Comedian Eric Wareheim doesn’t want to make celebrity wine that is sh*tty. He wants to shock people by how good it is. He wants to make punk rock wine.
Well, actually he wants to make natural wine, but Wareheim has come to associate DIY, low-intervention natural winemaking with the anti-establishment subculture. The comedian, actor, director and writer, co-creator of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Arnold on Netflix’s Master of None began collaborating with winemaker Joel Burt on their California-based label Las Jaras Wines in 2015. The label is based on a sketch about wine featuring John C. Reilly’s Dr. Steve Brule drinking himself into a stupor on the Tim and Eric show. “Sweet berry wine!” says Reilly as wine drips out of his mouth. “It taste like fruit!”
It’s a timeless Tim and Eric sketch and the inspiration behind Sweet Berry Wine, an actual wine that is selling for $500 on eBay. For Wareheim, “it’s a wonderful synergy of his two passions,” writes Food & Wine columnist Ryan Grim, who interviewed the comedian-slash-winemaker last month. “When he’s not producing brilliant television shows and live tours with his comedy partner Tim Heidecker, Wareheim runs Las Jaras Wines with Joel Burt, a seasoned winemaker who’s been Wareheim’s wine guru for a decade.”
Of course, Sweet Berry Wine was only the catalyst for Wareheim and Burt. Las Jaras also makes a Glou Glou, a Pet Nat, a rosé, and a Cabernet. Sweet Berry Wine is still a fan favorite, and as of late 2018 it is now back on the market. Last month Food & Wine’s Ryan Grim had the chance to speak with Wareheim about what he’s learned after being in the industry for a few years, his ambitious plans for Las Jaras, and the natural wine moment we are currently having.
Ryan Grim: How does John C. Reilly like Sweet Berry Wine?
Eric Wareheim: He loves it. Well, John C. Reilly hasn’t had it yet. But Dr. Brule has. When we were shooting with Brule, we’d give him little tastes. He has the same kind of palate as us, and he really enjoys it.
So there’s a new Sweet Berry Wine coming out. How is it different than the first one?
It’s slightly different. This year it’s a blend of three grapes, and last year it was straight Carignan. This year, we have a straight Carignan, which is our Chloe label. And then the Sweet Berry Wine wine is a blend of Carignan, with a little bit of Zinfandel, a little bit of Cab, and a little of Charbono. It’s beyond. We just bottled it two weeks ago.
Do you see any other integration happening between the Tim and Eric universe and Las Jaras? Maybe a Chrimbus wine, or a Scotty Angel Boy wine?
We were thinking about doing something like a… that would be funny, but we’re trying to take ourselves seriously with the Las Jaras thing. It was hard for a lot of my fans to realize that this wasn’t a joke. And that the wine wasn’t going to be sweet and disgusting. It’s to celebrate Dr. Brule and also to help promote our other wines, which are also really good.
When you and Joel first started, did you have a hard time breaking in? And now that you’ve been doing it for a while, what’s changed?
You know, the Sweet Berry Wine has been very helpful, just as being a great comedy sketch. It got us a lot of exposure. Through that, we’d go to events, and people would come up to us and say, “This wine’s pretty good!” And they’d become part of the wine club, or buy the wine at a restaurant, or on our website. This year we’ve had a lot more exposure. We’ve doubled our wine club membership. We’re trying to take the wine company very seriously.
What winemaking mistakes were you making back then you won’t make in the future?
Not making enough Sweet Berry Wine. We sold out in two hours. This year we made a lot, and hopefully all of our fans can have a bottle. You can buy a bottle of this wine for $600 on eBay. People are scalping them.
Joel has more of a background in winemaking. Can you talk about your relationship when you first started?
He was a winemaker up in Sonoma and Napa, working for a bunch of different companies. I lived in Los Angeles, and we had mutual friends. He would come to parties and we would bring wine that he was making in his garage. And all my friends freaked out, like, “what the hell is this?” It was so amazing. He made sparkling wine, he made red wine, and everything was really elegant and light, not sweet, lower alcohol, so it was lighter on your palate. I remember first saying, “We should have a company and do this.” And it took about five years of our friendship, of him guiding me in the wine world, to finally get him to start a company with me. He’s been my wine guru for about ten years now.
