The story is nothing new. A former Notre Dame Fighting Irish athlete ends their athletic career and enters the world of business and entrepreneurship. In fact, the story of former Notre Dame athlete enters the world of wine making is one that has been told before as well. What Jesse Bongiovi (football) and Ali Thomas (hockey) are doing right now is something that hasn’t been done before though. Bongiovi and Thomas have recognized an opportunity in a market and jumped into it full force with their rosé, Diving Into Hampton Water.
What started out as a joke among friends, that rosé is the “water of the Hamptons,” turned into a business idea. Until one day, when when Jesse was out at his house in the Hamptons with friends, his father Jon Bon Jovi, offered the group a glass of “pink juice.” Jesse responded by saying “you’re not drinking pink juice, you’re drinking Hamptons water.” Bon Jovi liked the name, and it turned into a ‘well actually’ moment where Jesse and Ali pitched their idea of a rosé with the name Hampton Water. Bon Jovi challenged the duo to do some research and come back with a product, more than just an idea, and that’s exactly what they did.
They took some time to put the idea together, design the bottle, test the name, and put together a taste that they were hoping to achieve. They finalized the name, Diving Into Hampton Water, and adorned the bottles with Pink, the woman on the bottle described by the company website as “graceful, elegant, and always adventurous.” The product really took off when the group partnered up with French winemaker Gérard Bertrand to finalize the blend. With no experience in wine making, “just drinking,” as Jesse put it, the team spent about 10 days in the Languedoc region of Southern France with Bertrand finalizing the label and bottle. They then spent an additional 3 days creating the blend, using eyedroppers and taste testing until they had the taste they wanted.
From there it was all hustle to get the product on the market and into the hands of consumers. Jesse, a political science major at Notre Dame with a minor in business, focuses on the marketing and sales while Ali, a Mendoza College of Business graduate, handles the business side of things. The duo has learned on the job and learned quickly, taking advantage of a market opportunity and surrounding themselves with a strong team. They’ve learned from those with experience in the market, soaking up all the knowledge they can. Although they have not had the chance to talk to perhaps Notre Dame’s most famous football player turned winemaker Rick Mirer, and Jesse says he would be happy to take a call from Mirer if he had any advice to offer.
This is still a relatively new venture, and the rosé is just beginning to reach certain parts of the country. With products already being sold on the east coast and in Las Vegas and Chicago, the company is beginning to expand into the west coast. For now, the focus will remain on rosé, and Jesse doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. Rosé is an expanding market, as sales continue to rise on an annual basis, and there is still plenty of room to grow within the market that already exists. The introduction has been so successful though that the group has being talking about adding a second blend of rosé.
When I spoke to Jesse about the company he was quick to credit his time at Notre Dame for helping him step into the business and marketing world. Of course, the degree from Notre Dame doesn’t hurt, but he really credited his time on the football team with instilling in him a work ethic that he has taken into his new world. As president of the Walk-On Players’ Union, Jesse says he learned “to show up as the low man, be persistent, and don’t take no for an answer.” That same mentality translates into sales, where he spends much of his time at trade shows and conventions trying to expand the brand. In fact, when I spoke to him, he was preparing to fly to Las Vegas to make several sales pitches. All in a day’s work for a growing company.
The rosé received a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, one of few rosés to do so. It is described as “dry and easy to drink,” and has a fruity character to the taste. I won’t pretend to be a wine connoisseur (all my knowledge comes from studying abroad in Italy), but I did make sure to pick up a few bottles to try before writing this. The reviews are correct, Hampton Water is light and easy to drink. It has a subtle flavor, not overpowering but certainly strong enough to interest your taste buds. The name Diving Into Hampton Water is as much about the lifestyle as it is anything else, and in that regard, they could not have done better. This is a summer drink, perfect for a sunny day at the beach or in the park.
I want to thank Jesse Bongiovi for taking the time to talk with me and make this profile possible. You can find Diving Into Hampton Water on Twitter and Instagram @DIHamptonWater and can find a place to buy it on www.wine-searcher.com.