In a perfect world, wine would make us feel good: the decision of buying it, the act of drinking it and knowing how it’s made and where the profits go. Still, there’s a disconnect in the way many of us shop, drink and know the story behind the bottle—let alone being informed about pesticides, terroir and profit margins. In fact, there’s a great deal of mystery in choosing the wine we drink.
Enter Jordan Salcito, the founder of Bellus Wines, an environmentally and socially conscious wine company that makes organic wines in collaboration with partner wineries around the world. She’s trying to shed some light on the way we drink. Salcito, a Master Sommelier candidate and the beverage director of Momofuku restaurants in New York City, got her start in restaurants where she realized wine was her passion. (“It’s a combination of anthropology, history and geology,” she says.)
Her formal education began with Burgundy wine, and she harvested in the region for several seasons, during her time off from working in restaurants. In her early days working at Daniel, part of her day was spent polishing glasses for hours at a time. “It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” says Salcito. “It taught me patience, which is a hard lesson, especially in New York.”
She eventually moved on to Veritas, Nick & Toni’s in the Hamptons and later Eleven Madison Park, where she began studying for the Master Sommelier exam. In 2011, while working as the wine director at Crown, another New York City restaurant where Salcito wrote the wine list, she launched the Bellus brand. The idea behind it was that wine doesn’t need to be prohibitively expensive to be good.
Bellus (Latin for “beautiful”) is on the wine list at a handful of NYC restaurants (Locanda Verde, dell’anima, Narcissa) and sold in wine shops nationwide with a friendly price point (about $20 a bottle at retail). Bellus’ portfolio includes three Italian wines (Caldera, Scopello, Girasole) and two wines from California, slated to debut this spring. The wine is easy to drink and easy on the wallet, and a percentage of proceeds go to nonprofit organizations. (“Giving back is part of the company’s blueprint,” says Salcito. “It’s the structural and moral DNA of our company.”)
We asked Salcito three questions about the need she saw for Bellus and what her hopes are for the world of wine.
There aren’t that many females in the wine industry, and you obviously entered it knowing that. What was your approach, in terms of Bellus?
I read a lot about who buys wine and if there are differences in terms of the way women and men buy wine. A) Women buy most of the volume wine in the U.S. (not at the collector level but at the volume level), and B) women look for different things. They tend to want a wine that tastes good and is affordable, and they do care about the story behind it. It’s a communal thing, not to store in your cellar and brag about; it’s to open and drink with friends.
It’s the reason why White Girl Rosé was selling off the shelves this summer. Talk about a marketing scheme gone right.
It was so brilliant. It’s so true. I feel like that is helpful in terms of getting people interested in wine, but there is also an opportunity to manipulate wine when it’s made on a mass-produced scale. If people care about wine, they should have the option of buying and drinking something that is made well.
I see this every day on the [restaurant] floor: The more people learn about the things they’re putting into their body, they more they want it to resonate with the values they apply to the rest of their lives. The wine industry is not there yet, but we’re getting there. We’re slowly getting there.
Why is it that the awareness of how food is made (and the subsequent movement behind eating organic) hasn’t spread to the wine industry?
That’s something we’re thinking about with our next project: How do you make delicious wine with integrity that people don’t have to study or learn about? Like boxed wine. That is the next step, the next goal: to create a product that is fun but is also made with higher standards. If I’m trying to change anything, it’s that—the awareness and the production.
There’s still a big veil over people’s eyes. Even some of the most well-educated and well-informed people I know, who allocate to spend their money at Whole Foods instead of buying food at a bodega, still spend money on wine that is made well. I want to help bring awareness to that.