Driving the winding roads through lush green countryside, rising above the fog line, high above sea level, is the most magnificent location in Napa Valley. My car pulled up to the large iron gates marking the arrival to one of the most unique properties in Napa, and the home to a thriving new brewery business.
The 300-acre property located on famed Pritchard Hill in Saint Helena, is the heart and soul of Barrels & Sons Brewery, which was recently launched by three scions of famous families. Carlo Mondavi, Jacob Busch and Elliott Taylor are best friends and the sons of some of the most well-known names in the business. Mondavi, 37, is the son of vintner Tim Mondavi and grandson of legendary Robert Mondavi; Taylor, 27, is the son of restaurant builder Ronald Lee Taylor and Busch, 28, is the son of Peter W. Busch and part of the legendary Budweiser brewing family.
We drive past a 1965 green pickup truck perfectly positioned beneath an oak tree adjacent to the ranch home of Elliott Taylor, a modest hunting lodge vibe straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad. The road continues further up the mountain as we head to what is known as Yurt Village. Created by Taylor, the five large Mongolian style luxury yurts are nestled among the trees and act as a hotel of sorts for friends and clients. The main yurt is a stunning antique filled saloon with full bar, large leather couches and hunting gear. This is where the boys find their most creative spirits stirred in more ways than one.
I was fortunate to spend time with the “boys” as I now fondly call them, although young at heart, they are very mature for their ages, having experienced a life many only dream of. From privileged and hard working families and surrounded by the hospitality business all their lives, these boys are filled with such enthusiasm and vibrant energy, you find yourself rooting for them all the way.
At first glance, the attractive trio look more like country music stars with their fitted t-shirts, worn jeans, hats and designer cowboy boots. I imagine to myself they wake up in disheveled perfection, appearing camera ready for Instagram moments. But when you look closer you see a genuine, grounded spirit among each of them. They are heavily rooted with their families; Jacob lives in the family compound in Florida, Elliott and Carlo live nearby their family estates, and loving text messages from their moms are daily occurrences.
When Carlo Mondavi and Elliott Taylor met years ago, they discovered they were neighbors on Pritchard Hill. “We had been neighbors for so long but didn’t know it” says Taylor, “We just started hanging out together and I started falling more in love with wine and learning from the pros. A mutual friend introduced Jacob to us, and when I walked into the bar to meet him I noticed we both wore Lucchese ostrich boots and we became best buds ever since.”
The idea to launch a brewery and Sons Beer, came organically through the trio’s close friendship. Mondavi recalls, “We would go out all the time eating and enjoying great beer, wine and good times. During one of our visits to St. Louis, we were drinking some Budweiser. It tastes so good there at the Busch family ranch and we asked Jacob if we could go visit the brewery. He said no… It was after the 2008 takeover, so the family was no longer there at Anheuser-Busch. I thought that’s wild, because if you were in Napa Valley and asked me to visit Robert Mondavi winery, I would say the same thing. My family had a very similar takeover in 2004, so we had just lost our farm as well, and I know how hard it is to see something your family has poured their heart and soul into slip away. We asked Jacob what he was up to since the family lost the brewery and that question lead to the simple fact that we needed to start Sons Beer. All three of us love the same classic style in beer and felt that everyone was focused on IPAs and overly hoppy sweet beers, but no one had focused on classic pilsners. Beers that go great with food and are refreshing. We just felt like we had to begin again.”
For Jacob Busch, creating Sons Beer is a life changer. “I have all my eggs in this basket and really believe that we will do well. Just because of our ambitions, our authenticity and our goal of making friends. Like my Grandfather August Busch Jr. always said, “Making friends is our business.” That’s what I want to bring back into the community in Napa and eventually throughout the U.S. There is nothing better than becoming the face of your brand. We are a family brand. We are putting our names on a brand and hope to have our distributor network of family and friends push it one day. Great brands bring great families together like when AB was sold to the InBev family. Home is where the heart is.”
“We are not just putting our names on a brand and having somebody else push it.” he adds, “Literally the three of us are going to these on-premise accounts, to the restaurants, shaking the hands of the bartenders, the General Managers and the Owners, just to show them that we are dedicated. It’s all about mutual respect and we want them to be happy with our brand.”
