Brilliant Mistake Wines (not to be confused by the song title of the same name by Elvis Costello) was founded by John and Stacy Reinert; their first vintage dates from 2013. John is originally from Philadelphia; he came to California to pursue a passion for music. The forks in life invariably lead one in directions one may not have originally anticipated. In a dramatic career move from music, today he manages a water utility in Palo Alto. While getting his monthly haircut at a hair salon which employed a number of stylists, one particular lady caught his eye (Stacy). Noticing each other but never chatting much other then a friendly hello, they eventually connected over a mutual passion for baseball. They married and today live in the San Francisco Bay area but often spend time at a second home in Yountville.
While dating, they both took short trips to Napa Valley – enjoying both the visual beauty and the wines and meeting local winemakers including Thomas Rivers Brown and Juan Mercado among others. In getting to know a number of winemakers, they soon discovered an openness that people had in sharing information about the industry. As John and Stacy started thinking about making wine, winemakers would highlight both their successes and failures in the industry and try to steer them in a direction that would allow them to succeed.
John and Stacy recall sitting down with Juan Mercado at Bottega Restaurant in Yountille for lunch; what might have just been lunch soon turned into a 3+ hour affair. Juan’s early advice was pragmatic and extremely helpful – encouraging them to choose a unique name, keep production very small in the beginning, focus on a variety that Napa Valley is known for (Cabernet Sauvignon) and do not seek outside investors.
Upon getting to know both John and Stacy one realizes their zest for life, food, wine and having a good time is genuine. They truly enjoy people. And this was clearly evident during a recent lunch at Bottega (which could have easily lasted three hours if we had the time!).
Initially they interviewed numerous winemakers while looking for specific criteria. They wanted someone who was a hands on winemaker, who was open to their participation while willing to be a teacher both in the vineyards and in the winery. Rebekah Wineburg crafted their 2013 vintage but after one year she became winemaker at Quintessa and was unable to continue consulting. She then recommended winemaker Maayan Koschitzky who has made all subsequent vintages starting in 2014. Mayan is an accomplished and talented winemaker and is currently the Director of Winemaking at Atelier Melka, overseeing winemaking for a number of their clients. He also consults or is the winemaker for several clients in Israel and is involved in several small wine brands as part owner. Previously he worked at Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle.
The 2014 Brilliant Mistake Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from premiere vineyards from two of Napa’s most premium regions: Stags Leap District and Rutherford. Their original intent when building this wine was to create a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with other varieties, but during the blending trials they found a superior wine was created through blending Cabernet Sauvignon from both vineyards rather then blending in the additional varieties. This wine is extremely approachable in its youth. An elegant bouquet is fruit forward, showcasing aromas of blackberry and raspberry complemented by lighter aromas of tobacco smoke and cedar box. Supple throughout the palate it features a long finish, not memorable because of the tannins but because of the intensity of the lingering fruit. This wine shows flavors of dark cherry and plum. The tannins are pure velvet – fine grained, rounded and very well integrated.
They followed Juan’s advice to grow slowly; in 2016 decided to produce a Sauvignon Blanc and later, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Beckstoffer owned Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford. Their most premium wine is a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon crafted from a barrel selection, called The Poet & The Muse.
The Brilliant Mistake 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is pale to medium yellow color in the glass; the bouquet offers aromas of citrus blossom, cut grass, and a lemon zest. Simply put, this wine smells lively and smells like the variety. It is wonderfully balanced across the entire palate, a hand crafted seamlessness if you will. Features flavors of apple, lemon/lime, gooseberry and guava. The bright acidity lingers for quite some time; its mouth watering but not tart. This wine offers plenty of flavor and tastes great by itself.
The 2019 Brilliant Mistake Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot (sourced from vineyards in Rutherford and St. Helena). This wine is dark ruby in color; the bouquet smells elegant with some floral notes including violets and lavender, along with blackberry, black plum, toasted cedar and an intermittent very subtle honeycomb note that we rarely if ever find in Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate is primarily about dark fruit including black cherry, blueberry and blackberry. This wine’s texture is one of its hallmarks; shows a medium body and lingers with earthy, dusty, chewy and slightly chalk-like in texture tannins along with notes of old cedar box. One can almost taste the soil in this wine.
They both spent significant time trying to think of a name; Stacy suggested Brilliant Mistake. It is a simple name that immediately invites questions and curiosity and is a name that ties into their philosophy. One should be open to life taking unanticipated directions. When John was on the fence about starting this wine label – Stacy simply told him you only live once and if you don’t do this now, you might regret it for the rest of your life. The name is brilliant and most certainly was not a mistake!
In 2018, John and Stacey took on two partners to help grow the brand further; Steve Greenbaum and Doc Cohen, both men are wine collectors and are well connected in the business world.
The wines are found at a number of retail establishments in Napa Valley including at ACME wine shop in St. Helena and of course at a restaurant they apparently frequent often, Bottega. Visitors to the valley can also taste select wines at the K. Laz appointment only tasting room, also in Yountville.
Heron House, Yountville
Brilliant Mistake is a member of the Heron House in Yountville (moved in, in June 2022). This retail wine tasting space in SoYo (South Yountville) opened the day after Thanksgiving 2019 and features a select number of small-brand producers who do not maintain their own tasting rooms. Heron House was created by vintner, Allison Stelzner, and the brands represented here are winemakers or friends or colleagues of Allison.
The Heron House is setup to feel like walking into someone’s living room – comfortable, cozy and inviting. The retail portion of the space is open during normal business hours and includes mostly locally crafted products including select works of art – reflecting the Steltzner’s love of art. Two private tasting rooms are available by reservation. Several curated flights are offered, each containing wines from the various producers represented including several flights showcasing the Castiel Estate wines among several other producers. Allow up to 90 minutes for a visit. Hours are subject to change, but as of our latest update to this review, this space is daily from 10am until 6pm with the last tasting appointment at 5pm.
Production typically ranged from approximately 100 cases to 300 cases during the early vintages of Brilliant Mistake, although production has since grown slightly. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.brilliantmistakewines.com