Running a wine company with a rock star, who just happens to be your father, has plenty of ups.
Jesse Bongiovi is grateful for the benefits.
The name Jon Bon Jovi draws a lot of attention to his rosé, Diving into Hampton Water.
And then there’s his father’s business acumen, honed over 35 years in the music industry.
He started Bon Jovi in 1983, it’s since won numerous awards and sold more than 100 million records making it one of America’s bestselling rock bands.
As Jesse puts it: “I think it is pretty crazy to think about the amount of people on a global level who know my dad. That is a crazy thing to sit and think about. It is amazing to have a career that long in anything. It goes to show the business mind that he has.”
Their company, Hampton Water Wines, started as a joke between the 23-year-old and his dad.
The family summer in the Hamptons, the coastal community at the East End of Long Island, New York.
“The running joke is that rosé is the water of the Hamptons,” Jesse said. “It comes from the faucets out there.
“My dad has always been a big rosé drinker. One day we were sitting on the porch and he offered a glass of ‘pink juice’, which is what he always called rosé.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Dude, it’s not pink juice. You’re sitting in the Hamptons; you’re drinking Hampton water.’ He lit up. He loved the name. He thought it was hilarious.”
From there came the idea about a business selling Hampton water.
Jesse was in his final year at the University of Notre Dame at the time. On his return to school, he brought his roommate Ali Thomas on board.
The two fleshed out a business plan but, after graduation, Jesse joined a start-up company selling online ordering systems to mom and pop pizza stores.
“I did cold calls for nine months,” he said. “While that was happening, I was working on Hampton Water secretly, as a side project.
“I very quickly realised if someone is going to boss me around, it might as well be myself.”
He left and, with Ali, formed Hampton Water Wines. His dad is the president; Jesse is the chief operating officer.
“Whatever that means,” he laughed.
The trio partnered with Gérard Bertrand Wine Estates, which makes the wine in the Languedoc region of France.
Here to promote Hampton Water this week, Jesse was amused when a staff member at Harry’s Restaurant and Bar asked to take a selfie with him.
“That’s happening more and more,” the New Yorker said.
“A lot of it is, ‘I like your dad, Bon Jovi’. I am flattered by that.”
On the other hand, it means he has to fight a little harder for people to take the wine seriously.
“Sometimes, I take the wine to different stores in New York. The owner will often say, ‘Great, I’ll buy a case. When do I get to meet Bon Jovi?’
“I tell them, ‘You shouldn’t buy this product because of my father, you should buy it because it’s good wine.’”
His father’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the label. “We wanted something that would stand on its own,” Jesse said.
Nine months into production, Hampton Water has received glowing reviews from experts.
Jesse and Ali are hoping to boost that.
To get Hampton Water into top restaurants in New York, he and Ali would walk in with a bottle, sit at the bar, and “bug” the bartender until someone came out and tasted it.
Their winemaker has insisted “that’s not the way you do it” but somehow it’s worked.
“We are in the really nice places,” Jesse said.
“The Plaza took us in. When we went back and showed Gérard and his team the list, they said, ‘How did you do this?’”
Their trip here was part of a promotion of the wine that extended into the Caribbean.
“This is my first trip to Bermuda,” he said. “Anywhere warm is my kind of place. We [took] a boat over to Hawkins Island and our distributor, Kevin Rhyno [of Burrows Lightbourn Ltd], was saying, ‘Do you guys have jackets? It is going to be cold on the boat’.
“Me and Ali looked at each other and said, ‘Are we going somewhere else?’ We didn’t understand. It was 75 degrees in Bermuda and 40 degrees in New York. This was a pleasant change for us.”
Jesse confessed that when he started the business, he didn’t have any experience with wine other than drinking it.
Still, he saw it as a better opportunity than following his father into the entertainment industry.
“People always ask me if I sing or play guitar,” he said. “When I was in grade six, I took guitar lessons for three weeks.
“My teacher thought I could be really good, but I had no interest in practising. It just wasn’t my thing. This was a new industry for both of us.”
His only complaint about his new company is that it’s making him gain weight.
“All this eating and drinking has started to get to me a little bit,” he laughed. “Other than that it is pretty fun.
“You get to come to places like Bermuda. I am leaving here on Tuesday and going to Turks and Caicos, St Barts, St Martin and then the Bahamas. I just spent last month in Miami.
“Any job where I get to do all of these things is a pretty good one.”
Diving into Hampton Water is available at Harry’s Restaurant and Bar and Miles Market