2020 Like a Boss Innovators: Jordan Salcito
Jordan Salcito knows good wine. The Denver native made a name for herself in New York City off that good taste in the past decade as sommelier at Eleven Madison Park; wine and beverage director at David Chang's Momofuku restaurants; and founder of Bellus Wines, an eco-conscious wine company that makes organically grown vino with partner wineries in Italy and California.
But even more vital, Salcito knows bad wine. It was specifically the syrupy-sweet wine coolers of the '80s—"a lazy iteration of a classic Italian cocktail, the spritz"—that spurred Salcito to create Ramona, a line of organic, fizzy canned wines. "I became increasingly aware that beverages created for casual moments unilaterally compromised on quality, and I didn't agree with that," she says. "I saw a void in a high-quality organic beverage that tasted delicious, met my standards, and didn't take itself too seriously."
So the sommelier did the near impossible: She made wine coolers, well, cool. While on maternity leave from Momofuku, Salcito worked tirelessly to source grapes, develop a recipe, and track down a mobile canner. On Labor Day 2016—years before the spiked-seltzer fad hit—Salcito canned the first batch of her low-alcohol spritzer, made with Sicilian zibibbo grapes and flavored with ruby grapefruit and organic cane sugar. A month later, her poppy-pink, Instagram-ready cans were spotted in the hands of Kanye West, Alicia Keys, and Diddy at an awards-show after-party. The combo of celebrity endorsement and social media savvy made Salcito a big boss in canned bubbles—by 2018, Ramona was stocked in Whole Foods nationally. "Our initial challenge was educating consumers on the merits of drinking this," says Salcito. "We pioneered a category that largely did not exist when we started."
Her vino bona fides helped solidify the brand, but so did her conviction to create a company on her own terms. Salcito points to a time earlier in her career when a would-be business partner wanted to add a clause to her contract stating that her equity would be erased if she were to get pregnant. "I walked away from that partnership, which was terrifying at the time, but it was the greatest professional decision I've ever made," she says, leading her to carve out her own space in the industry with Ramona. "It's important to invest as much as possible in yourself."
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.