What was that wine education like? What would he do?
I tell this story a lot. I would be in Italy and I would buy a $200 bottle of a super Tuscan, a very big Sangiovese blend that was very high alcohol. And I was like, “Look what I’m drinking.” And he’d send me a text back and say, “I’m happy for you, but next year you won’t be drinking anything that big and heavy.” And then the next year would come around, and he’d be right, and I’m drinking Burgundy wine. And lighter things. He knew my path. Like any wine lover, you start with a certain kind of wine and you end up in a different place. He helped guide me. And a big thing was to not rely on trends. There’s a lot of winemakers now who are making very natural-tasting wines. A lot of kombucha wines. A lot of murky, brothy wines. And Joel was always telling me, “I want to make clean, refined wines.” And I agree with him. His wisdom is very powerful.
Did you see the New York Magazine piece on natural wines?
Yes, I did.
How did you feel about it? There’s some doubt out there, but also so many evangelists. What camp do you and Joel fall into?
There’s two things: Me, Eric Wareheim the wine drinker, I’m a bit more dogmatic in my drinking. I do love very natural wine. But I’m also a classic kind of person. I drink really nice red Burgundies, which is classic conventional wine and not necessarily considered a natural wine. So I go in between both. Las Jaras is much less dogmatic. We are not 100% natural yet, but we’re working on it, which means we want all of our vineyards to be organic. We want to use as little sulfur in the winemaking as possible.
But there’s other things that the article really focused on, these flawed wines. A lot of people are making wines in these almost unclean surroundings, they’re making it in this way so a lot of oxygen and a lot of bacteria gets in the wine—which makes it have that bread taste and very, kind of, funky aromas, and too much volatile acidity—all these things that at first thing are really cool when you first get into natural wine. And after you drink a lot of them you realize that some of these are actually flaws that are making the wine bad. So, that’s another thing where I do agree with that article. What we want to do is make natural wines, but in a clean, classic style. That’s where we’re at.
In that story, the sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier talks about the wines’ barnyard qualities and how she thought they triggered some sexual stuff. Do you think natural wines make people horny?
I mean, I think that that could happen, for sure. I think all wine is a very romantic vessel, you know. It’s a very romantic thing, traditional wines and natural wines.
For some people who really get into wine, there’s one moment that triggered it for them. Was there one day a long time ago that you can pinpoint as that moment for you?
Yes. About ten years ago I was in Paris. It was my first trip to Paris. I bought a bottle of wine, a Dard and Ribo. A Syrah from this little wine shop called Le Verre Volé, right on the canal. I didn’t understand that some natural wines are very slammable. They’re much lighter, so you can literally drink it out of the bottle, like juice. So I did, and it gave me this energy, this rush, and this high that I haven’t really felt from other traditional wines. I would say that would be my highlight in the natural wine world. That particular wine just took me over the edge.
I saw on Instagram you were on this amazing tour of Europe this summer. What were some of the highlights?
Oh my god. Well, we went to Noma. We got lucky enough to get in. I didn’t even want… I was sort of over the tasting menu kind of dinners. I’m much more into the very casual bistro kind of thing now. That’s after doing a lot of these tasting things all over the world. But Noma has fully redefined it. It’s unbelievable.
And then Lyon was an amazing surprise. I’d never been to Lyon before. A lot of the bistros there are killing Paris, and it’s so close to all the wine regions. I really love that city. And then, of course, Barcelona, which is a totally different type of food, which I will always love. Fresh seafood. You can’t go wrong in Europe—you really can’t.
How is traveling and drinking different for you now that you’re in the wine industry?
It helped a lot that people liked my TV shows. Because sometimes you can get a reservation, or I had friends who can help me get reservations. The first couple times you go to Europe… People aren’t as friendly in France as they are elsewhere, so you don’t feel that magic, and that love. But now I have enough friends in the industry so people can either come with me and order for me—that’s the best—or help me navigate my trip. That’s what happened the whole trip. We were at Noma and we became friends with the sommelier, and then went to the next city, and became friends with that sommelier, who gave us a reservation in this other town in Burgundy where we didn’t even know we wanted to go. It’s really a very loving, active community and everyone wants to help each other out to find the next wine and the best food.
