Behind the Brand

Longevity Winemaker Phil Long Has Quickly Become the Face of African American Winemaking

Aug. 24, 2020

When 2020 started for Phil Long, he was hard at work continuing to grow his wine brand, Longevity Wines, which in 2018 landed the Livermore Valley Winery of the Year. He was a rising star in the world of wine, soon to be known in the mainstream.

Now, Long is more than mainstream. He spends a significant slice of his days giving interviews to media across the country.

How did this happen so quickly?

First, this spring, Long succeeded the iconic winemaker Mac McDonald as the President of the Association of African American Vintners (AAAV). Then, in May, George Floyd’s murder triggered civil unrest across the country, and as a result, a surge of support for black-owned businesses, putting Long in the spotlight to represent black winemaking in America.

“When I first took over as president, I was just trying to take the organization to the next level,” Long said. “Then, almost overnight, I’ve become the spokesperson for African American winemaking in the industry. It’s been quite a journey.”

longevity wines cabernet

At Breakthru, we couldn’t be more honored to represent Longevity Wines, and do our part to help support the growth of African American winemaking. We were thrilled to get a chance recently to catch up with Long to learn all about his winery, and his unique path to becoming a pivotal leader in the industry.

Tell us about how you got into the wine business. When was the moment you knew this was your calling?

Phil Long: Wine was something my wife Debra and I always enjoyed when we lived in southern California. In southern California, wine was just something you got at a grocery store; it’s just not a part of the culture like it is in northern California. Eventually, we moved up north for work, and when you’re in northern Cal, you’re in the heart of wine country, so our passion for wine grew beyond just enjoying a great bottle. So, we started making wine in the garage, and now, we’re just operating in a bigger garage.

Tell us the story of the name Longevity.

Once we knew our hobby was graduating to a business, we secured the proper license so we could sell our wine online. Debra came up with the name, Longevity, which is a spin off our name. All our success ever since then stems back to Debra, who we lost last year after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She’ll always be the face of the brand, and I draw inspiration from her every day as I continue to build our brand.

What’s the most important aspect to success in this industry that you’ve learned over the years?

When we started, we were visiting different appellations on the weekends trying to find wine, and we figured out how to treat people in your tasting room, and how to not treat people. The hospitality aspect is huge and makes a massive difference when you’re trying to stand out in a crowded field.

What’s something about your wine that people might not know?

Hollywood really loves our labels, and we’ve been featured on some big shows like ‘Big Little Lies’ and ‘Big Bang Theory’. In one episode of ‘Big Little Lies,’ Reese Witherspoon actually talked about how much she likes our chardonnay, which was really fun.

longevity wines chardonnay

Describe your winemaking style.

Starting out as small as we did, we didn’t always have the best fruit options, and because of that, it forces us to play with a lot of different varietals. My style is all about balance. No matter what varietal of wine you’re drinking, it’s all about balance. Whether it’s the acidity, mouthfeel, proof — every element complements one another.

What does it mean to you to serve as president of the association of African American Vintners?

Well, this year has definitely been a lot more work! I always looked up to Mac McDonald, the founder. We built a friendship and I was honored to replace him. It’s a unique position to be in given the Black Lives Matter movement. We have had more donations and support than ever before, which is incredible.

What advice would you have for young African Americans wanting to get into the industry?

When I was young, I wasn’t aware this was a path, even when I was in college. I thought wine was made in France. The biggest thing we have to do now is create awareness that this is a field for young minorities. We need them to know that you can indeed have a career in wine, and to help make that happen, we are working on scholarships for young students who want to get into the industry.

For information on scholarships from the AAAV, please visit www.aaavintners.org.

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