Alabama Native Used Pandemic Downtime to Launch Wine Label | Alabama News

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By TYLER HANES, The Cullman Times

CULLMAN, Alabama (AP) – Getting paid to drink wine and visit exotic places doesn’t seem like a career, but that’s exactly how Cullman-born Heath Porter describes his job.

Porter is the owner of Heathen Wines & Wine Tours and conducts tours in the United States and other countries to give customers an insider’s perspective on wines and to spend time with the wineries at work in their vineyards. . He also recently launched his own Heathen Wines label, with two wines currently available for sale with more in the pipeline.

Porter grew up in Cullman and got his start in the food industry getting a job as a dish washer at Cracker Barrel. After graduating from high school in 1990, he moved to Hawaii and remained in the restaurant business, working as a cook, busser and waiter until he became a general manager.

“I knew I wasn’t going to go to college, I had no money and never liked school, so I said ‘I’m going to move to Hawaii’ and I stayed in the business, ”he said.

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Along the way he continued to learn about wine and food and worked in several resorts as a sommelier. He used this knowledge to eventually go into business for himself by organizing tours to national and international wine hot spots.

Once he decided to start his own business, the name came easily.

He said people called him “Pagan” since he was 10 – for obvious reasons – so when it came time to start his own business and then go into wine, he decided to go for it. stick to that name.

When the pandemic hit, wine tours stopped and, while he still hosted virtual wine tastings via Zoom video calls, he had a little too much free time – which led to Porter having described as perhaps the riskiest decision he could have made during the pandemic.

“Obviously, when you eat, drink and travel, when the pandemic begins, you lose your entire existence,” he said. “I was like, ‘What’s the dumbest thing you can do? I know I’ll start my own wine label like a jerk.

Of course, making your own wine is a little easier when you have a rolodex and a phone full of contacts who rank among the best wine experts and chefs in the world, and after that it has started reaching out to some. of those friends and receiving a categorical ‘no’ message in response, one of them reconsidered – and decided to take the plunge with Porter.

“I started the red blend with a friend of mine named Chad Melville who owns one of the best wineries in California, and we made the Syrah-Cabernet blend,” he said. “Next thing you know, I did 200 cases and people really liked it, which was like cheering on the fat kid with cookies.”

After the successful launch of his Cuvée Cremisi blend, Porter said he was looking to a previous restaurant project with Melville that was unsuccessful but produced a Chardonnay, so he put the Heathen label on it and started to sell it also.

So far, reviews for its wines have been good from the wine experts who have tasted them, Porter said.

“It was very well received,” he said.

However, Porter isn’t resting on his laurels with just two wines, as he’s currently working on a new red blend and talking to people in Italy, New York and Washington about the possibility of making a new white or sparkling rosé. .

Porter said tours have started to pick up again, with a few already slated for 2022, but working on his private label gives him something else to do and provides additional income while there is still some uncertainty. Moreover, working on such a project prevents him from making other questionable decisions.

“I’m not good with free time. Every time I have free time I end up opening a restaurant, taking over a huge resort, or just doing something beautifully stupid, ”he said.

Pagan wines can currently be found at Cullman’s Werner’s Trading Company and All Steak Restaurant, and can be ordered online and shipped to 35 states, including Alabama, at vinyawine.com.

The latest information on Heathen Wine Tour is available on heathenwine.com, or on the Heathen Wines Tours Facebook and Instagram pages.

Porter said he tries to come back to Cullman at least two or three times a year to see the family he still has in the area and reunite with old friends, and it also gives him the opportunity to see some of the support that it is. still receive residents of the city.

He hosted a wine tasting at Werner’s last week, then stopped by All Steak before leaving town and said he was surprised at the attendance of many people cheering him on from home.

“I think it’s really cool to get that kind of support from your hometown when you don’t really ask for it or have a clue what’s really going on,” he said.

Infrequent visits also help to ensure that he doesn’t exhaust his welcome among those who invited him, Porter said.

“I am invited to a lot of places once,” he said. “It’s one of those things where they maybe forgot how silly this guy is, and it doesn’t hurt that I always show up with really good booze.”

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