. It was all smoked.
[00:19:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: All smoked tank. Yeah.
[00:19:07] Jess Wade: Yeah. It was just too bad. And, you know, there’s, things you can do to reduce smoke tank and get rid of it in wines. however, A, they’re very expensive, and B, you’re gonna have a reduction in quality. the only way to get that quality back is by using a lot of the different products that are out on the market. And that’s not what tophi is about. Topophilia is about you tasting the vineyard. and it’s more important to me that, those wines stay of, quality and our true representations of the vineyard rather than, you know, spend all this extra time and money and effort to make a subpar wine and then try to sell it to you at the same price. That’s not my belief system. so, you know, I took a hit. It is what it is.
[00:19:49] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I think, and yeah, and just being a champion of the quality in the sense of place, you have to, I mean, unless you’re making a, and I don’t wanna say the right, unless you’re a white that just needs, it makes some manufacturer product.
You can enforce that right into the. production, but small production like yours where it’s the taste of the vineyard. I wanna shift to what we still talk to your tasting. So we talked in the pre-show about how special your tastings are. Talk to me about that.
[00:20:12] Jess Wade: So, when you do tastings, we’re doing ’em, basically at my home, we’re gonna go sit next to the vineyard that I farm organically. Were gonna sit next to my organic garden. I re-landscaped everything here. I’ve really built it up. It was just piles of dirt and weeds when I first got here. and it’s still, it’s no frills. It looks like, you know, just a working vineyard and farm. My, my tractor’s out there, my old trucks but we’re just gonna sit there. My dog’s gonna be running around and, I’m gonna be you welcoming you.
[00:20:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: What type of dog do you have?
[00:20:43] Jess Wade: He is a black lab great Dane. Oh, nice. Yeah, he’s a big boy. He’s currently sitting right here, chewing on his bone.
[00:20:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I got three right below me somewhere here.
[00:20:54] Jess Wade: Yeah. But for me, I could have gone out and head downtown, get a tasting room, do all that. what I really wanted to show people And really show them what wine country really is, is that we’re gonna welcome you into our homes. Just like I do, when you’re purchasing wine from me after the tasting. You’re gonna take that wine home. You’re not gonna go to another, you’re not gonna be drinking again in a tasting room setting. You’re not gonna be drinking it in a multi-million-dollar cave. You’re not gonna be drinking it, you know, bei up to the bar somewhere. You’re gonna be drinking it at your kitchen table with your friends. Maybe on your patio, in your garden, wherever, with your friends. And that’s really what I’m trying to create, so that sense of place once again. Is still therea and you can, you can easily recreate that memory that we have together. I’ve made a lot of friends that are still customers to this day that have come out and done a tasting, and they said, you know, this is really special because I feel like I’m just at one of my friend’s houses. And that’s exactly what I want, is I want you to feel like, you know, I’m welcoming you into my home as a friend, not just a customer.
[00:22:03] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I love that, as the industry grows in tasting rooms and hospitality becomes more and more important, you really do start to lose that sense of place, or the tasting room becomes that sense of place that the people remember, which, you’re right. It isn’t the wine. I think that type of a tasting is what a lot of people are seeking out and really just don’t know where to find it.
[00:22:22] Jess Wade: Yeah, I mean there’s not a ton of it out there. And again, it was me working with what I had and what I had was my garden. I had a vineyard; I got a big walnut tree that we sit under and yeah. So
[00:22:36] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s good and any people can sign up for your tastings online.
[00:22:39] Jess Wade: Yeah, just head to the website, topophilia wines.com. There’s a little calendar button there and, yeah, you’ll see the schedule and you can come on out.
[00:22:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I like it.
[00:22:49] Jess Wade: Good luck during harvest.
[00:22:51] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh yeah. Well, yeah, that’s fantastic. So as far as the brand and then people have the wine club, as far as your visitors, do they come from around the country or how do people find you, is it all word of mouth?
