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Accomplishing The Harmony Between Love and Wine With Phil Long

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09/09/2022 Founder and Winemaker of Longevity Wines, Phil Longs talks about his love for making wine and the growth of the Black community in the wine industry.

Born in Washington, D.C. and brought up in Southern California, Phil Long graduated with a degree in Architecture. He went on to build a successful career in Packaging and Store Display design and was nowhere close to the Wine industry. Until 2002, when Phil made his first Syrah with Debra, his late wife, in their garage. Phil and Debra founded Longevity Wines together based on their love affair and Phil still draws inspiration from it. Apart from making wine, Phil also works on the upliftment of the Black community in the wine industry and was made the President of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV) in 2020.

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Tell us about yourself and what led you to become a winemaker?

My wife Debra and I started making wine in our garage in 2002 as a couple’s project—we loved wine and making it was something to do together. 

By 2008, our hobby had outgrown our garage and we decided to go for it and open a winery in Livermore Valley. In 2018, we were named Livermore Valley’s Winery of the Year. Unfortunately, Debra was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2016 and we lost her in 2019. Before she died, I took her with me to get the Longevity heart I designed for her tattooed on my arm--she knows she will always be with me on this journey in wine.

Can you tell us more about Longevity Wines? What does your day at the winery look like?

Getting into wine was a career change for me, and a great decision. This is a fascinating industry that embodies everything I am: creative, scientific, and innovative. We chose Livermore Valley for our winery because it is close to everything in the San Francisco Bay Area and the winemaking community is very friendly and supportive. My mentors helped me learn winemaking and now I am doing the same for others. My son, Phil Long Jr., is now my assistant winemaker and his elementary school-age son has already helped us bottle some wines! 

 Longevity Wines

Longevity Wines 

How has the partnership between Longevity Wines and Bronco Wine Company been beneficial? How does this partnership add value to your business?

It’s like being handed the keys to a dream winery. Create wines to the best of your ability, have them produced with precision consistency, and have the Bronco family at your side to market your product around the world. That is exactly what is happening. It's an honor to work and be among such vast experiences.

Can you tell us more about the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV)? As a President, what do you focus on the most?

Association of African American Vintners founder Mac McDonald was recognized back in the 90s for producing mid-90-point Sonoma Pinot Noirs, not because he was a black winemaker. As he began to attend events, he noticed how very few African American winemakers/owners he met. They decided to band together and share resources and information to forge ahead in this industry. AAAV was founded in 2002, 20 years ago this year. I became vice president in the fall of 2018, and President in January of 2020.

As the President of the Association of African American Vintners, one of my primary goals is to increase awareness of the fact that there actually are Black winemakers/proprietors in the industry. When I was growing up and going to college in Southern California, winemaking wasn’t on my radar as a career. I wasn’t even aware that wine was made in this country. More exposure for Black winemakers in the industry today and establishing a career path through scholarships and internships will help inspire the Black winemakers of tomorrow.

Can you tell us more about the Longevity Vintner Select wines?

At some point in our journey, Debra and I decided that we should have at least one wine named after each family member; that meant one for Debra (Deb-ru-vee), one for me (Phil-osophy), and one for our precious little Havanese pup, PressTon. We still have those three wines on the tasting menu today. They represent no less than 10 different varieties of grapes we use to blend and also to make single varietal wines depending on the quantity available. Those wines have become our Vintner Select wines.

How do you think the Black Winemakers community has grown over the years?

Minorities in the wine industry have been trying to get their own ball rolling for several years. I now see a huge effort from some very serious players in the industry to move the ball forward together and it is just beginning to pick up speed. We still have a lot of work to do, but change seems to be happening today at a greater pace than ever.

Phil Long

Image Credits - Ron Essex

How did the pandemic affect Longevity Wines? How did you tackle those challenges?

I started doing private virtual events not long after the pandemic began. No one wanted to leave their house and we were struggling to sell wine. The virtual tastings gave us a way to get our wine into homes and enhance the experience with a personalized presentation. Best of all, it was a way for new and old customers to have dedicated time with the winemaker like never before.

How do you approach social and digital media and how are you emerging from it?

Especially now that our wines are available across the country, virtual tastings and digital media, in general, offer a way for me to personally connect with our customers and I truly enjoy them. I also think the world has changed for good and people have become comfortable with and expect in-home experiences. Virtual tastings are not going away, and they will continue to evolve especially as the technology around the virtual world evolves as well.

What are some of the challenges associated with being a Winemaker?

I like to say, “if there’s not something going wrong, something is wrong.” The challenges are constant--climate, equipment, supply chain, cellar staff, etc. There are always challenges in a winemaker’s path.

Phil Long

Image Credits - Ron Essex

What is the one piece of advice you would like to give to the new Winemaker looking to enter this industry?

Well if he is an owner, I'd recommend focusing on developing your ability to sell your wine as much or more than you work on making it. Only you can convey the story, the passion, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that bottle of wine.

Finally, which is your favorite wine, and what setting do you enjoy it most in?

Right now, my favorite wine is my newest: Debra’s Cuvee, a Rosé of California Pinot Noir named after my wife. When Debra and I were dating, I started giving her glass hearts for Valentine's Day. Everything in her life became hearts: heart rocks, heart jewelry, heart everything. In 2009, I designed the current label with the intricate heart that contains more hearts along with grapevines and grapes to truly represent who we are. Today, that heart is the icon of our brand and the symbol of our love story. I’m looking forward to pairing it with my pool this summer!

What is your idea of a good life?

Great wine, great food, family, and friends. That really says it all.

Interviewed by Shreya Kohli, Beverage Trade Network

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