Cutting Through Idle Chatter with Fantastic Wine
I think it’s likely that if you are in wine long enough in Los Angeles, you’ll meet Casey O’Brien, and not because he’s a big head honcho of a big corporate giant, but because he’s busy, he’s friendly, and he’s memorable. That is: he has his hands in a lot of projects; he is outgoing and easy with people; and, well, he’s memorable.
His new project is a label called Idle Chatter with a relatively straightforward goal: awesome wine meant to be drunk young and fresh at an everyday price point. And he completely achieves this: his 2018 Rosé from Sonoma Coast and 2017 Mendocino Red Blend are made by the talented Kent Humphrey of Eric Kent Cellars, and they are delicious and affordable—$14.99 (for Pinot from Sonoma Coast!) and $17.99, respectively.
But underneath a pair of great everyday wines is a remarkable project. Casey recently launched an initiative to give a percentage of his profits to LGBTQ charities. And I learned that underneath the friendly exterior, there’s a fascinating backstory to Casey, one that seems to drive his current work. As someone who didn’t always see eye to eye with his parents, he moved in with two older friends. “I call them my two gay dads. They were very professional and loving,” he says. “My mom had been best friends with one of their moms. I clung onto them for 6 or 7 years, and I learned everything about love and vulnerability from them. That’s how I got the name for the wine. They used to say, ‘You’re adding only idle chatter to a conversation; say something of substance.’”
So, I caught up with him to find out more about how he’s creating his own bit of substance in a sea of vinous chatter.
KS: How did you get into the wine business?
CO: The real reason I got in the wine business was to have something to talk about with my older brother. He owns Gail Wines, he’s always been in the biz. And I thought if he can do it, I can do it. I moved out from Rhode Island. I was a cellar rat for 5 harvests. At 28 I was working for FedEx, hating my life. My brother founded Cultivar. He said, “Quit your job, and go make wine.” I did, and I love it. I went from cellar rat to working a tasting bar to being a broker in LA to making wine.
KS: Tell me a bit about the winemaking.
CO: Kent Humphrey was our winemaker for these wines. Kent made the rosé and facilitated the whole thing for the red wine. He’s been overwhelmingly supportive of us. I just wanted it to be as natural and low sulfur as possible. This is table wine, crush this by the end of the summer. We didn’t add much sulfur. The acid is extremely bright.
KS: You’re selling these for really great prices. How do you manage that?
CO: I’ve made amazing friendships in this industry. Were able to get access to amazing barrel selections. Usually it is so expensive in the market. We’re a negociant. That’s what we do. We’re charging reasonable prices because we don’t want to spend a ton of money on a bottle of wine ourselves. We’re just 3 people who love everyday price point wines. So we’re making negociant wine for killer price point.
KS: Who’s your third partner?
CO: My other partner is Ryan Zieman, one of the nicest people I’ve met. I’m difficult, I’m intense and always have an opinion. And he’s the nicest person I know.
KS: And Kent will keep making the wine?
CO: Kent will keep making the wine. There’s talk about starting a 100% charitable label with Kent. He is so loving, one of the most charitable humans.
KS: How will that work?
CO: I will put my personal inventory toward events in support of LGBTQ causes. Helping out the queer community is something I feel like I should be doing. I have these two people who took me in, owned gay nightclubs. We have an awesome group of loving connected people but we’re all really unique people and have so much to offer. The gay/lesbian/eccentric community should be more accepted, and we’re working to help.
We’re also in the midst of starting our own nonprofit. It’s called the We Got You campaign. Our plan is to create a logo that businesses in Los Angeles can put in their windows and signal to LGBT that they are accepted here.
People didn’t think I was gonna amount to much, but I’m now so happy where I’m at and I want to give back. I’m not married, I have no kids, I love inviting people over and bringing people together. I want to throw more parties at my house. Wine is not a cold call, it’s a warm call.
And there you have it. To me, this is a no brainer—awesome wine at a great price, supporting an amazing cause. Back up the truck!
- Kate Soto