Joe Wagner is no stranger to the wine business. He grew up in it. Grandson of the founder of Caymus Vineyards, he’s watched every aspect of winemaking. From farming to the business of wine since he could walk.
Today I am meeting with Wagner at the Fagiani building. He recently purchased the storied Fagiani building for a $3.7m in Downtown Napa. I’m not sure what to expect when I meet Joe. I make it a practice not to learn too much about an individual when I do an interview. I find the more organic the discussion, the more refreshing and interesting the conversation. I did scan a piece featuring a photo with Wagner in a private jet. There, he appeared every bit the privileged wine scion the piece depicted him. What I encountered in my interview was the complete opposite.
He is the master behind the brand Meiomi. A brand I first encountered in Hawaii as a “buy the glass” brand. You couldn’t get a bottle, only a glass. There was a bit of intrigue in the positioning. So much so I began drinking it at my favorite Thai restaurant in Hawaii Kai, Maile’s Bistro. It pairs quite well with spicy food. I had no idea, I would be interviewing the man behind the brand in Napa a decade later.
Wagner sold Meiomi to Constellation in 2015 for a cool $315 million. The unique aspect of Meiomi was it didn’t have a winery. It didn’t have a vineyard and it didn’t have assets per se beyond the brand and its customers. It was created by bucking conventional wine marketing tactics. Built by Wagner, customer by customer, glass by glass.
Fast forward to today. We’re sitting in Fagiani’s the someday soon home of Wagner’s latest venture. He appears relaxed and confident and offers me a glass of his sparkling wine. The bubbles are his Russian River Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut, Steorra. Just one of the many in his stable of wine. His personality is warm and sincere. I immediately feel at ease. Could this actually be The Joe Wagner, $315 million man? As we begin talking about his journey, I find a humbleness about him that catches me off guard.
His family began growing grapes in 1840. They were farmers. Salt of the earth like many winemaking families. They left grape growing for greener pastures after prohibition slammed the door in the face of opportunity. Returning once again to grape growing in the early 70’s, his family built the brand today known as Caymus.
Today Joe Wagner’s not buying fast cars and private jets. His investing in his and his family’s future. Five generations of world-class winemaking led to Copper Cane Provisions, which Wagner founded in 2014. It’s a platform for his innovations in wine. The latest is his nod to Napa Valley’s most important grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. The Napa pedigree blend, Quilt brings together some of the best AVA’s in the region including Oakville, St. Helena, Atlas Peak, Coombsville, Calistoga and Howell Mountain. This blend marries the rich deliciousness of Cabernet Sauvignon with a twist. On the nose, cocoa, creme de cassis and anise. In the mouth, cocoa, complex fruits with a delightfully long and memorable finish.
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