The Aggie talks to Alecia Moore (P!nk) about taking UC Davis courses and her passion for winemaking

ALISON THOMSON / COURTESY

Moore’s first wines became available for public purchase last week, selling out that day

Holding a bottle of wine up to a computer camera, Alecia Moore, more commonly known by her stage name Pink or P!nk, points out her daughter’s drawing on the cork — “that’s her little butterfly on our rosé.”
Moore has kept secret her passion for winemaking and the wine brand she’s created for over five years, bringing both into the public eye last year. Just last week, 85 cases of three wines from her Two Wolves Wine brand were made available for public purchase for the first time: a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet Franc and a Petit Verdot. All three sold out the same day.
“My husband warned me I was going to be disappointed with how fast it went,” Moore said in a Skype interview with The California Aggie on Dec. 3.

After signing her first record deal at age 16, Moore dropped out of high school. But upon discovering her love for winemaking, she has now re-entered the classroom, having taken extension courses online through UC Davis and UCLA while on tour, and attending in-person classes at UCLA. Her assistant winemaker, Alison Thomson, received her masters degree from UC Davis in viticulture and attended UCSB as an undergraduate.

Both Moore and Thomson talked to The Aggie about taking the pretentiousness out of the craft, the utter terribleness of Manischewitz and sharing their passion for winemaking with their children.

The following is a transcription of an interview. It had been edited for length and clarity.

 

The California Aggie: You’ve kept this project under wraps for the last four or five years — how did it feel to finally bring it into the public eye?


Alecia Moore: Like ripping off a band-aid. It was nerve-wracking, and also it was very bittersweet for me. It was a really fun secret to have. It was nice to be able to learn at my own pace and sort of live this life that no one was really interested in or aware of. But now that we’ve had our first tiny little baby release, it’s really exciting.

TCA: All three wines were just made available for public purchase last week and already all three are sold out — what was your reaction?

AM: It was really fun to watch. But our next release will have more. We’re working out the bugs. And I’m learning how a wine business works, how to launch a wine brand, how to take a dream and make it a reality and make it sustainable. Our dream, for the two of us, is one day our children will take over for us.

TCA: What sort of feedback have you received?

 

Alison Thomson: People, overall, have been super excited and supportive of it. And I think what we’re doing comes from the heart, it comes from a place of really wanting to create not just a brand, but wines that have integrity and follow the style Alecia’s leaning toward and have personality. It’s not just something to slap a name on and sell. This whole project means a lot to both of us.

 

TCA: And how would you describe the experience of having something you’re both so passionate about, see it literally grow from the ground up and then see it become successful?


AM: It’s funny, I’m kind of a weirdo, I miss the garage. We started out on a blacktop outside in a tiny little garage that we air-conditioned and it was pretty fun — not always fun. In the last five years, we’ve built an actual winery, we have an actual space that plays music. It’s wild.


AT: I think we’re still not quite there, it seems like we have still more steps to go. We haven’t actually shipped out the wines, for example. The people that have tasted them, we’ve had different tastings where we’ve gotten feedback, but the general public hasn’t really seen the wines yet, so that’s the next big step is getting the wines out to them.

AM: There’s two pendulum swings with this: there’s the winemaker from Bordeaux who comes and compliments us and says, ‘You guys are making really bold choices and it’s delicious.’ And then you have people writing to me saying, ‘I’ve never had wine before but I can’t wait to buy this for myself for Christmas or for my 60th birthday.’ And the part that’s really fun is opening up a whole new world for people who would otherwise be intimidated. We know our shit, we do our research, we do our experimentation and we take it really seriously, but at the same time, we’re also having a blast painting outside the lines.

 

TCA: For many college-aged individuals, the transition from drinking wine just to drink wine to drinking wine because it’s actually enjoyable hasn’t yet happened. Was there a sort of a-ha moment for you?