He continued, “When Elliott, Carlo and I discussed Sons Beer at my families home in St. Louis, Dad of course was skeptical, just because other family members have been involved in the brewing industry after the sale of Anheuser-Busch. Creating beer is something that takes a lot of ambition. Last summer our Fathers all came together with our brewmaster Steve and our first trial batch brew, we all sat down and collaborated on it, and for the first time Dad was excited and said “we are back in the brewing business”. Just to hear my Dad have that passion and drive again in his son and friends made us very proud to hear that. My dad has been in the beer industry for 33 years. He currently owns an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Florida and just to hear his approval made it all worth it. ”
Taylor adds “We started thinking that every American lager or Pilsner beer brand is no longer owned by American’s anymore. We immediately decided to make our own. Afterwards, we each sat down with our father’s and we discussed our ideas with them. Each of them were very skeptical about it and I knew we weren’t going to ask our families for financial help, we wanted to prove our way. It is the best feeling to branch out and launch something on your own.”
They set immediately into launching the new business, “We put together a plan that encompassed the brewing trials, the launch and everything from IP, Trademark, filings, brewing contract agreements, licenses, bottling and labeling, etc.” says Taylor, “Magically we pulled it all off within a low budget. We brought in a master brewer who is a professor at UC Davis in the brewing department and had worked with Jacobs family for 32 solid years, to assist us in perfecting our recipe. We had no deadline, so we worked with it until we personally felt in our hearts it was our favorite beer.”
He adds, “Our goal is to be doing 2,000 barrels in year one and we are already on track to do that, which is huge for a start-up beer brand. We are doing 15-30 barrel batches. We launched in Napa Valley and we self-distributed for the first 45 days and delivering the beer ourselves. It is an amazing experience because you get to be very hands on and meet the clients. We eventually branched in and partnered up with Young’s Market after meeting with every distributor in Northern California. They have market managers and sales reps that we train on our story and we ride along with them and hit 15 accounts in one day, and we taste beer with each of them. They manage each account and expand the market for us and do keg cleaning, management and keg collections, and that allows us to focus on brewing and increasing production and expanding.”
Taylor continues, “It is a very complicated brew protocol and is a thick binder worth of pages to follow the actual procedure of this brew. We have one of the longest lager Pilsners on the market and our total start to finish time from batch in to rack out is just under 30 days, which is extremely long for a lager. Checking temperature throughout the day and monitoring the beer is a complicated process, we use an array of different malts and we use several different hops. Ultimately it is an extremely drinkable and refreshing Pilsner. We want this beer to be a Chef driven beer and clean your palate quickly and not leave a heavy layer of hops.”
Each son has a family history that is legendary in their individual fields, and that experience has led to other independent ventures. For Elliot Taylor, his family comes from a lineage of builders. His father builds and finances famous restaurants, hotels and bars, and he grew up in the food and beverage industry and fell in love with it. “I started Prince Olive when I was in high school and started tasting for the California Olive Oil Council, and eventually became the youngest taster in the U.S. I created a blend and started submitting it to competitions, and ended up winning some gold medals. I started selling it at different boutique locations in Northern California, and it is still successful today.”
Elliott added, “I went on to launch my Mexican wine label (Pavo Real) while doing import export work, and I came across a bottle of Mexican wine that I loved, and after spending time in Mexico I imported a container of Mexican wine. Right out of the trunk of my car, it quickly sold out in San Francisco. I realized there were 80,000 Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and no Mexican wine. The wine I first imported was the oldest wine in the Americas. In our second year we are now in 38 markets and now internationally.”
Jacob is a fifth generation Busch, whose great, great grandfather Adolphus Busch created Anheuser-Busch along with Eberhard Anheuser, back in 1876. He currently lives in Florida, Montana and Napa. “I have been involved in the beverage industry for the last five years” he adds, “with everything from all-natural health drinks (Zenify) to breathalyzers and products to keep the public safe when it comes to drinking. My family’s moto is never drink and drive, and that has been integrated into my mind and my sibling’s minds throughout our lives. It’s just not worth it. My main focus is philanthropy with all the charities I am involved with. I work with the Peter W Busch Family Foundation to support other non-profits that support the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, Muscular Dystrophy, MS and John Walsh with his center for Missing and Exploited Children.”
Carlo grew up surrounded by the wine business and naturally continued on his own. “Davi Wine was a small business I began with my friend Josh.” he says, “It was successful in teaching a couple 23-year old’s what not to do. I learned a tremendous amount… the company still exists, but Josh and I have moved on. Right now I am starting to have more in common with monks than business owners… I make RAEN with my brother Dante. It is a Pinot Noir project out on the cold hillside slopes of the Sonoma Coast. It is a new frontier in the wine world that yields Pinot Noirs capable of sitting with the world’s finest… So like the monks of ancient abbeys its Beer and Wine for me. It’s kinda funny because growing up there was a saying in the wine world that it takes a lot of beer to make wine… when Jacob, Elliott and I began SONS we were out in St. Louis visiting the mother land of American beer and Jacobs father said in beer there is a saying that goes it takes a lot of wine to make great beer. That was the first time I heard it the other way and it has stuck. So now my focus is RAEN with my brother and SONS with my two best buddies.”
