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So You Want to Be a Vintner: The Crazy, Unlikely Launch of Brilliant Mistake Wines

John Reinert describes the folly and the excitement of catapulting himself into the wine business without a net.

Brilliant Mistake wine Photo: Courtesy Brilliant Mistake/Suzanne Becker Bronk

“A person’s worth is measured by the risks they take in life.” So says John Reinert, who, with his wife, Stacy, took a doozy of one in 2013 by launching Brilliant Mistake Wines with two barrels (50 cases) of Napa Valley Cabernet. The name, suggested by Stacy, says it all—this precarious path would either be brilliant, or fulfill the other side of the phrase. “Just make something we like, babe, so if it doesn’t work out, we’ll have some great wine to drink for a long time,” Stacy told her husband.

To be clear, this isn’t a story about someone with deep pockets buying his way to the top of the industry. Nor is it even about a second generation inheriting vineyards. It’s the story of two people who fell in love with each other, fell in love with wine, and decided to go for it—but hedged their bets by keeping their day jobs. John Reinert, with a background in the world of music, still manages a Bay Area water utility; she’s continues to be a hair stylist.

If they only knew then what they know now. “In the beginning,” says John, “this was like Guerrilla Winemaking 101. We had no idea what we needed to do to start—the legalities, the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) issues, the compliance issues, the costs for a winemaker, grapes, crush facility . . . ” But wait, there’s more—“fulfillment center costs, state-to-state licensing costs . . . and then how the hell do we sell it?” Perhaps it was the brazenness of beginners that fueled the Reinerts’ early journey. They simply made phone calls to find grapes and a winemaker (Rebekah Wineburg of Buccella, for that first vintage). And they talked to lots and lots of people.

Brilliant Mistake wine

Brilliant Mistake wine  Photo: Courtesy Brilliant Mistake/Douglas Sterling


It was Wineburg who connected them to their current winemaker, Maayan Koschitzky, who is director of winemaking for Atelier Melka, wine-consulting business of the growing legend that is Philippe Melka. Koschitzky’s experience before that included Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle. But beyond the pedigree he brings to Brilliant Mistake, says Reinert, “he has a voice separate from others. He wants to make a wine that represents where the grapes come from, but he also wants to make a statement about what can be done when everything is taken into consideration, from the vineyard to the cellar. Our wines are bold and direct. And we want consistency in quality from year to year. Having Maayan assures us, and our customers, that they will be purchasing or collecting a wine they will be proud to have in their cellar.”

The Brilliant Mistake 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($150, 275 cases made) is plush and textural, with aromas of dusty blackberries, pepper, espresso, violets, and anise giving way to dark cherry, cassis, and mocha flavors, with powerful structure from good acidity as well as tannins. The Brilliant Mistake 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($45, 100 cases made) has mouth-filling textures and touches of vanilla from aging in 60 percent new oak; white blossoms, boxwood, and peach on the nose are followed by a bright mix of grapefruit and stone fruit.

When asked what wasn’t crazy about introducing a new Cabernet into a crowded field of amazing Napa Valley Cabernets, John admits, “Everything about it was crazy! That was the cool thing.” Potentially a huge mistake, it turned the Reinerts into underdogs. “And people typically root for the underdog, right?” Support came from inside and outside of the industry. The name itself provided a lot of traction—a winner, as it turns out, on social media.

This year, the Reinerts have taken on two investment partners, and harvest 2018 will see the addition of a reserve-tier wine that will become their flagship: The Poet & The Muse. Scott Adams once wrote, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” The Reinerts believe Koschitzky allows them to make art.

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