photo credit: Richard Miyake
Brilliant Mistake Wines
A brilliant success!
Turning any business into a booming venture is daunting. Imagine starting a business in an industry outside of your expertise and far beyond the nerdy aspects of what’s in the glass. Start-ups require zeal, a specific mindset, and devotion to long hours unparalleled. You must be passionate enough to seek out and cultivate relationships, work beyond hard and invest a significant amount of time and money. Stacy & John Reinert of Brilliant Mistake Wines came together at a time where their lives were in transition to build something beautiful. This is the story of a “visionary” and a “pragmatist” joining forces to create and live the dream.
His stylist said, “She’s married though, to a cop.”
My introduction to Brilliant Mistake Wines began in April of 2016. I was attending a tasting in St. Helena at 750 Wines. An industry tasting. Industry tastings are intriguing because there is no pretense, the vibe is energetic, and the winemakers are not pouring for 3,000 people, but a hundred. The time, attention and conversations had at these smaller tastings with either the winemaker or proprietor are more revealing. It’s also an opportunity to taste some of the most interesting wines in the region in a single setting. The room was buzzing with energy; a photographer snapping shots, the din palpable. I approached the tasting table for Brilliant Mistake Wines and was warmly greeted by Stacy. I immediately loved her down to earth nature and genuine disposition. It didn’t prepare me for what I was about to experience in my glass.
Stacy’s background is beauty, salon style. John’s managed a water utility and was a customer of another stylist. He came in every other week to this salon for a cut and had no clue Stacy might be interested in him (she was). They greeted each other in passing but beyond the hello nothing much came of it. One day the salon was abuzz with baseball talk and John asked Stacy if she liked baseball (she did). After exchanging numbers, there was a promise of meeting at a game. Stacy texted John during the game, but when John asked her where she was sitting there was no response. John called the number of the text and got Stacy’s voicemail, confirming it wasn’t one of his buddies having a laugh at his expense. He’s thinking “What the hell? Maybe she’s not interested.” The following Saturday he goes back into the salon and tells his stylist, he called Stacy and never heard back. He said, “I don’t think she’s interested.” His stylist replied, oh she’s interested alright. John is thrilled. He did not anticipate what he heard next. His stylist said, “She’s married though, to a cop.” John’s like “Holy shit, a guy that can legally carry a gun? No, thank you.” The stylist told him she was separated and in the process of getting divorced. John was relieved. After some time, they began to pursue a relationship.
“John’s dream is so big, he can see the future, and I look at how we get there. “
John and Stacy were meeting more and more people in the Napa area as they traveled from their East Bay home base regularly to explore their fondness for wine. The more time they spent in the valley, the more they learned about the strategy behind building a wine business and the building blocks for success. John began doing research on how winemakers started their businesses. Particularly intriguing were those who hadn’t inherited the family vineyard. He learned, “You have to have a good business model, be personable enough go out and promote your product and your brand. More importantly, you need to care genuinely about what you are doing and maintain a high level of quality.”
They started a life together, building friendships along the way and met people in the wine industry who were influential. People like Juan Mercado, who not only is one of the nicest people but a skilled winemaker who, like the Reinerts, came outside of the industry to make great wines with Realm Cellars. John reflected about how he and Stacy decided to jump in with both feet. “There’s a 15 year age difference. For me, I’m the creative in the relationship. I constantly think of things from an artistic sense. Stacy is more realistic and more pragmatic in the process.” Stacy chimes in, “John is the driver. I don’t know that I would have gone as far as we have, put as much money in as we have to this point. John’s dream is so big, he can see the future, and I look at how we get there. ”
The decision to do Cabernet also came from their mentor, Juan Mercado.
Their strengths as a wine geek/visionary and a social butterfly/practical strategist have supported not only each other but the business growth and extending relationships as well. They met their first winemaker, Rebekah Wineberg (at that time with Buccella Wines) while inquiring about wine barrel recommendations. What came next was completely unexpected. Rebekah took her role one step further by not only introducing them to a barrel maker but meeting them there and spending the afternoon with them. After that initial meeting, they made it their business to learn every essential step of the process. Rebekah handled their 2013 vintage and introduced them to the winemaker who would handle their 2014 wine. Maayan Koschitzky was known for his wines at Screaming Eagle and his work with Atelier Phillipe Melka. The 2014 vintage would carry them into another arena.
Brilliant Mistake Wines is a brand drawing attention from top innovators including Phillipe Melka.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a mainstay in Napa Valley Wine. It’s one of the most recognized and widely grown grapes in the region. Napa Cabernet is known for its soft tannins, exquisite layers, and responsible for some of the most expensive wines here. Both Stacy and John love Cabernet Sauvignon, and decided to make an ultra-premium wine in small quantities. It was important to them to get grapes that had east to west sunlight (more time in the sun). They found the perfect vineyard in the valley. When it came time to blend with their winemaker they tried several combinations, none that took their breath away. Stacy explains, “I kept going back to 100% Cabernet.” The decision to do Cabernet also came from their mentor, Juan Mercado. John knew doing a Cabernet would make sense but he wanted to think bigger. In doing so he felt like he was a bit all over the place. Weinberg recommended they call Mercado. John put in the call “I’m a huge fan of this guy’s story, so I was nervous about phoning him. He came down to visit us for lunch and spent three hours advising. I was completely blown away he did that. Mercado told us Napa is known for Bordeaux-style wines.” The stage was set.
“It’s either going to be brilliant or…”
The business of wine start-ups is about scaling. Starting small, refining the processes, the technique, and perfecting what makes it to the bottle. The Reinert’s began with 55 cases in 2014 to 160 in 2015. They chose to make the best wine they could and marry it with the best in glass bottles (from Italy). Brilliant Mistake Wines is a brand drawing attention from top innovators including Phillipe Melka. When the wine was ready, Phillipe tasted it and said it is amazingly underpriced while adding “Put me on the list.” That list is the wine club list. Wine clubs enable members to get the first shipments of a release. Convenient, because you never miss a vintage of good wine.
With wine already so recognized, why call it Brilliant Mistake? Stacy says some of the best things in life happen by mistake. While talking over the initial venture with John, she said: “It’s either going to be brilliant or…”
Tasting Notes: The Brilliant Mistake Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a seductively inviting smooth cab. Fragrant notes of dark berry, breathtaking florals, and cinnamon lead the palate on an adventure of chocolate and blackberries with alluring silky tannins.
Hero Shot Photo credit: Richard Miyake