Music, wine and a good story

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

What happens when three friends , who share the same passion for wine and music, team up and start a brand new winery? Yes! A kickass brand called ; Smith Devereux. A nearly impossible opportunity brought Ian Devereux White, John Truchard and Steve Smith together. After shaking hands,  backstage at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, they took on the deal that would lead them into a life-long friendship, the founding of a winery, and a plan to conquer the wine world.

Music, writing & wine

The story of this winery begins with co-founder Ian Devereux White. His mother, who owned a restaurant, inspired him to develop his palate for food and wine. One of his favorite regions to visit is the Napa Valley. In his childhood, Ian and his family travelled side by side through Napa Valley, meeting new winemakers and going to various winery release events. One day while on a run with Todd Sotkiewicz, the President and General Manager of Lonely Planet at the time, Ian mentioned he was spending more time in the Napa Valley – and Todd encouraged him to start writing about his experiences in the region, focusing on wine related content. He pursued his writing, becoming Wine Country Director for Metropolitan Media, responsible for wine related content for their 7×7 Magazine. Ian now writes for Modern Luxury’s San Francisco Magazine (wine director).

Photo: Ian and Steve

Along the way, playing and writing music has always been a central part of his life. Ian plays in bands (currently in a band called High Noon) since he was 15. In 2011 he was living in Napa Valley and writing about wine for a number of publications, including Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Magazine and even Psychology Today. One faithful day Ian was interviewing Mat Kearney about music and wine and what brought his band to Napa Valley.

He asked how long I’d been writing. I replied, with pride; ''About 8 year.'' To which Mat replied: ''Dang, 8 years just telling other people’s stories...'' I was a bit taken aback but I was immediately motivated.

With the interview in the back of his mind, Ian wanted to make plans regarding making his own wine. When there is an explanation for a coincidence, there are no coincidences. Thankfully, Ian met farmer John Truchard. They shared an office space in downtown Napa. John negotiated with different grape growing vineyards, making deals for other family businesses. They had been toying with the idea of making a wine together but hadn’t landed on exactly what or how.

Ian: ''Within a week Truchard and I had shaken hands on a deal to make a wine, vineyard to bottle, with grapes he farmed.''

Photo: Steve & Ian

They wanted to start small, but a chance meeting with celebrated musician Mat Kearney and his manager Steve Smith, took them down a wild and unexpected path finding themselves making 4000 cases of a wonderful red blend with Mat Kearney, for Whole Foods. They traveled the country together supporting the wine and being one of the first making wines with celebrities and musicians. Steve Smith, a music industry veteran and Mat’s Manager, joined their team during the process.

Ian about Steve Smith: ''He was the only person my wife ever let stay in the guest room no questions asked, so I knew he was special.''

Working with him on the Kearney deal, Ian knew they would make great partners. '' We’ve been called the anchor and the balloon (I’m the balloon). We still make a wine with Mat and some of our other favorite artists like Brett Dennen, most of them give back to causes like the fight against cancer, but our focus is now on making wines with our names on them.''

Photo: the vineyard of Smith Devereux

Smith Devereux

They decided to call their new label, J.W. Thomas Wines – taking the first initial in John’s name and the first initial in Ian’s last name. The name also paid homage to the downtown Napa restaurant ‘The Thomas’ where they met when they decided to create this label. And ultimately they were able to secure a contract with Whole Foods.

Eventually running into confusion when people saw the J.W. Thomas label, the partners began fielding questions such as, ‘who is JW and who is Thomas’, they decided to change the name to Smith Devereux, combining Steve’s last name with a name of French heritage, Ian’s middle name Devereux. All partners are actively involved; Ian handles the day to day business operations and hospitality, John oversees and secures their vineyard sources and Steve helps promote the wines through a variety of events.

Photo: Smith Devereux ( Cabernet Sauvignon)

The perfect triad

The friendship between John and Ian grew attending events and just having a good time together. They loved all of the events and festivals in Napa Valley and traveling to sporting events and seeing live music... and trips to San Francisco. Steve and Ian's friendship grew as they traveled to support Verse & Chorus and their love of and experience in the music industry. You can tell their adventures and their wines are aligned by experiences and stories.

Ian: '' I’d prefer to listen to other people’s stories rather than tell my own, but I suppose I love to tell the stories behind our Cabernet vineyard right now. I can’t tell you why every story is unique, that’s a matter of perspective. But what I’d say is that if you can’t see this, tell a story to a friend and then ask them to retell your story. Even ​in that exchange the story will take on a new life. That’s the beauty of stories, they have lives of their own.''

Along their way, Ian en John were looking for marketing opportunities to share their wines with their audience; they decided to open a wine tasting room. It was Ian who came up with the idea of creating a small tasting room with a recording studio where they could enjoy music intimately. John had bolder ideas and convinced Ian to have a tasting room where there was enough space for live music and tasting elements. JaM Cellars was born, a place where you could enjoy wine en music. You can chill, relax and order your favorite Napa or just enjoy a Smith Devereux wine. Local architect Richard Vonsaal was hired to create the interior design with some basic words of advice from John, “Make it cool”.

Ian: ''There is a perfect triad when it comes to enjoying wine... Music, wine and people we love. It’s those three things that make the experience complete.''

Photo: The new IBEX release

The new IBEX release

Smith Devereux works sustainable and produces classic wines made out of different varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Smith Devereux will launch a new wine on the 18th of September; IBEX. This wine was produced in the very first vineyards of Smith Devereux. And of course, it carriers a story of its own.

Ian: “I love merlot on its own, and in blends. When made well, Merlot is like a well-balanced cabernet that leans into softer more feminine fruits and flavors where cab goes to cedar and tobacco. It’s one of the most versatile, food friendly and nuanced grapes… and historically speaking perhaps the most celebrated. The best part… few people know how good a Merlot can be and sometimes I get to be the one to show them. What a cool thing to be able to share something so good and historically significant but somehow recently forgotten and even avoided.  That makes it even cooler.  Something with history that hasn’t quite made it back to fame yet… I love things like that and Merlot is definitely making its way back into the cool circles in New York, San Francisco and many of the trend setting cities and restaurants. The fact that ours, our IBEX Single vineyard merlot is from a single vineyard that we farm only steps from my home; Pure from the vine to the bottle. Makes it even cooler I think. The look of surprise when people try this bold, spicy, complex, single vineyard, Merlot is just… well… intoxicating. And the 2017 is the best vintage yet. IBEX, our beautiful beast.'' 

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