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Deutsch, Nantz & 'The Calling'

You won’t find a bottle of Jim Nantz Chardonnay on the wine list at your favorite restaurant or a bottle of Peter Deutsch Cabernet Sauvignon at your number one wine shop. You might have, but instead look for their Chard and their Cab under the name of their new joint-venture, Sonoma-based wine brand – The Calling.

Sports figures, actors and other celebrities have long used their names to sell products, either by endorsing them or by owning them outright, a strategy of attracting consumers that advertisers and marketers call “borrowed interest.”   If the product is glamorous, often these celebrities want to own it – which is why so many of them have their names and faces on wine labels these days.  (Go on, close your eyes and see how many you can name.  I’ll give you a couple of starters – Drew Barrymore and Greg Norman.)

Of course, there is nothing wrong with their doing this.  If the wine is good, and the price is right, why not buy a bottle if you like the guy or gal? 

And, as it so happens, I love watching NFL football on TV, and I make a living from drinking wine.  Which is why I found myself earlier this fall sitting on the terrace of the Davio’s restaurant in the shadow of New England’s Foxboro Stadium talking with CBS sportscaster Nantz and well-known importer Deutsch, CEO of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits – feeling their excitement about their new enterprise and sharing their wine on a football weekend.  And I got the feeling while drinking their Cab and Chard that these guys are doing it right.

The decision for the two of them to make wine together was serendipity.  But when serendipity strikes, it helps if you’ve prepared for it.  Nantz had been interested in owning his own winery for almost a decade, and he had spent a lot of his free time seriously studying the business, just as he would prepare for a NFL game broadcast with his booth mate, Phil Simms.  For his part, Deutsch had lived the wine business all his life, and he knew that his family had prospered by selling wine, not producing it.  Still…

When Deutsch saw Nantz at a Connecticut restaurant a couple of years ago, the two had never met, so Deutsch decided to introduce himself.  Within minutes, entrepreneurial sparks flew.  Deutsch had just read Nantz’ book about his late father, who died of Alzheimer’s, and the story had resonated deeply with him and his relationship with his own father, Bill Deutsch.  Nantz was impressed with Deutsch’ knowledge of the wine business and his willingness to talk about a partnership.

Eventually, they got down to discussing what this venture might look like.

“I asked Jim if his name had to be on the label,” Deutsch says.  “I said, if it helps, certainly,” Nantz continues, “but I would have been happy being a silent partner.” They decided to call it “The Calling,” another thought they agree on.  “Everyone has a calling,” Nantz explains, and he wishes more people would try to achieve theirs. 

The first wines were released earlier this year.  Deutsch and Nantz run a virtual winery in Sonoma, hiring Marco DiGiulio to make wines for them from grapes mainly purchased from well-known Dutton Ranch and lesser-known Rio Lago, which has provided Cab for Jordan and Silver Oak.

The 2010 The Calling Dutton Ranch Chardonnay ($30) is very drinkable and balanced with mellow apple fruit, touches of oak and tannin and refreshing bitters around the edges.  Nantz says it reminds him of a Rombauer Chard, and Deutsch calls it “almost like a Meursault – not too much oak, not too ripe in fruit, not too crisp.”  The 2009 The Calling Rio Lago Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) is true to Alexander Valley reds – smooth, mellow, moderate fruits and hints of chalk.

A Jewel Vineyard Chard and a red blend, “Our Tribute,” should be released soon and two Pinot Noirs for next year are under consideration.

Spending an hour drinking and talking with these two men, and later watching them talk at a regional sales meeting of distributors and retailers, I got the idea that Nantz is extremely happy to have a dream so beautifully come true – although, as he notes, hard work and determination have allowed him to accomplish most things he has set out to do.  For Deutsch, there seems to be a delight in having found both a good friend and a great adventure outside the corporate framework.

It may not be either’s primary business, but the wine venture is more than a vanity project for them – it’s their Calling.

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