AM: It definitely wasn’t around 21 or 22 — think I was still drinking vodka redbull. Honestly, I’d say my mid-20s. I had a manager and an agent and a promoter that are all these fantastic older men, one’s Australian, one’s English, one’s American, and they’ve been around the world, they’re experienced, they had more money than I had and could afford the Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Bordeauxs and all those wines I would never, ever be able to order. And it was sort of a revelation to me, because I don’t come from money, my mom doesn’t have a lot of money. She’s also Jewish, and we had to drink Manischewitz as a child. And it was horrible, it felt like a punishment and I hated wine. But then learning about different regions and going to those places, I was able to go and see these places and meet people. I guess as soon as you meet a French person who makes wine, you sort of fall in love. And you want to be a French person who makes wine.

TCA: Manischewitz every Friday night is not my favorite part of the week.

AM: It’s punishment! What did I do? I’m eight, why do I have to drink this?

 

TCA: When did you both know you were passionate about not only wine, but also about winemaking?

AT: I started out in the wine industry in sales, in a tasting room, and I got into it because I liked science, I studied biology at UCSB as an undergrad and I was into agriculture, growing plants, food — I loved cooking and fruit  — my grandma had all of these fruit trees and I was always in charge of harvesting all the apricots and making jam and processing all of the fruit.

AM: No wonder you’re so good at it!


AT: Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time. After college, I worked doing restoration ecology, but I also worked in a tasting room and really just loved learning about wine. Being able to taste around Napa, I just realized I really loved learning about wine and the process. And that’s what made me want to learn more. So I decided to apply to UC Davis to get my masters degree in viticulture. I wanted to do it from more of an agricultural standpoint, so I went through the horticulture and agronomy graduate group and was able to get into a lab at Davis. I didn’t have my first winemaking or production job until I went to Italy for an internship while I was in grad school. So I took a quarter off and went to Barolo to work for a producer there. It was there I knew for sure — I loved the work and I loved being part of it, I loved every aspect of it and I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

 

TCA: What do you find enjoyable about being hands-on and involved in the full process, from picking the grapes to bottling the wine?

AM: When I first moved here, I got together with the vineyard manager, Ben, and I said, ‘I want you to teach me everything you know. Do you have time?’ And he was such a great teacher. He said, at one point, ‘I haven’t been on my hands and knees in a vineyard this much in a really long time — thank you.’ I started with pruning and I fell in love from the very first moment, I fell in love with the actual work of farming vines. It was something I could do on my own, I could go out in the morning and get an early start. That’s very rare for me. And I could just be in nature. I’m a high school drop-out, I’ve had a record deal since I was 16 years old. So I’ve learned that craft and — they say it takes 10,000 hours — I’ve mastered that craft. That’s my number one craft. But to be a student again, and to be learning, my brain was so happy. And besides the online courses I’ve been doing and the tastings and all of that, to actually get physical and get your hands dirty, it became my obsession, it’s my second dream. One day I will have my 10,000 hours, and 20,000 and 30,000, and then my daughter will take over because my back will hurt.

TCA: Having not been in a classroom setting since you were 15 or 16, what was the experience of returning to the classroom for you?

AM: My brain has never been more happy. I honestly think education is wasted on the young, a little bit. Until you know what you love, it’s so boring and you don’t know how you’re going to apply it to your life, especially if you don’t know what you’re going to do. And for me, it was music, so science had nothing to do with my life. But once I became sort of obsessively interested in this subject, and learning about how much there is to learn — not just enology, but viticulture, and the seasons and the moon and biodynamic and organic, and then there’s wine to drink, too – the fun part. I’ve never been happier. I love school. I’m the best student now, and I was a flunker then. I was horrible, I slept through all of my classes. I wish every young person could find their passion before they have to shell out a shit load of money on school.

 

TCA: How did you both end up taking courses through UC Davis? Why UC Davis?

AM:  For me, it was easy. UC Davis is revered and I had the chance and the time and I’ll go anywhere. I was able to go to UC Davis and do an introduction to wine chemistry and it blew my mind. I’m a 39-year-old kid who’s never sat through a chemistry class in my life because I dropped out of school before I even got to that part. So it was just mind blowing. And also I knew I could go home and have new knowledge in my back pocket that I could actually use. It’s easy, if you want the best, they say go to UC Davis.

AT: For me, there wasn’t really any program besides Fresno at the time, Cal Poly was just getting started with their program. And so it was the only choice for me — not because it was the only one available, it just seemed like the right fit for what I wanted to learn.

