The Vintner of Longevity Wines on Black Winemakers and Expanding During a Pandemic
Longevity wines is a love story between winemaker Phil Long and his late wife, Debra, who passed away in January 2019 from pancreatic cancer. The label that graces Longevity’s bottles, designed by Phil, is dedicated to her and features an intricate display of vines, grapes, and hearts to form a heart itself, a nod to her affinity for the shape. “She collected heart rocks, heart jewelry, heart paintings, heart everything,” he says. Long, the president of the Association of African American Vintners, shared his thoughts on pushing the Longevity label forward with a national expansion in the midst of a pandemic and about the increased spotlight on Black winemakers.
F&W: How did you first get started in wine?
PL: Most of my life I lived in Southern California. And especially back then, wine was just literally something you had with a meal at a restaurant or would buy in a grocery store to take home. You’re not really in the environment of wine—you’re in an environment of mostly concrete. Debra and I relocated to Northern California through my job at the time. We always loved wine, but once we got here, we realized we’re in wine-central USA. No matter which direction you go here, you’re going to end up in wine country somehow. At one point we said, let’s try making some wine in the garage, and that’s where it all started.
F&W: Your wines are now available around the country, thanks to your partnership with Bronco Wine Company. How is that going?
PL: It was perfectly timed to be the beginning of March—obviously the worst time in the world. All of my sales meetings and all of these things for the launch just started falling like dominoes. So launching a national brand during a pandemic? I don’t recommend it! But we’ve been making up for lost ground by doing virtual launches and have been slowly easing into stores around the country.
F&W: What are your thoughts on the recent interest in supporting Black-owned wineries amid the Black Lives Matter protests in May and June? Are you optimistic for the future?
PL: Yeah, there’s the question, right? As part of the Association of African American Vintners, the message has always been to try to create awareness that there actually are African American winemakers and winery owners. It’s tragic that it has taken this to happen to finally get people to break out of their comfort zone and finally get on board with enough being enough. I applaud people for joining the conversation, but I’m definitely sad about what it has taken to get us here. The growing awareness of African Americans in the wine industry is great. I really hope the landscape continues to provide that support and it’s not just a flash in the pan.
F&W: Why do you do what you do?
PL: You don’t jump into the wine business to make a ton of money; you do it because you love it. Debra loved it. We loved it. Unfortunately, she’s not here now to see the fruits of all of our efforts, but we’re going to definitely continue. We’re going to do it to honor her, and she’s always going to be the face of the winery.
Wines to Try
2019 Longevity Livermore Valley “Pink” Pinot Grigio ($26)
“We cold-soak the skins overnight to extract more flavor and mouthfeel, and we get the color with them,” Long says about this pink-hued Pinot Grigio. “When I get home tonight, it’s the first thing I’m going to open.”
2018 Longevity California Cabernet Sauvignon ($16)
This widely available red is rich with black cherry notes and soft tannins. “One thing unique about this and our Chardonnay is that we use a Helix cork,” Long says. “You can just twist it out by hand. It’s 100% recyclable, too.”
2016 Longevity Livermore Valley Deb-Ru-Vee Vintner Select ($36)
“I named this after my late wife; it’s short for Debra Cuvée,” Long says. This food-friendly GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend) is juicy and lively, with enough substance that it tastes great sipped on its own before dinner.