[00:23:02] Jess Wade: Yeah, mostly word of mouth, you know, I’ve worked with a couple of local driving companies. So, they’ll bring people sometimes, you know, my wines are at a few restaurants here in town now at a couple of wine shops here in town, so they’ll come out. But I’d say the majority of it is people that are already members. Sharing my wine with their friends. And they give me a call and they say, Hey, we want to come do a tasting.
So it’s very organic in that sense. And it’s done really well. I mean, I have customers all across the country. I’d say honestly, like Atlanta, Georgia is one of my biggest areas that I sell to, yeah, very random.
[00:23:40] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, that happens though. You just get that one, refer that one person that tells their friends, and then suddenly you get this hot pocket.
[00:23:46] Jess Wade: Yeah. and it’s been great. And again, you know, I’ve made friends with these people from all over the country and, you know, I love having ’em out and I’ll do whatever I can for ’em. You know, I’m not normally open on Sundays because I need a day off. But if someone’s coming out and, you know, I haven’t seen ’em in a long time, or it’s the only day they can do it. I will do my very best to accommodate.
[00:24:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s awesome.
[00:24:07] Jess Wade: I can’t always promise it, but
[00:24:09] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I mean, that’s hustling to success, speak about hustling or tell me, got a new brand or start a new venture.
[00:24:15] Jess Wade: Yeah, so, I have a business partner, Gianna Fugazi. She has her own brand as well. We met probably like eight months ago. First met through, a mutual friend, just started talking about, you know, what we’re doing and what the future could be. And her and I decided to partner up and we started, a brand called Tagline. It’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and a Sonoma County Chardonnay, you know, we’re just in the beginning stages of it, but it’s a brand that we’re gonna be taking national.
We’ve already got brokers throughout the country, who are now asking us to make wines not just from California, but also from Washington, as well as Europe and New Zealand.
[00:24:58] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, this is some serious production.
[00:25:00] Jess Wade: Yeah, this is very, very large production. and what I’ve done is I’ve gone out to my contacts up and down California and I have these larger facilities where they make the wine for me. So during the season, I don’t have to be there. I trust these people. Yeah. They make it all and then I just go down afterwards, we do the blending, we do the bottling and then put it in storage and send it out on semis.
So we’re doing that, like I said, we’re gonna be going up to Washington, sourcing wines from there. And then one of our brokers who we’ve partnered with has asked us to do, wines from, you know, five different countries in Europe as well as New Zealand, where they’d like us to go to South America.
So between Gianna and I and all of our contacts mm-hmm. We’re gonna be able to make these different wines and all these different brands. Gianna’s really the brand builder. She’s a great winemaker as well, but I’ll just go out and source and, you know, we’ll make it happen. So this is a,
[00:25:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sounds like a fantastic venture, but huge, like completely kind of separate from what’s happening at Topophilia.
[00:26:01] Jess Wade: Very, very different, you know, I’ve worked, in my 15 years in the industry, 18 harvests now. I’ve worked in wineries where we made 500 cases of wine and I’ve worked in wineries where we made 2 million cases of wine and everywhere in between.
And, you know, those experiences were, have been helping me with projects like that, you know, obviously my heart and soul are in Topophilia, you know, I literally bleed in those vineyards because when you’re a farmer, you end up cutting your hands all the time. But when it comes to tagline and this other business venture, I’ve got the experience in dealing with larger quantities of wines, the logistics of that. How to blend, how to utilize different, grape varietals in order to achieve, the highest quality product at still a very consumer friendly price. Because this
[00:26:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So hard, different skillsets, like I’m kind of identify with the skillset that you had over at Topophilia, everything hands on hands on.
I would have a tremendously hard time delegating some of the activities that you’re gonna have to fit T agline.
[00:27:04] Jess Wade: Yeah, you know what, it takes a lot of practice. I had a lot of practice doing it. I’m lucky enough that, you know, I’ve worked under really great winemakers starting from day one from my first harvest in 2007. I’ve worked under great winemakers, great viticulturists, and people that have just, you know, continued to be mentors and continued to help me along the way, which is something, you know, I hope to do in the future and I try to even do today, you know, my first winemaker, he recognized that, you know, I was starting to take an interest in it, but I knew absolutely nothing. I randomly got the job through a friend of mine, his dad made him get a harvest job, and he asked me if I wanted to go and, I moved to Central Coast with him.
