They essentially started as bootleggers that were barely old enough to drink.
Brandon Allen, now 27, was working in construction and attending an occasional college class in San Luis Obispo. Bo Silliman, now 25, was studying premed at the University of Louisville in Kentucky in between throwing keggers. And 27-year-old Chip Forsythe, who didn’t have a whole lot to recommend him other than he was a decent wrestler, had somehow managed to get into Cal Poly.
Chip Forsythe and Bo Silliman were best friends in high school back in Dallas. After moving to San Luis Obispo to go to college, Forsythe met Brandon Allen when they started dating roommates. Eventually, all three would come together to keep the party going – straight into building a budding wine brand that bucks convention.
The small company based in San Francisco, SLO Down Wines, only makes one blend – Zinfandel and Syrah – which they call Sexual Chocolate. In less than eight years, they grew from producing 300 bottles a year, which they peddled in the Cal Poly dormitories, to 2,300 cases sold in three states, including California, and Hong Kong. They said they expect to report $700,000 in sales this year.
It started when Forsythe took the "Sideways" tour – a visit to the wineries featured in the 2004 movie. Up until then, he’d pretty much been an underage beer guy. But the experience of sampling the Central Coast’s famous reds had a profound effect on the aspiring gym coach.
"We’re completely breaking all the pre-existing constricts," Silliman said. "We didn’t start with $20 million. We don’t have a tasting room, and we’re not Chateau Silliman, handed down to us from our parents’ parents. We’re SLO Down Wines, and we’re here to (expletive) things up."
I LOVE a good underdog story! I predict more of “this type of thing” in the future, and I’m fairly certain it’s going to piss-off the big boys! Fair play to these aspiring entrepreneurs I say. It’s nice to see guys succeeding that didn’t have a family winery passed down to them through the generations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s about time things got mixed up a little! |
On the other hand, and I hate to sound old-and-crusty with this, but I think there’s always a concern that wine is going to get “dumbed down” too much. I’m all-about tailoring products to meet the needs of Millenials, but not by dumbing down the product. Not to say that’s is happening here…I just predict it happening more and more in the future in the wine industry…
In order to pay homage to these aspiring entrepreneurs, I present to you the original Sexual Chocolate…