May 15, 2021 by Vicki Denig

Meet the Maker: John Hurley + Jason Rassmusen, Origin

Let us set the scene.

“Set the table, light the candles, invite some friends over and enjoy this wine with Alison Roman’s Steakhouse Night at Home Menu while listening to the Origin Cab Playlist. It’s that easy.” – John Hurley

Along the California coast sit 25-year-old mountain Syrah vines where the fog keeps sustainably grown fruit cool and bright. Towering Redwoods, eucalyptus trees, and sculpture gardens surround a small lot vineyard that is hand cultivated using no herbicides. Ideal coastal growing climate allows for minimal drip-irrigation. Western-facing vines bring forth a salinity from the air and soils. 

The Syrah vines sits at the southwest base of the Santa Cruz Mountains a few miles from the Pacific. The smell of redwoods branches intoxicate. A vista on the property faces west overlooking the vineyard with the ocean just over the horizon.

Wines from Lester deliver a strong sense of earth and high-quality fruit. They are not meek – they are layered, bright, and a blast to drink especially with food. 

“We created Origin to help our generation see life through a glass of wine. Wine connects people, but we rarely connect with the brands making the wine. While there’s plenty of great wine, the industry is dominated by obscurity and outdated experiences. Origin is a place to discover authenticity, stories, and an understated, yet elevated lifestyle. It’s for those who care about what goes into each bottle, but care much more about a table surrounded by good company.

From two friends on opposite coasts, our hope is to share Origin with friends and welcomed strangers in celebration of life well-lived from California to New York.  Origin is made in partnership with acclaimed producers, historic vineyards, and  contemporary artists and designers. And our commitment is to bring you an experience that is much more than just great wine.”

Let’s meet the team behind Origin…

John Hurley: West Coast proprietor creating the brand and team from San-Francisco. John spent his free time on the backroads of California wine country meeting the makers and filling apartments with food and friends. Discovering experiences and products that celebrate life well-lived.

Jason Rassmusen: East Coast proprietor leading the business and winemaking process from New York City. Jason made his first wine in his Manhattan apartment with sites on something bigger. Bottling up his energy and affection and sharing it with everyone he meets.John Benedetti: Our spirited winemaker with over a dozen 90+ point wines whose process is simple: pick a great vineyard and stay out of its way. 

Prudy Foxx: The legend known as the “vine whisperer” of the Santa Cruz Mountains and top California viticulturist.

How did you and Jason, your business partner, meet?

Jason and I first met back in college while attending the University of Pennsylvania. We became such good friends and had always talked about doing something together. Over the years, we both realized that we loved the idea of bringing people together, cooking, etc. 

I moved to California right out of college and began spending time in wine regions, and Jason had been diving deep into the wine culture in New York. He actually made his first wine in his West Village apartment with grapes purchased from the North Fork! I started to get to know a lot of winemakers out here and was really interested in the culture of wine: the agricultural aspects of it and the way in which it brings people together. He and I both noticed that the wine industry can be pretty old school and traditional, so we started talking about how to bring a fresh take to it.

What did you come up with?

We really started diving into the idea of making historic wines for a modern time, both from a brand perspective and experience perspective. We started to meet a ton of viticulturalists and suppliers, and before we even had a name for the company, we signed a contract to buy several tons of grapes for a very exciting wine that will come out later this year. From there it was history! We’re now in year two of Origin Wines. 

How did you decide on Origin as a brand name? 

There were a lot of different signs that Origin was the right name. It pays homage to the fact that we both have very different origins, as do the people who drink our wine. It’s a way to tell our own story, yet also create an empty vessel for those to create their own moments and persona around it. 

Tell us a bit about your vineyard sourcing, farming, and winemaking practices.

We wanted our wines to have a natural texture and feel, from the brand to the winemaking, so sustainability was of utmost importance to us. Many sustainable farms don’t have organic certifications because of the politics and costs around it, so we really focused on sustainability. 

We looked to Santa Cruz, as there are some really special things happening down there. The quality of the wine and the sustainability aspect is strong! We were lucky enough to find a few different vineyards (we don’t own any vines at this stage of the brand yet) that were working in ways that we supported. Plus, the climate here is incredibly special. There’s a strong coastal influence and many vineyards can be dry farmed. It’s hot, but not as hot as Napa. 

Our viticulturist, Trudy Fox, is amazing. She’s known as the vine whisperer in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She helped us navigate some of the top sites to get high quality fruit, then we brought a similar mentality into the cellar. We’re in the winery as much as possible, learning and getting involved. We’re making our wines as naturally as possible without sacrificing quality. Sometimes in the natural wine world, you’ll see quality sacrificed for the sake of the movement. 

Can you elaborate on that?

In my opinion, you can make really high quality natural wine from really high quality fruit. If your fruit is low quality and you layer low-touch methods on top of that, that’s when you’ll end up in a hairy place. We’re working as sustainably as possible, straight down to the packaging. Everything is harvested by hand, native yeasts are used, and we bring as many natural aspects to the process as possible. 

