Growing up, Founder and Winemaker Phil Long of Longevity Wines didn’t have much exposure to wine other than his dad’s ornamental bottle of Chianti. He told me that he didn’t even know that wine was made in America. To him, agriculture was focused on plants and animals – not wine. Nor that it would be part of a lasting love story to his wife for the ages.
When he lived in Northern California with his wife, Debra, they often journeyed to wine country where he started to see the process of making wine. This inspired a hobby of making wine in his garage for a year. When there was no place left to park, they started the process of looking for a winery where they could expand their production.
The Livermore Valley was a natural choice. It was beautiful and quaint. There weren’t so many other wineries that they would struggle with recognition and making a name for Longevity Wines.
Today Longevity Wines is a boutique family operated, urban style winery located in the Livermore AVA, with a focus is on quality not quantity. The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association voted Longevity Winery of the Year in 2018.
But, the journey wasn’t always easy and Phil’s super honest about it. He talks about how his first wine – a half barrel of Syrah – was “crap.” He took those learnings and doubled his production. This soon led to making 12 barrels of wine and he and Debra needed to make the “all in” decision in 2008. The original place that Debra found was a “tiny off-the-beaten path” place across from a sewer plant. Making the winery a destination was important. The couple learned to make everyone feel like family. As an interracial couple, that was important to them.
In three years, they grew out of the space. That was also the year that a wine barrel fell from a rack and landed on Phil, leaving him partially paralyzed. He fought his way back and doctors were amazed by his miraculous recovery.
Longevity Wines is all about the couple’s love affair. When Phil is talking about Debra, he’s talking about the love of his life and his best friend. He talked about the tiny beach town where they got engaged and vacationed every year on their anniversary. We talked about the Old Victorian lightkeeper’s house and how special it was.
Sadly, Debra lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in 2019. From the logo on the bottles representing one of many glass hearts he used to give her on Valentine’s Day to the tattoo on his arm he received before she died bearing the same heart, the love that they shared is evident.
The winery has two labels. The small quantity, Livermore boutique wines have a black label and continue to be hand produced by Phil. The other is the white-label line, which is distributed nationally by Republic National Distributing Co. due to a partnership between Longevity’s and the Franzia family of Bronco Wine Co., one of the 10 largest U.S. wine producers. The wines are a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon ($16 each) made in quantities of 2,700 cases each, which almost doubles Longevity’s former 3,000-case annual production. They feature the uniquely resealable, twist-off Helix cork that delivers the classic “pop” of natural cork without the need for a corkscrew.
Phil talks about being astounded during that first bottling of chardonnay he “bottled more in four hours than in his entire life.” One line could have 43 bottles of samples to evaluate. The processes are very different from his black label boutique wines where he gets to work side-by-side with his son and assistant winemaker, Justin, to be handle “bin to bottle.”
The Longevity philosophy declares it is not just about the wines, but the experience. The food you have with it, the friends you share the wine with and the location, the experience. Everyone who visits the tasting room is treated like family, and they want you to bring back friends.
Phil also serves as the president of the Association of African American Vintners and he talks candidly about the reality faced into today’s society balanced with the importance of just being a good human. “If you look at the wine industry, it certainly does not reflect diverse races, creeds and colors,” he said. “With what happened with the Black Lives Matter Movement and in 2020, we sold more the first two weeks in June than in all of 2019.” Fundamentally, there has been a shift in thinking, but if you go to any wine event, you will see a sea of white faces and that needs to become more inclusive. Although there are more than 8,000 wineries in the United States, about one-tenth of 1% of the winemakers and brand owners are black, he estimated in an article with the Napa Valley Register. We agreed there is still much work to do.
I was able to taste the two white label wines mentioned above, which definitely delivered for the varietal and price point. In addition, I had a chance to try two of the black label boutique wines.
- 2019 Livermore Valley Pinot Grigio, Vintner Select ($26) – what a fun wine and my favorite of the tasting. It’s a pink Pinot Grigio and has a distinct salmon hue. I tasted stone fruit, citrus, melon and honey.
- 2017 Grenache – Frydendal Vineyard ($38) – lots of red fruit with notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, vanilla, herbs and oak.
Looking up the word “Longevity” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition is “long continuance.” It’s perfect for Phil and the winery. The winery serves as a dedication to Debra, to the love they built together and for furthering the mission of inclusion for those who visit and advancing African American winemakers in a tough industry.