 

TCA: Alecia, have you worried people won’t take you seriously as an established winemaker either because of your relatively new entrance into winemaking or because of your celebrity?

AM: I’m aware of it. I’m not worried about it. I think there’s nothing you can do about that. I’ve been busting my butt, I’m a hard worker at everything I do, whether it’s mothering or daughtering or winemaking or songwriting or performing. Somebody told me a while ago, ‘You’re going to have to prove the dirt beneath your fingernails.’ And I think that’s a process. I think the wine will speak for itself, if people give it a chance. We’re making beautiful wines and I’m really, really proud of them. I think also the second anyone sits down with me and talks to me about it then it’s just a mutual love. It’s no longer a judgement of how experienced you are, or are you full of shit? It’s: why do you love this? And what can you and I teach each other? I think inevitably there will be people who are like, ‘Oh god, another celebrity winemaker.’ That’s inevitable. But I don’t know if I’m making wine for those people.

 

TCA: Why is it important for you to have your kids involved in the process?

 

AM: We’re moms and we’re working moms, and guilt comes with that. And also we love being moms, and I love my family, and I would love to have time with them and be able to teach them something and have them teach me.


AT: I love it because they can see what I do in a day and it’s tangible. They know what winemaking looks like. They know when I’m away all day, what I’m doing

AM: And that you’re proud of what you’re doing.


AT: Yeah, and they’re proud of it. They like to be a part of it, they feel ownership over it as well, and I think that’s really important to stir up that passion and that interest early on, not necessarily that they have to be a winemaker, but because I think it fosters a good sense of work and wanting to work and knowing a work ethic. And sometimes getting that end product bottle of wine takes a lot of work.

 

TCA: The world of professional wine is so heavily dominated by men — from professional sommeliers to vineyard owners. Do you have advice for young women seeking careers it viticulture?


AM: I think women need to give other women a chance. And I think also women are just as capable in the cellar as men and we can lift heavy shit too. When you’re a woman, you have to work twice as hard. But you gotta put your head down, and you gotta just do the work, and your work will speak for itself.

AT: Sometimes with women in the wine industry, especially coming out of Davis, there’s a divide where a lot of women get pushed into enology — the lab side of things — whereas men will go into the cellar. And I think it’s really, really important for women to get that cellar experience. Understanding and knowing all of those processes in the cellar will make you a better winemaker in the end and being able to do it yourself is really important. Before I came to Davis, I was talking to somebody who was an acquaintance. He was working in the wine industry at the time, and I told him I wanted to get into the wine industry and be a winemaker and he kind of looked at me and scoffed and said, ‘You know, you have to be able to pick up a barrel.’ And it was this judgement that made me want to prove to him, even though he was nobody I cared about, I could do that. When you’re not used to doing that kind of physical labor — Alecia and I are not big people, we’re both under 5’5” — it’s totally possible, you just have to work smarter.

 

TCA: Can you talk about why you chose the Two Wolves name and how you felt that specific Cherokee proverb connects to your brand?

AM: We live right next door to a 1,400-acre reservation. I heard this parable and it just blew my hair back, because balance is really interesting to me and the spectrum of human potential and this war that rages on inside of each of us. I think the reason why we called it that was because number one, we are wild and two, I believe the balance in wine is just as important as the balance inside of a person. You can make a wine that is a monstrous beast and you can really be a winemaker: you can involve yourself in every part of the process and really put your print on it. Or you can step back and try to be gentle and watch and observe and have hope and be a wine grower. We try to keep them in the middle, sort of balanced and elegant and a wine that you could drink at lunch and not a need a nap after. Because my nature can be very aggressive, I’m trying to be very gentle in this process.


TCA: Where do you both see room for growth and expansion of the brand?

AM: Well we’re just starting out! There’s going to be a big part of this that’s going to be charitable and that was important to me — in order to start a new thing, it needed to do some good in the world. And we’ll see, we’re having a blast. We don’t ever want to be this huge deal. I want my kids to look at it and go, ‘I can do this, and this looks fun-ish.’ I don’t want to create this huge undertaking. Never say never, but I don’t think we’ll ever go above 2,000 cases a year. We’re kind of already running out of space and I kind of like it this way.

Written by: Hannah Holzer — campus@theaggie.org

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