Tell us the story behind your wine label and its artist.

Sticking with the theme of being historic yet modern, we found our artist, Robert Alvarez, down in Austin, Texas. I saw his art and thought it to be the perfect blend of the two—it’s minimalist, but super grounded in history. Most of his art has influences from Greek mythology, so that was a big part of the decision, on top of the fact that it’s beautiful. Then, we went through the brand building process and honed in on the concept of duality, which came from the fact that Jason is on the East Coast and I’m our West Coast representative. 

So in short, the rosé’s label has a few meanings to it. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s actually representative of where the wine comes from. You can also see the duality from Lester Family Vineyards, where we source fruit, featured on it. The site is located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, right at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The area is surrounded by Redwoods and eucalyptus trees, and there’s an outlook that looks over the horizon of the ocean. When you stand there, you look down on the vineyards and see all of these things.

“Our label art embodies our ethos – historic wines made for modern times. The Origin Cab artwork is a true reflection of place, history, and modernity.”   The artwork is created by Austin, TX artist and Origin partner RF Alvarez.

The wine is definitely darker hued, more than most rosés from Provence. It’s such a complex wine. We’ve been calling it the ultimate foodie wine! We’ve had it with everything from cheese and charcuterie to burgers. There’s a lot of layers of flavor here. 

For sure! We had it last weekend at Bells breakfast barbecue. We went through 24 bottles of it! It was just perfect—the acid, the brightness. It was even able to stand up to brisket. 

What’s your total case production? 

In 2019, we only made 50 cases, which comes out to just one ton of fruit, so it was really small. During our first year, we were learning a lot, mostly about our brand, our customers, and our own story. We were lucky to have a great response from the first vintage! We even got some good scores, even though that certainly is not what we’re in this for. We moved production up to 150 cases this past year, so it’s still really tiny. We’ll plan on going a bit bigger this upcoming year, but our focus is still on quality and only using the best fruit possible. People seem to like it! It’s fun seeing how people pour the wine, where they enjoy it, and how they set up their own little scenes amongst family and friends. 

What wines do you make, where is it located and why?  All of the vineyards we currently work with are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We are drawn to the Santa Cruz Mountains because of its depth of history, incredible terroir, and its under-cover status as compared to its northern neighbors Napa/Sonoma. We get to produce special wines and offer them to people at an approachable price.

What is your story? Why did you get into wine?  Wine connects people, but we rarely connect with the brands making the wine. While there’s plenty of great wine, the industry is dominated by obscurity and outdated experiences. Origin is a place to discover authenticity, stories, and an understated, yet elevated lifestyle. It’s for those who care about what goes into each bottle, but care much more about a table surrounded by good company.

Explain your farming/winemaking practices.  We’re lucky enough to work with some of the top vineyard sites and vineyard managers in the Santa Cruz Mountain region. Prudy Foxx, known widely as the vine whisperer, does an incredible job elevating the quality of the vines from each vineyard site. All of the vineyards are committed to sustainable farming practices, and dry-farming where possible.

In the winery, we believe in minimal intervention winemaking. All of our wines are natively fermented, which we believe brings out the most natural expression of the wines.

What is the difference in quality between large production and small production wineries?  Small production wineries, at least speaking for Origin, can be truly hands on. They can focus on making something special vs. hitting a large volume quota. I think this translates into a finished product that you can tell was made with passion.

What activity besides making wine, does your family like to do?  Travel, eat, and of course drink wine. We love to experience all types of wines and winemaking styles.

What life achievement are you the most proud of?  Starting Origin! It was always something we wanted to do together, and finally committing to building the brand was a major 

What winemakers do you most admire?  Trick question.. Have to say our Origin winemakers, John Benedetti and Justin Massa. They’ve both been incredibly influential in helping launch Origin, and of course create stellar wines. They are both excellent winemakers and great partners.

What motto do you live by?  c’est la vie

Best wine you have ever tasted?  2005 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage

What do you drink when you are not drinking wine? Tequila

So last question then—what’s your favorite food with the rosé?

That’s tough! Last night I had it with a homemade fajita bowl, and it paired super well with the spice. I know y’all had talked about having spicy Thai takeout with it the first time you’d tasted it, so it’s safe to say that it’s great with spice. But you can still do something a bit heartier, like brisket or burgers, as the wine has enough acid to cut through the fat. I like to say, complex flavors in food go great with complex rosé! 

Origin is our feature wine for Shades of Rosé this month (May 2021). We’ve still got some bottles left! Free shipping on six bottles or more, plus case discount with purchase of 12 or more. 

Ironically, I find it easier sometimes to source wines that are from 6,000 miles away rather than in my own backyard.  I have tasted so many CA Cabernets looking for the right one for us here at Argaux and Amlière, and Origin has really hit the mark. The wine is bold, rich, and quite honestly pretty sexy.  It has that structure and flavor you crave when drinking Cabernet without being overpowering and overwhelming. Invite a few friends over, throw on their “Origin Cab” playlist on Spotify, and enjoy!” – Lexi Jones, Director of Imports

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