business jpr

Published on July 5th, 2012 | by Michael Hansen

Help An Aspiring Winemaker’s Dream Come True

Chasing a dream

When I found out my friend Justin Paul Russell (JPR for blog purposes) had moved to Portland, Oregon, a few months ago to chase his dream to become a winemaker — Pinot Noir, specifically — about a dozen questions filled my mind (along with a healthy dose of jealousy). The main question was “Why did you not ask me to come with you? I want to go to there!”

In the photo above, my friend Justin Paul Russell gloats about standing in a field of grapevines while I cry myself to sleep at night drinking wine, most likely an Oregon Pinot Noir. (Irony is a bitch.)

But my other big question, the more pragmatic one, was “How in the world do you go about becoming a winemaker?” It turns out, it’s simply complicated. Or complicatedly simple. I’m not sure which, but the point is that it’s both straightforward and difficult at the same time.

During his years working in the wine department of Whole Foods Market in Birmingham and Atlanta, JPR developed relationships with folks in the industry across the country, including one family-owned farm in Oregon called Momtazi Vineyard. That’s where he’ll source fruit for his wine label, Jasper Sisco.

An aside: Jasper Sisco was Justin’s great-grandfather, and the inspiration for the wine. The label prominently features this old-timey photo of Sisco, seen here seated to the right.

JPR, who also happens to be a legit sommelier, says family is critical to his vision of winemaking. He will only use fruit from vineyards if he’s broken bread with the folks in charge and in the fields. A noble dream to be sure. That’s why he chose the Momtazi family, a certified biodynamic farm, for his first vintage and that’s why he drew inspiration from a man from a different era.


Getting started in the wine business

Another question that popped into my head was, “How does one get off the ground in the wine biz?” The answer to that query proved most fascinating for me, as a “business man” (though I hate that description of myself). Justin is — in true hipster fashion — using crowdfunding to gain capital for his venture. “What’s crowdfunding?” you ask. That’s basically where you ask family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, community members and complete strangers (read: whoever is interested) to invest in your startup.

Crowdfunding is commonly used for nonprofit fundraising and to subsidize causes and movements. But crowdfunding is currently trendy in the business world, what with the economy — and therefore traditional loans from big banks — seemingly stalled for who knows how long.

It’s also cool because it depends on the entrepreneurial, change-oriented attitude of the Internet. Change the world with wine? Why not?

Check out the Jasper Sisco page on Indiegogo, one of the more popular crowdfunding sites. It tells his story and explains what his goals are. He’s about one-third of the way to reaching his goal of $10,000. The catch is that you only eight days left to give. I strongly suggest you do so.

Reasons you should give:

  1. Justin is a friend of mine.
  2. Pinot Noir is my favorite wine.
  3. JPR is from the South by way of Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia (#reasonstolovethesouth).
  4. We can’t continue to expect governments to fix an economy they’re not a part of. Be the change. Fund a small business.
  5. You get cool stuff if you give.
  6. Momtazi is a family-owned vineyard, which means you not only help a small business become a reality, but you also help another business in the process.
  7. The grapes that Jasper Sisco will use from Momtazi are Demeter-certified Biodynamic. Translation: It’s good for the planet.
  8. Jasper Sisco Pinot Noir will (if all goes to plan) make its way to the marketplace in the Birmingham area.
  9. Jesus loved wine, therefore you should help the world have more of it.
  10. Because I said so.

But seriously, you rarely get a chance to so tangibly change someone’s world. Why not make it someone you know (if not personally, by extension) and something you can drink and feel good about.



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About the Author

My name is Michael Hansen. Born and raised in the South — Memphis, Tenn., to be precise — I am a firm believer that food and drink bring family, friends, lovers, colleagues, and enemies together like nothing else on the planet. I live and play in Birmingham, Ala., where I own a small marketing and website design firm called Mud Pie Creative Lab with my siblings. I am an avid foodie, wannabe writer, so-so music critic, aspiring gardener, day dreamer, college sports fanatic, animal lover, news junkie, problem solver and all-around nice guy. Google

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