Brandon Allen of Slo Down Wines: About as Un-Stuffy as Wine Can Get
Interviewer & Writer:
Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
Wine that’s elegant. Sophisticated. Not shitty.
The scene opens on a plump, robust bunch of grapes shimmering in the California sunshine. In the background we hear piano music signaling refinement, gentility. A sonorous male voice informs us that, “There’s nothing Slo Down takes more seriously than making wine. This is the legacy of Brandon Allen, co-founder of Slo Down Wines.” We see the bearded Allen exhaling a plume of tobacco smoke in slow motion, and then he is seated at a glossy table top swirling a quarter-glass of red while poring over a hefty thesaurus. His index finger lands pointedly on the word, “shaft”. The voiceover continues, “A winemaker with a dream to create the perfect blend of grapes and then bottle it so he can score with chicks”.
This is the decidedly un-stuffy world of Slo Down Wines.
That video is just one of three you can watch at www.SloDownWines.com, each essentially a hilarious commercial for the brand. The other two videos share the theme that Slo Down Wines go great with whatever you’re into, whether it’s lamb, beef, poultry, legally blind karate-chopping strippers, vacuuming house cowboys with Mexican husbands, or Allen himself in assless leather chaps.
Originally there were more videos, and they were accessible via YouTube. That is, until the feds intervened. “It’s a branch of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and they’re called the TTB which is the Trade and Tax Bureau,” Allen explained. “They actually regulate all alcohol marketing. Any label that you see on a wine bottle or any type of alcohol has to get approval from the TTB. It’s been in place since, I don’t know, since probably prohibition.”
The TTB also regulates alcohol advertising, whether in print or video. So what was so bad that the government yanked Allen’s videos from YouTube?
Wait! You can’t drink alcohol in a commercial? Oops!
“The main thing was that I was drinking on camera,” said Allen. “I just didn’t even know, to be honest.”
And before my interview with Allen, neither did I. Think about it: when was the last time you saw someone actually take a drink in a commercial for alcohol? Beer commercials abound with tanned, shapely twenty-somethings playing beach volleyball and reaching energetically into frosty tubs of ice, but they never get around to putting a bottle or can to their lips. And in ads for vodka and other spirits, gaggles of slick aspiring junior Rat Packers in white jackets pat one another on the back for having first-class taste in alcohol – which they’re never shown to drink.
The ideas for Slo Down Wines’ videos came about during an unofficial brainstorm between Allen and his good buddy Matt Klug, a creative director in San Francisco. Says Allen, “We were drunk and we started talking about possibly doing an ad campaign that was just a little bit different for the wine business.” Klug further enrolled a friend from L.A., Baker Smith, of the award-winning production company Harvest Films.
“It was actually pretty incredible,” Allen said. “I just thought it was going to be me and my buddy Matt and my business partner, and then this director and maybe a guy with a video camera.” But Allen was in for a happy shock. “When I showed up on set, it was like, fifty people. It was a huge production.” Allen also gives credit to his friend Nick Kova, photographer, who shot the “not shitty” vineyard video.
Allen likes to surround himself with humor
“If I have my choice of people to hang out with, it’s always going to be somebody that I can laugh with…Even when I’m going into a new market, trying to find a new distributor. I really try to find teams that are just really good people who have a good sense of humor, because I think that’s important. Especially with a brand to find companies that aren’t necessarily as corporate or stuffy, and usually that’s reflected with their sales team.”
She’s my mom
I suspect Allen may have inherited his sense of humor from his mom, considering that he got his fluffy pink bunny costume from her. “My mom had me when she was fifteen, so she’s not much older than me,” he said. “It’s our running joke. Like when I’m 80 she’ll be 95, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of her…she’s always been a great friend and she’s definitely a source of a lot of things for me…definitely sense of humor and a lot of other things too. She’s my mom.”
Allen grew up in Oxnard, California. During high school, the family relocated to San Luis Obispo for his dad’s job. Allen attended Cal Poly there, which is also where he got bit by the wine bug. His early attempts at winemaking were, he says, a way to get girls. He started in his back yard with a red blend he called Sexual Chocolate, which remains a popular seller to this day.
A reference to Coming to America?
I had to ask – was the name Sexual Chocolate a reference to Coming to America? Allen said yes. “I always loved the movie Coming to America, and Eddie Murphy has a Christian rock band in that movie called Sexual Chocolate, just a really terrible cover band. And at the time my wine, I felt, was a terrible cover of something else. So I just thought it was a funny name and it really resonates with people.”
Allen founded Slo Down Wines in 2008 with friends Bo Silliman and Chip Forsythe. Forsythe eventually moved on to start a different company, but Silliman is still Allen’s partner in a limited capacity.
Allen no longer views his wines as “terrible covers” of anything else. In fact, winemaking is one of the few things he takes seriously. “I always thought that from our first couple of commercially viable vintages we could compete with just about anybody in the red blend category, especially at our price point.”
At $24.99, a 750 ml bottle of Sexual Chocolate has been Slo Down’s “rock star wine”, says Allen. A blend of Shiraz and Petite Sirah with a touch of Petit Verdot, Allen says “it has these really lush, sexy undertones, but it’s nice bright acid.”
- Varietal: Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah
- Alcohol: 14.2%
- AVA: California (Napa Valley, Sonoma, Dry Creek Valley)
Slo Down Wines also offers a chardonnay called Broken Dreams. “I was never really a big fan of the more traditional style of chardonnay, coming from California…that really oaky, buttery, really saturated chardonnay…” says Allen, but adds, “I have nothing against that, it’s just not my personal style.” So Allen decided to approach chardonnay from a different angle, producing what he calls a more balanced, brighter chardonnay. “A little bit of pineapple, a nice tropicality.”
- Varietal: 100% Chardonnay
- Alcohol: 13.5%
- AVA: California (Napa, Sonoma, Lodi)
- Released: July 4, 2013
Finally, Allen’s newest wine is Stand Out, a blend with a Cabernet Merlot base. He calls it “a Bordeaux-style blend…probably a little more reflective of some old-world style Bordeaux blends that are not necessarily coming from California. It’s brighter. It’s a little more lean than some of the bigger Cabs or Cab Merlots.”
- Varietal: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 1% MAGIC
- Alcohol: 13.5%
- AVA: California (Napa Valley, Sonoma, Dry Creek Valley, CA)
When you visit www.SloDownWines.com, you’re in for a treat. More than just great wine at a pleasing price. You might even get a laugh or two, and those are free.
Check out Brandon’s video taken at our friends Cellar 59 Wine Bar at Partridge Creek in Charter Twp of Clinton, MI. Visit them at www.c59winebar.com. Tell them that Mark Powers sent you.
NEW BOTTLE EXPERIENCE REVIEW & RATING:
Intense appearance, with full aromas of butter, forest floor and black currant. It’s a full-bodied red. The finish is subtle/layered. It will do things to your palate you’ve only read about on sites that require credit cards, Excellent Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah Blend from United States.