And within two weeks, I knew that winemaking is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Oh, wow. and that is partially due to Alec, my first winemaker, I give him a lot of credit for that also during harvest, I curse his name sometimes. Why did you make me do this?
[00:28:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. That kind of leads into my perfect segue as we kind of wrap down this podcast like, what motivates you to keep going? To look forward to the next harvest, the next venture.
[00:28:13] Jess Wade: A cold beer at the end of the day sometimes. Yeah. No, you know, for me, starting out, what motivated me was, just to keep learning, you know, learning these different wine styles, being able to visit these different places that are absolutely gorgeous. It allowed me to pack up my bags one day, or actually pack one bag a backpack, buy a one-way ticket and move to Australia. Did a vintage there and then it allowed me to go to New Zealand. And, that was kind of my motivation then and then when I came back, my motivation has really been, a, to build Topophilia and connect with people because these connections are really, really important to me. And again, like I had said, I’ve made very good friends all over the country just from them coming in into taste. And I think that’s really great because wherever I go, I have these friends that I can reach out to and say, Hey, it’s been a long time, haven’t seen you. We can go out and have a dinner, glass of wine, grab a beer, whatever it is. Go for a walk and we can catch up because we’ve already had that interaction.
So I always feel like I’m at home somewhere. The other thing that keeps me going is, you know, with Tagline, you know, I wanna build an extremely successful brand. Yeah. Both my business partner and I both like that aspect is building something and making it grow. And, you know, obviously we wanna make some money at this game. Yeah, I’ll be the first to tell you, making wine in the wine industry, especially small production like mine, it is not easy work.
[00:29:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. I was gonna ask about the profitability of 600 to a thousand cases. It’s not a lot of margin.
[00:29:48] Jess Wade: Not much, but it’s allowed me a really great life, you know, I don’t need much, I live in a, you know, small two bedroom, one bath cottage that was built in like the thirties. I live on my vineyard, I’ve got my dog, I’ve got my old truck, I’ve got my old Jeep, I own a tractor.
[00:30:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s everyone’s dream when they think about wine.
[00:30:09] Jess Wade: Yeah, exactly. And you know what, I live a good life.
It allows me to travel, but also, you know, Tagline because I have these capabilities and I do have a great partner, her and I really want to see this succeed and it’s already succeeding. as of today, you know, I sold a couple of pallets today, just randomly.
[00:30:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, fun to sell pallets.
[00:30:31] Jess Wade: Yeah, and that’s the thing is when I think of Tagline, okay? I’m selling pallets from truckloads. When I’m thinking Topophilia, I will hand sell you a single bottle of wine, which I’ll show you right here. Here’s the label.
[00:30:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh yeah
[00:30:43] Jess Wade: This is the 2018 Carneros Pinot Noir. So you’ll see there the level of place that I put.
Yep. This actually got 90 points at Wines Spectator.
[00:30:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, great. Oh, fantastic.
[00:30:54] Jess Wade: So, yeah.
[00:30:56] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Well, Jess, I know you gotta get back to harvest and I really thank you for your time. Where can people find out more about Topophilia and any of your other ventures?
[00:31:06] Jess Wade: Top ophiliawines.com is gonna be your best bet as for the other venture, just shoot me an email through Topophilia’s website and we can discuss from there, you know, I’m always open to chatting with new people that are maybe interested in bringing tagline on, or if they want to have their own private label. I do that as well, by the way, I do private label winemaking.
[00:31:25] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sounds good.
[00:31:26] Jess Wade: So shocking, I do another thing.
[00:31:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I’m sure there’s a couple other ones we didn’t even get into.
[00:31:32] Jess Wade: Oh, yeah. It’s a never-ending list. I mean, you need me to fix your fence. I’ll go do that too, whatever.
[00:31:39] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s awesome. Well, Jess, thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:31:42] Jess Wade: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
[00:31:44] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You have a great rest of your harvest.
[00:31:46] Jess Wade: You as well.