Just outside the Versace Mansion in Miami, closed to the public for a private event during the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, a bubble of tourists gathers to gawk and guess about which famous person might be inside.
That would be Jon Bon Jovi, the music legend and one of three people behind Diving Into Hampton Water, a buzzy new rosé created in concert with winemaker Gerard Bertrand and the rocker’s 23-year-old son, Jesse Bongiovi.
Of course, a famous musician’s name doesn’t automatically conjure quality when it comes to wine. Celebrity bottles have had something of a mediocre track record, in part because they are often products of a trademark agreement, in which a winemaker puts someone else’s name on a bottle.
But this rosé isn’t taking chances. Bon Jovi and his son enlisted the expertise of Bertrand, a winemaker from Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, to craft a balanced blend of grenache, cinsault and mourvédre grapes. Complex and layered, and reasonably priced at $25 for a 750-milliliter bottle, it stands on its own without a handicap consideration for “celebrity” wines.
After a glass or two inside the mansion, the trio begin to unravel the story behind this collaboration. The Bongiovis aren’t big drinkers, Jesse tells me, but they have a special affinity for rosé, especially during summers out at their home in the East Hamptons.
“We’ve always had rosé around the house. Every time we go on vacation we bring cases of the stuff, because it’s easy to drink,” he explains, adding that Hampton Water evolved from an ethos of sessionable, shared experiences. “We obviously wanted something that we could share with people, something we’d be very proud of.”
The idea for the wine sprang “one of those nights we’d been drinking rosé all day,” Jesse says. “We were out on the porch… my dad kind of jokingly would call [the rosé] ‘pink juice,’ and I cracked up and said, ’We’re not gonna call it pink juice anymore. We’re gonna call it a Hampton Water all summer.’”
That idea simmered for some time before the father-son team decided to dive in, with Jesse taking the lead. “It’s been great because my dad really gave me kind of freedom and the rein to say, ’Look, if you’re serious about this, figure out how it works. You know, go and meet with people and design a label and a bottle and do all those things.’”
The research process involved drinking a whole hell of a lot of rosé. Jesse and his father wanted their wine to hail from France, and learned of Bertrand after sampling his bottles.“We basically were like, ‘Well, this has got to be our guy.’”
Bertrand invited Jon and Jesse to the south of France to begin the development process. "I said to Jon and Jesse, ‘I don’t want to make the blend by myself,’” Bertrand explains, “and then we tasted 40 different wines, and then we selected 15, and then we select 10, and then we try to make the blend.”
Bertrand adds, “We don’t need endorsement. What we need is to make an exciting project. Because we became friends, I think it’s more than a partnership—it’s a friendship experience.”
“We wanted it to be a lot more than just, ‘Here’s Jon Bon Jovi, and this is his wine,’” Jesse says. “We really wanted to have a product that was much more than that. There are a million and one celebrity wines that you’ve never heard of.”
To that end, Bon Jovi isn’t just conspicuously absent from the label. Aside from a couple of brief TV spots and the Miami launch party, he’s letting his son do almost all the talking. “I work for Jesse” has been his mantra this weekend.
When I catch up with Bon Jovi a little later, with most of my questions already answered, I remark that his son has made a pretty excellent wine.
At that, he beams with a father’s pride. “It’s pretty fucking good, isn’t it?” he says with a laugh. “How’s that for a quote?”