Musician turned journalist turned winemaker – Ian Devereux White is the contrarian vintner behind Maker’s first Merlot.
Perhaps the most endearing thing about Ian Devereux White – yes, even above the fact that he always has a bottle of wine on hand – is his vivacious, hopelessly romantic, creative approach to life. We met Ian for the first time at Nancy’s, Smith Devereux’s gorgeous Cabernet vineyard just off-the-beaten-path in Napa. We clicked immediately. He was humble, warm, and quick to crack a joke. An adventure-driven Merlot master who moonlights as a musician? We were sold.
A few conversations in, tasting his Merlot among the vines, we were delighted to realize that his craft is just as fantastic as his charm. Ian took the road less traveled to winemaking – he actually started as a journalist – and is now recognized widely for his single-vineyard Ibex Merlot. In three vintages this wine has won 16 Gold Medals.
Not one to shy away from the road less traveled, he immediately jumped on the chance to put ultra-premium red wine in a can. Ian spent his career telling other people’s stories, and we’re humbled to get to share his – and create a new one together.
A true California boy from the start, Ian went to school in Santa Barbara and first started learning about wine as a bartender. Though partying wasn’t his thing, he was enamored with the industry’s ability to bring people together over high quality music and drinks. To make ends meet between bartending and guitar gigs with his band, Ian used his natural storytelling ability – and knack for hitting it off with just about anyone – to start writing.
His first job – a travel writing role with Lonely Planet – took him far and wide telling stories. At one point he even did a tour of 28 states in a 32-foot RV – and it started to burn him out.
“It’s like a million first dates and never getting to kiss the girl. As soon as you get to know a town or place, you’re onto the next one. I wanted to really know a place, to develop real relationships and stories.”
Luckily, he got connected with a new Bay Area magazine called 7×7 that needed a wine writer to make wine feel approachable. At the time Ian was falling in love with a girl from Napa Valley (did we mention he’s a hopeless romantic?) and immediately immersed himself in the wine-drenched, creative environment.
Fast forward a few years later and he had traveled to over 1800 wineries – including many abroad – and had distilled difficult winemaking concepts and interviewed winemakers for publications like Wine Enthusiast, Edible Marin, Napa Sonoma Magazine and Napa Valley Life. He began to learn about wine through the task of translating it to people in a way they could engage with and not be intimidated by.
But something was missing. One day Ian was interviewing a wine expert for Wine Enthusiast and was asked, “Would you ever want to be on the other side of this, and create your own story rather than tell that of others’?” Then and there, Ian realized he wanted to find his own story within the world of wine.
As luck would have it, Ian was sharing an office with John Truchard at the time, a family vintner who had been farming grapes in Napa since the 70’s. In Ian’s bold, optimistic manner, he offered to buy the grapes from one of John’s vineyards. John had a hunch that Ian was headed for big things and proposed something even better – that they team up on 50 vineyards John was farming and start a winery and brand the right way, from farm to bottle.
They brought in Steve Smith – a wine lover and music industry veteran with 17 years of experience in strategic partnerships and events – and that was the beginning of Smith Devereux winery. With a focus on experiences, especially those that marry live music with wine, and an approachable tone from Ian’s writing days, Smith Devereux became a brand focused on community, storytelling, and inclusivity.
“We want the flavors to be rich and full and complex, but also accessible – we don’t want to make wine that you have to wait 15 years to drink. Smith Devereux is more about the story and experience. We want people to connect with us on social, to reach out and visit with us in the vineyard.”
To this day, Smith Devereux is committed to being a positive force in the wine industry as well as in the world. They host a philanthropy series where they partner with musicians and other local creators to do good in the world with their wines.
If you’ve seen Sideways, you may shy away from a Merlot; the grape started to get a bad rap for the protagonist’s distaste for it in the 1997 film. Smith Devereux is committed to their contrarian streak and eager to change your mind. Ian loves going against the grain, particularly when there’s a little history to it.
“If you asked a group of Somms what the most important grape is throughout time, I bet they’d say Merlot. Which grape is most important to first growth French Chateaus? Merlot. Best blending grape? In general, probably Merlot.”
Today, Smith Devereux makes a single-vineyard Merlot, which is what piqued our curiosity from the get go; they aren’t blending it or hiding it, but boldly claiming that this grape is amazing and can stand on its own as a knock out wine.
“People are always surprised when they drink it. They’re not expecting Merlot to be this playful, complex, and structured. It has the structure, masculinity, and power that one would expect of a cabernet, but it leads you into this gentle, soft, feminine Merlot with floral notes and silkiness. It’s such a cool ride.”
Which leads us to “Ibex”, the name Ian bestowed upon this wine that is now synonymous with Merlot magnificence. As the story goes, Ian was chilling on the couch when he heard, “big and burly, but full of grace.” He perked up and turned toward the TV – that line could have been taken right from his tasting notes about the Merlot.
The narrator continued – “the Ibex mountain goat – the beautiful beast.” It turns out the Discovery Channel perfectly captured the essence of this wine, and the Ibex Merlot was born.
With notes of blackberry, chocolate, leather, tobacco, and black pepper, this wine goes well with a hearty meal. Ian likes to pair the beautiful beast with pork loin, and things off the grill like a hanger steak or halibut with a fresh tomato sauce. And, of course, be sure to put on a track by Ian’s band High Noon on while sipping.
To continue the contrarian streak, we’re putting this premium single-vineyard Merlot in a can. While Ian likes to say “make a bottle you’d be proud to take to a party,” he said he’d enthusiastically change that line to include cans in the case of the Maker Merlot – it’s a wine fit for the greatest of gatherings.