There are a lot of celebrity-fronted wine brands, and a disproportionally high number of them rosés. Less common, though, are ones that are actually good. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's Miraval label, famously, counts among them—and now it's joined by Hampton Water, a new venture by Jon Bon Jovi and his 23-year-old son, Jesse Bongiovi. At a launch dinner over Memorial Day weekend on Sunday night at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, Bon Jovi was ecstatic about a soon-to-be-published high score from Wine Spectator, as well as enthusiastic reviews from other industry publications. "It's exciting that the reaction to it has been so good," the 56-year-old rock star, whose famous blond mane is now striated with gray, said proudly. He deferred the credit, mostly, to his son, a recent graduate of Notre Dame (where he played football), who worked the room with guests like Christie Brinkley at the Hamptons hot spot as easily as dad in a white blazer. Here, the young Bongiovi explains how he and his father built a brand out of nothing but a funny name in just two years. Not that it was so simple—as the elder Bon Jovi put it, "Everything looks easy from the outside. This gray hair? I've earned it."
When did the project start?
Jesse Bongiovi: We started the idea about two years ago. Most important, it's very exciting [the score we got from Wine Spectator]. At the end of the day, we don't suck.
That's the hard part about a "celebrity" wine brand—the stigma of it being not great quality. Exactly. That's the thing we focused on. We started this thing about two years ago. I came up with the name—basically, if you've spent any time out here, the running joke is that rosé is the water of the Hamptons. And so, you know, me and my buddies started calling every rosé "Hampton water." And one night, like two in the morning, I was sitting on the porch. And my dad came out; he's always been a big rosé drinker, and he calls it "pink juice." He goes, "Do you want another glass of pink juice." And I go, "Dad, listen, you're in East Hampton, you're sitting at your beautiful beach house, you're not drinking pink juice, you're drinking Hampton water." And he lit up. He was like, "Oh my god, we might as well put that on a bottle. People would love it." And we basically ran with it from there. I designed the label, I came up with the whole marketing idea.
How did you guys locate your producer in France?
When we really decided to give this thing a try, we literally went to the liquor store and brought rosés from all over the place. Gérard Bertrand is a famous winemaker in the south of France; we tried his rosé and thought it was very good. And a mutual friend knew Gérard, so we were introduced. He loved the idea because his whole brand is about sharing the lifestyle of the south of France. And for us, we want to share the lifestyle of the Hamptons. And he just went, "Of course!" That was about a year and a half ago.
How much did you and your dad have to do with the making of the rosé?
A lot. I went out there for 10 days last September, I met with his whole production team. Our original idea was to shrink-wrap the bottle. We were going to have the whole top half be white, and the bottom half clear, so it was like you were diving into the rosé. And when we met with their production team, they were all like, in a very French way, "That's not how this works." [Laughs.] And then we went out again last December, and the three of us—myself, my dad, and Gérard—made a bunch of blends with eye droppers. And by the third day [we agreed on a blend]...
And how important is your dad in all of the marketing?
Honestly, it's provided me a lot of opportunities. If it were just me, a guy who started a rosé brand, I get the feeling we wouldn't be sitting here at Surf Lodge right now. The thing is, everyone thinks it's Jon Bon Jovi's rosé. And then I walk into, say, a liquor store, and they go, "Where's Jon Bon Jovi?" And I'm like, "Here's the thing, I'm Jesse Bongiovi. Super nice to meet you." [Laughs.] But our whole thing is to get out the word about it.
It's crazy that this all happened in two years time.
It was just one of those things that just snowballed. At first it was just a cool name between me, my friends, and my dad; and then it was just a cool label; and it was a great partner; and then we had great distribution; and it just grew and grew.
And you decided not to put your dad's name on the wine.
That was a thing that we wanted to focus on. You look at other celebrity wines, and without them, there's no brand.
How do you take your rosé? How do you feel about an ice cube? I don't mind an ice cube, but it certainly doesn't need one. Get it in the fridge, get it to 47 degrees, you're good to go. But—if it's been sitting out, it's warm—even though people say it's a sin, you can drop an ice cube in it.