How, when, and why did you get into the wine business?
After moving to Tahoe [Calif.] in the late 1990s to pursue my dream of Olympic Freestyle Skiing, I inevitably landed in the perfect “work nights and play days” industry of restaurants. That’s where I learned cab was red and chard was white (Hey, everybody’s gotta start somewhere).
It’s also where I met No-Neck (I’ll tell you the story sometime over a glass of Elevate), my martini-shirt-wearing future partner.
Fast-forward through a failed ski career, 13 years in restaurants, a narrow escape from opening a brick and mortar wine shop in New York, and I found myself as a “mature” student in the UC Davis viticulture and enology program. Finally finding academic focus (maybe because I was paying the tuition bill), I whizzed through school and immediately started my ascent in the wine industry, where I worked at—and with—some of the best wineries and winemakers in Sonoma County.
Wine is fun and you should have fun drinking it with fun people. I launched Elevate so I could do just that: have fun.
The Sierra Foothills are the greatest playground for experimentation and bucking trends. I started my own brand to make sure there was something out there I could afford that was made with a craftsman’s mentality and an attention to the awesome. To do that, I needed to find high quality grapes at a great price and simplify the process of getting the wine to the consumer.
For the fruit, again, there was no better place to pull it off than the Sierra Foothills and its pool of eccentric, homespun family farmers and artisans. For simplification, we went direct with no middlemen taking their cut and raising the final price to the consumer. We have simple pricing and we don’t charge for shipping on any quantity.
When did you found Elevate Wines?
I founded Elevate Wines in 2017 with my business partner, Matt. I had just changed jobs, was running a start-up custom crush winery with more than 40 clients, and I had a 2-year-old daughter who was just learning to talk back. I had tons of extra time on my hands. “Why not now?” I asked myself.
Share a proud professional moment
I get all tingly inside when I see the satisfied smile of a fellow winemaker after imbibing the Elevate.
What’s been your biggest challenge in 2020?
Parenting during shelter in place, hands down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured through the hospital paperwork looking for something—anything—about a return policy.
I’m lucky that my business is small enough, and with such low overhead, that the market impacts have been minimal overall. The support and engagement with the local community and their desire to support local has really pushed our DTC efforts and our online presence. Word spreads like a virus (too soon?) about no charge shipping and front door delivery when you cannot leave the house.
What keeps you grounded?
When my daughter asks me to play ponies and princesses. That, and the fact I primarily make a hedonistic beverage that offers joy and revelry.
What beverage is inspiring you right now?
If I ever get bored of making wine, I think I would like to dabble in the spirits industry. One of my favorite spirits right now is Sipsong gin. The distiller happens to be a friend and only lives a few blocks away, so stocking up is easy. Two ice cubes and a couch.
Who do you admire?
Firewomen and firemen. If it was just the helmet, that would be enough. But the fact they save our communities, fighting dangerous fires, sometimes in heat that makes weaklings like me hide in my AC-cooled home, year in and year out, really tips the scales. Thank you firefighters!
How does it feel to be one of the Most Admired?
Awkward. I’ve never received praise very well—I never know what to say or how to respond. I’m extremely hard on myself and wonder how I even function at a surviving level most days. I typically equate success to luck and failure to lack of effort. It is not very healthy, but it’s me. My wife says it makes me pleasant to be around.