Manpersand: Iconic Wines
June 27, 2013
Oh no we didn’t… oh yes, we did. Welcome to the first ever “Manpersand” interview. We’ve gotten such a positive response about our Ampersand Women that we thought, why not include the men in the fun? Passionate & down to earth, intellectual & fun, these accomplished fellas are inspiration for both your professional & your personal lives. Giving a whole new meaning to style crush.
We’re thrilled to feature our friends Karl and Birk, founders of Iconic Wine as our inaugural Manpersands. Self-described “wine nerds,” these two college friends set out to bring their love of great wine to the world. Passion + good palette = perfect? You tell us…
Alright, let’s get warmed up. Fill in the blank section…
KA: If I could be anything in the world I would be… a dive shop owner somewhere warm.
BOH: If I could be anything in the world I would be… a wine-making, pro-snowboarding, astronaut trust-funder.
KA: Wine is best enjoyed…. Yes.
BOH: Wine is best enjoyed…. with friends.
KA: Success is… getting to do (and drink) what you really love.
BOH: Success is… security.
KA: Happiness is… a glass half full…and then refilling it.
BOH: Happiness is… balance.
KA: Sexy is… passion, in one’s self and one’s ideas.
BOH: Sexy is… confidence. I love someone who is comfortable with who they are and knows what they want.
KA: My Ampersand woman is curious & fiery.
BOH: My Ampersand women are Mary Jane & Selina Kyle.
Now to the basics. Quick background questions: Where are you from? Where are you based?
BOH: Grew up in Colorado, but haven’t lived there since high school.
KA: Grew up on the east coast of Canada and the UK, US for high school, then ended up in NY. Throw in some stints in Turkey, Dubai, and Hong Kong along the way, and I end up being from nowhere and everywhere. Our winery and winemaker are out in Napa, so Birk and I split our time between the East and West Coast trying to rack up frequent flyer miles.
How did you get here (i.e., what is the story of Iconic)?
BOH: It kind of happened by accident. I’ve been working in wine since college and always thought about making wine someday, but I always figured it would happen years from now. Then in 2010, while Karl and I were out in Sonoma for a friend’s wedding, we were offered a chance to buy some chardonnay grapes from Michael Mara Vineyard. Michael Mara (“MM”) is managed by Steve Matthiasson, a friend I’ve made through my day job managing A.I. Selections, a wine importer here in NYC. I also happen to consider Steve the Michael Jordan of grape growers. His vineyard is very small, with several incredible wine makers getting a tiny amount of the fruit it produces – so an opportunity to get on that short list of buyers proved too tempting to turn down. Lucky for us, the equally brilliant Dan Petroski – a friend and winemaker – offered to help us turn those wonderful grapes into wonderful wine. After selling through all 100 cases of our first chardonnay in two months back in October 2011, we realized we might have something real on our hands. Within just two years, we’ve more than quadrupled our production volume.
You guys have been friends since college (adorable, by the way). Is it hard being both business partners and friends? How do you balance it?
BOH: I’m actually shocked how well we work together. We are really lucky that we have very complimentary skill sets.
KA: Having a shared vision for Iconic helps us push the ball forward even when one of us isn’t around. Although I’ll admit that I sometimes have to set up online bots to text message Birk’s phone every 5 minutes until he does stuff.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
KA: Two things: “Don’t follow money, follow your passion – money follows in the footsteps of passion.” and “Always go with your instinct – it’s the only advisor you’ll have for your entire life.”
BOH: “There is no value in an unfinished project.” I never want to say no to an opportunity, but I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I can’t do everything just by working more. Ensuring I see each of my projects to completion before allowing myself to pursue the next one has become not just important, but necessary.
Let’s talk wine… A well-trained palette seems as elusive as a well-fitted work dress (pre-MM, of course!). Any advice for the aspiring wine connoisseurs out there?
KA: Wine’s complicated…and the worst part is that some people actively try to make it more complicated. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know something because often times other people don’t know that much more. Ask lots of questions and see if over time certain stuff seems to stick.
BOH: It’s a skill, and like any skill it can be learned. When I trained with Claude Robbins, a Master of Wine and the founder of the International Wine Guild, he would pick up a glass and totally dissect it, from the grapes to the oak it was aged in, to how it was made. I remember thinking, “All I smell is wine.” Also, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to have such extreme knowledge of wine to enjoy it—take it to whatever geek factor you choose.
We were thrilled to have you guys be a part of our launch event at the beginning of May, and our Style & Substance attendees loved your Heroine MM wine. It couldn’t have been more perfect! What was the inspiration?
BOH: Karl and I love and are inspired by many of the wines of Europe, but we decided early on that we wanted to make wine that was proud of where it came from. So while we make lower alcohol wines and use less new oak (both are more common to European wine making), we still wanted it to taste like California.
Additionally, just like Rock and Roll or Jazz, the super hero comic is completely American in origin. Rather than calling ourselves Chateau-something-made-up, it made more sense to us to put something from Americana on a Cali wine—hence the name Heroine and the comic-style label. This label was done by Ming Doyle, an amazing artist who lives in Boston.
If you could have happy hour (or wine tasting!) with anyone who would it be?
BOH: Stan Lee! He is a living legend, but also an incredible business success story—he used to be the sole employee of Marvel back when comics were not a respected medium, and now just look at all the movies, video games, and media empires that have sprung up around them. He redefined the entire industry and is an incredible example of what you can achieve if you believe in what you are doing. (If you’re looking to get me an early birthday gift, I’d kill to get on his YouTube show, Cocktails with Stan!)
KA: We really do share a vision – I was going to pick Stan Lee as well. But I’ll switch it up and go with Sterling Archer. Because he’s awesome.
Lastly – words to live by. Any personal mottos to share?
BOH: I’m fond of “no good story came from a good decision”, but that is probably a terrible motto.
KA: Part of an old Buddhist saying – “To be idle is a short road to death”