Are you trying to get more international distribution for Las Jaras?
Yes, we are talking with Australia right now, and Japan, and we hope to go even more global eventually. We just don’t make a lot of wine right now, so we’re focusing on America.
What are the roadblocks there? If you were talking to a brand new winemaker, what would you say if they wanted to expand distribution?
That’s a good question, because I don’t know how regular people do it. But luckily, I had Dr. Steve Brule make the funniest viral clip that got my foot in the door to all this stuff. For a guy without a TV show, you got to hit all those festivals. You got to do a lot of work. We’re doing that as well. We love all that. I don’t really know anything other than my own experience.
What’s easier, trying to get a new show on Adult Swim or starting a wine?
Making a TV show is the hardest thing ever. Very, very hard.
Going back to the Tom Goes to the Mayor days, was getting the show made more daunting than launching the wine?
It’s a different kind of thing. If you have money, you can make wine. If you’re a rich person, you can hire a winemaker and bottle it and find some store to sell it. But in the TV world, it doesn’t work that way. You can’t just be a rich guy and come in and be like, “I want a TV show.” You actually really have to have really, really solid ideas, and a lot of people have to approve it. Getting our first show was the biggest moment of my life. To actually not be a wedding photographer anymore and actually start being a writer, director, and actor, which was always my dream. So that was a very powerful thing that we worked on for ten years.
How is your creative partnership with Joel different than with Tim?
They operate on two different levels. Comedy is one totally different thing. Tim and I are like goofballs. We’re working on a bunch of new stuff right now, and we’re just literally cracking up all day. And Joel’s really funny and has a great sense of humor, but it’s a different relationship. We talk about wine, we talk about how we want to do it. But we still have the same kind of philosophies. As in, let’s make this ourselves. Let’s not get large corporate investors. Let’s make this by hand. Let’s make this very high quality. That is a similar thing to Tim and I. We don’t really compromise on our integrity or the quality of our vision. Same thing with our wine. We don’t want to be this celebrity wine that is shitty. We want to shock people by how good it is.
Do you feel that when you first started there were people who were skeptical based on the reputations of some other celebrity wines out there?
Yes, totally. Absolutely. I think I had a little advantage because I’m not really a celebrity. I’m like a D-list celebrity. And I’m known for my love of food and wine. If you look at my Instagram, it’s mostly food right now and wine. It’s different than another person who really just slaps their name on something that they’re not really involved with. A lot of people knew that. Other people were skeptical. And then everyone tried it, and most everyone’s like, “Damn!” The headlines were like, “The First Celebrity Wine That’s Actually Good.” Have you tried them?
Yes, I love the Glou Glou and the Sweet Berry Wine. To me, those are standouts. My girlfriend and I kept the Sweet Berry Wine bottle. We put flowers in it.
I wasn’t really drinking much that would be called a Glou Glou until this past year. Now I see it more and more places. Do you feel that there’s a Glou Glou trend going on?
Yes, yes, oh my god, yes. In the natural wine scene, a lot of the wine is in that Glou Glou style. Because it’s lower in alcohol, it’s lighter in body, the grapes aren’t macerated as much. Part of my vision for this company was to expose people—like you—to this new style of wine that was a little lighter. You can slam it. You can do two bottles and you’re not fucked up beyond belief. And a lot of people have responded that way. They’re like, “Hey, I didn’t know anything about this kind of natural wine movement, and I’m glad you steered me in this direction.” Whether it’s our actual wine, or what I’m posting on Instagram. Because I truly believe in the movement as well.
Do you have other plans for more wines you’re not making right now?
Yes, tons. I’m working with Joel in harvest all of September. We’re harvesting maybe six times the amount of fruit, all different kinds of varietals. Were getting some Pinot Noir from Oregon. We’re doing a Chenin Blanc. We’re doing some more organic Carignan, and we’re gonna try some experiments, some small batch stuff. That’s the idea. To keep experimenting and find new cool wine.
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