And what about future plans for Sons Beer? “We want to focus, keep small and yield a beer capable of sitting with the world’s finest” says Mondavi, “This vision will take over a decade to reach. The world’s finest wineries and breweries are not measured in years or even decades but more in generations. With that in mind, and in the near future we would love to see SONS in the top restaurants of the world and being poured alongside the greatest foods and enjoyed. Our goals for SONS are to put all of our energy, resources and time into creating one classic beer. We don’t want to make ten beers but rather just one beer at the highest level. Right now it is great because the chefs, sommeliers and consumers in Napa Valley are among the world’s most discerning, so the stakes are high in our backyard. These chefs and foodies plus all the winemakers tend to gravitate towards food beers that harmonize with food rather than overpower meals.”
Busch adds, “What separates us is that we narrowed in on one product when most startups create many different brands. We just wanted to create one great Pilsner to sit with the world’s finest. Other beer houses want to create their light, their darker, their porters, their stouts. We wanted to focus on creating the best Pilsner. Because of our last names, people thought it would be easy to take advantage of us by charging us three times more than their first bid. We were too smart for that. The number one thing is to show people that when you are dedicated and love what you are doing, its not really work. What we have accomplished so far is pretty incredible. It’s the smallest things in life that make the biggest impact, shaking someones hand and making somebody smile, that’s what it’s all about.”
With business already booming, Taylor spoke at length for plans to already expand, “We have acquired a property in downtown Napa and we are going to build a two story location to pair the beer with food we create, as well as have our offices there to host clients. We wanted to have a home for Sons Pilsner, that is where we are producing and creating. We will have a large enough system there to create about 15,000 barrels a year and will be able to have a food line with different chefs doing pop ups and pairings. Our focus is Sons Pilsner but will eventually do seasonals just for the local community and not shipped anywhere else in the country. We will eventually have to do strategic partnerships with different brew houses around the U.S. in several states to keep the brew as fresh as possible.”
While continuing to make great Pilsner, the brewery also supports the local community doing events for kids in the area. They have created the Hoody Hoo & Sons Nature Foundation, dedicated to protecting wild American frontier. They donate a percentage of proceeds to the foundation for reachable goals, including helping save the Monarch Butterfly population, which has been decimated due to Monsanto and Roundup in Napa Valley. They are doing different events to raise money to help make Napa Valley the first ever alcohol producing region that does not use Monsanto or Roundup. They would like to eventually branch out into American wildlife with their mascot Hoody Hoo, the Northern California spotted barn owl, an endangered species.
And finally, what do the father’s have to say about their sons new launch?
Peter W. Busch tells me, “We are extremely proud of our son, Jacob. He is keeping the family brewing tradition alive. There is nothing more important to Jacob than family and what sets Sons Beer apart from other brands is its family tradition, focused on the finest quality and craft. Jacob, Carlo and Elliott have been working hard. We are all very excited about the future of their family brewery. As a father, I cannot think of anything more fulfilling than seeing your children carry on the family legacy. I have no doubt that with these three men behind it, Sons Beer will be a huge success.”
Ronald Lee Taylor says, “From the moment he could walk, Elliott seemed to be an entrepreneur, it didn’t matter what he was doing or where he was he would always come up with something. I remember how he used to buy firecrackers in bulk and then sell them for a profit to his friends at summer camp … I made him business cards when he was 6 years old, he would come with me to restaurant openings & when I handed my card out he would reach in his jacket pocket and do the same… not much has changed since then. His creativity for business, love of the arts, determination to succeed against all odds has made him a young man wise beyond his years. But the one thing Elliott values more than anything is relationships and he has figured out at a young age that true success is measured by true friendship and for that I have total confidence SONS will be unstoppable. These three boys, together will change the beer industry within a short time, I have no doubts.”
And finally, Tim Mondavi adds, “Carlo grew up in the vineyard and winery working from a young age in all areas of our family business. He really takes after his grandfather with his drive to excel and love of food, wine, the arts and now beer. It has been great watching him become the winegrower he has become and take the skills and attention to detail he has in the winery to create Sons with two of his best friends. I am very proud of Carlo, Elliott and Jacob and what they have created together.”
Copyright 2017 by Jim Dobson / Forbes. Material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without link to original content.
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