It all started one night while Jesse and his Notre Dame roommate, Ali Thomas, were at his house in the Hamptons, and Jesse's dad offered them some rosé wine he jokingly referred to as "pink juice."
But Jesse tells Fox News that he and Ali already had their own nickname for rosé, which they usually only drank in the Hamptons.
“We said, ‘No, no, listen. Dad, you’re sitting in the Hamptons, you’re drinking Hampton Water,’" he remembered telling his father. "Then he did the cartoon double-take and looked at us, and said, ‘That’s hilarious, can you imagine if someone put that on a bottle?’”
Jesse says his dad challenged the two college seniors to figure out the rosé business, and if this was something they were really interested in pursuing — and Jesse and Ali accepted. Soon, they were meeting with restaurant owners to see what they liked and disliked in rosés, and learning the logistics of importing wines and creating a design for their bottle.
“By the end of six months, we had a fully formed idea, business plan and marketing strategy,” explains Jesse. “Then we showed my dad everything we had, and the name Gérard Bertrand came up.”
Bertrand, who just happened to be a family friend, is a highly acclaimed winemaker who has been making wine in the South of France for over three decades. In fact, Bertrand is reportedly poised to take the No. 1 spot as the largest importer of French wine to the United States. And Jesse explained that once Bertrand was involved, everything “snowballed” from there.
Jesse, Ali and Jon weren't interested in “white-labeling” – or simply rebranding – an existing product. They also knew that getting someone as renowned as Bertrand on board would give the brand credibility and validity.
“We knew that if we just white-labeled a bottle, that people were going to be like, ‘What the hell does Jon Bon Jovi know about making rosé?’ and that they wouldn’t take it very seriously. But if we partnered with someone who is a second-generation winemaker, is one of the top winemakers in the South of France — people who might not have taken us seriously would take him seriously.”
After creating the actual rosé with Bertrand, the Hampton Water brand launched in April 2017 — and the 2017 production even sold out before its official release. The rosé reached critical acclaim in 2018, when Hampton Water ranked No. 83 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list, and was also named the magazine’s best rosé of 2018.
Now, for Jesse it’s about keeping that momentum and not being labeled as a "celebrity brand."
“We knew that with an asset like my dad, and [his] name recognition, we’d have a great launch and get the brand out initially, but we know that if we’re not getting liquid into lips, it’s all for naught.”
Jesse tells Fox News that he and Ali are crisscrossing the country to ensure they are constantly meeting with restaurants and liquor stores to get the word out. “Our running joke is that we sleep at Terminal 5 in LaGuardia Airport.”
While Jesse and Ali are traveling across the country, Jesse says his dad has been an invaluable asset as someone to bounce ideas off when it comes to audience and marketing. Jesse also revealed that he and Ali also have an unexpected nickname for his dad.
“We like to call my dad the ‘Easter Bunn,’ and when we’re having a hard time with a place, my dad will stop in for lunch, and be like ‘Have you heard of Hampton Water?'… That’s kind of been our secret weapon when we need to get the really big things done, which has been really helpful to have.”
Jesse says the plan for Hampton Water is to grow and to disprove the summer-seasonality stereotype of rosé and move to make it into a year-round drink.
“Essentially our plan is to double the 500,000 bottles that we did last year. And we plan to do a million bottles this year, and we’re well on our way to doing that.”
Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and reporter for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.