By: STEPHANIE DAVIS SMITH
HOW A LEGENDARY SINGER, HIS ENTREPRENEURIAL SON, AND EQUALLY RENOWNED WINEMAKER CREATED ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ROSÉ BRANDS FROM SCRATCH. WITH ACCOLADES AND AWARDS IN SPADES, THE PROOF IS IN THE BOTTLE.
BY STEPHANIE DAVIS SMITH | PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK GARCIA
FASHION DIRECTION BY DENISA PALSHA
Four years ago, Jon Bon Jovi and his son Jesse Bongiovi were standing beside a rooftop pool in Dallas, Texas. Surrounded by the “who’s who” of influencers, pro athletes, and wine industry folks, the duo was launching a fun-loving, new rosé named “Hampton Water” with Gérard Bertrand, the renowned French winemaker from theLanguedoc-Roussillon region.
“Halfway through the party, my dad jumped up on stage to play a few songs, and at one point popped into the crowd,” Bongiovi remembers. “When he landed on the dance floor, this lady’s knees buckled from sheer excitement. My dad helped her up. He got back on stage and said, ‘Looks like I still got it!’”
“We still say that till this day,” adds Bongiovi.
After five years and countless awards later, the Jon, Jesse, Gerard’s “it” factor is undisputed. The success rate of Hamptons Water is through the roof, recently winning its fifth 90+ point rating from Wine Spectator. The trio ensured Hampton Water’s placement on the coveted Top 100 wine lists and its consistent recognition among the best rosés in the world. “Which basically means it’s damn good,” says Bongiovi.
“There [was a] moment last year when we got the news that we had officially reached the milestone of selling one million bottles,” says Bertrand. “It all goes to show it’s possible to make a fun and high-quality product. Approachable doesn’t have to be a dirty word.”
Arguably, its approachability has been the secret ingredient that torpedoed Hampton Water to a meteoric success. “We knew less than nothing about the wine business when we started,” admits Bongiovi. “Now, we are literally the fastest-growing rosé in the U.S.” Indeed, the brand continues to rocket-propel higher with a footprint that includes 50 states and more than 50 countries, ensuring its bright future. Quite the feat, considering five years ago, this threesome was just getting to know each other. “Winemaking is a collaboration—with the land, nature, and one another. Jon and Jesse get this,” compliments Bertrand. “They’ve understood this from the beginning, going back to when they first selected the south of France and our company out of their admiration and respect for the terroir here, along with the unique quality and personality of our grapes. But as much as winemaking is collaborative, it’s also a technical process, and I’m glad I could guide them through its complexities.”
However well-researched, this pivot marked a new chapter for Jon Bon Jovi. Did the rock star, actor, restaurateur, philanthropist, and father of four ever think he’d go into the wine business? “Definitely not,” he says emphatically. “Although I certainly consumed plenty of wine over the years. But that doesn’t qualify me as a winemaker. With that said, I believe in the product, the vision, and I especially believe in Jess, Ali [Thomas], and the team’s hard work.”
“Gérard always says it’s the 1,000 little details,” adds Bongiovi. “It’s true. He has taught us about things that, honestly, we can’t tell if he’s making fun of us or being serious.” Like when the renowned biodynamic winemaker told them to put a rock in their mouth to taste the limestone and the salt in the air. “We thought he was playing a prank because you end up with mud in your mouth. But then you taste the salinity and realize the details make a great bottle of wine.”
“Yes. He made me lick a rock!” confers Bon Jovi.
But while Bertrand has been their expert guide on winemaking, blending, knowledge of terroir and the market, the Bongiovi men have brought their marketing and entrepreneurial expertise to the table. “Jesse is a young millennial, and he really speaks in that generation’s voice,” says Bertrand. “That has been an asset, especially when it comes to communicating on social media and conveying a sense of levity. He’s able to capture a tone and engage in a language that resonates with many of our customers.” That marketing spills over into publicity as well. “Last year, we did a promotion where people could sign up to win a chance to get a phone call from my Dad and me for Mother’s Day,” shares Bongiovi. “It was a huge success, but no one believed it was actually us calling. Everyone hung up when we said who it was. So, we left a bunch of people voice messages. We’re doing it again this year. If anyone out there gets a call from someone claiming to be Jon Bon Jovi on Mother’s Day… believe them.”
Love for wine aside, athletics could be at the core of their viniculture communion. Bertrand is a former professional French rugby player, and Bongiovi was a cornerback for Notre Dame. “Team sports, especially collision sports, sharpen our capacity for competition,” says Bertrand. “But they also enhance our facility for cooperation, trust, and determination. I didn’t leave those skills on the field when I retired from rugby. I took them with me, and I see Jesse doing the same. Our team spirit thrives because of our shared outlook.”
Perhaps the other and most relevant component that makes Hampton Water such a compelling story is the family values that guide this enterprising spirit. “We’ve always had a very strong relationship, and I think because the wine business is so new for both of us, it allows us to figure it out together. It’s a great challenge and exciting opportunity for both of us,” says Bongiovi. His dad agrees. “It’s been a joy to get to work with Jesse this closely. The best part is that I get to sit back in some of these meetings, and Jesse runs the show. To see the confidence he walks with makes me excited and where I may see a little bit of myself,” says the proud father. “He’s the boss.” Bertrand admires that relationship. “Seeing how [Jon] guides his son as an equal partner, but with such paternal love, has made me reconsider my relationship with my own children and what I envision for them in the future.”
Whether Hampton Water’s secret ingredient is expertise, family ties, or its approachability, wine drinkers agree. They all blend quite nicely.