The Interview: Iconic Wines
Birk O’Hallaran and Karl Ante
Interrogated by Jonny Cigar
I’ve always wanted to have my own talk show—grew up watching Letterman and am still convinced I could do a better job than Carson on the Tonight Show (if only they’d let me host along with Don Rickles). For now, we begin my interviewing career here on The Bloggery at Underground Eats. Vinos and Diners, meet Birk and Karl of Iconic Wines:
Birk O’Halloran grew up in Colorado a few miles from Odell’s and New Belgium Brewing. Drinking craft beer early on in life gave him a “snobby palate.” Karl Ante, his partner in Iconic Wines, met Birk in college at Cornell. Both travel between NYC and Napa and work with Dan Petroski (Larkmead and Massican) who is their consulting winemaker. Yee, who are keyed into the alternative dining culture of Underground Eats, would do well to know these gents, for they are on the roster and their wine is fu#$ing delicious.
Jonny: What was your path to Iconic Wine? Give me the jazz.
Birk: I didn’t start paying attention to wine until I took 18 months off of hotel school to live in Portland and later New Zealand. After hotel school, I enrolled in the International Wine Guild under MW Claude Robbins and equipped with my Ivy League education began interviewing at wine shops just to get my foot in the door.
Eventually I met David Weitzenhoffer and Laura Supper the owners of A.I. Selections. I really wanted to work for them. During my interview I fed both he and Laura drinks until they were drunk enough and said I could join. Been with ‘em four years now.
Iconic came out of a trip Karl and I took to Sonoma in 2010. At a wedding I met Steve Matthiasson and told him I wanted to make wine (He’s the 2012 Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year)—unexpectedly Steve offered some fruit from Michael Mara vineyard, a four acre plot where the likes of Arnot Roberts, Broc and Abe Schoener source grapes. Flattered, I told him I would just ruin it—but Dan Petroski (Larkmead and Massican) stepped in and offered to consult gratis to get Karl and I started. We couldn’t resist.
In 2010 we made 104 cases of Heroine Chardonnay, we sold out in about 4 months. For the 2011 vintage we got Dan on payroll and made 450 cases under the full label Iconic Wines.
Jonny: You’re clearly a comic book fan – what’s up with the labels?
Birk: I love comics, I still read them and admittedly this project was a great excuse to call up an artist I love and commission a label. We work with Tom Feister to do the character design and the current vintages are done by Ming Doyle (Heorine and MM) and Cliff Chiang (Secret Ingredient and Secret identity). I probably spent as much of life dreaming about being a winemaker as a super hero so it just somehow seemed a perfect fit.