Scott Wright: From Radio DJ to Burgundy & Champagne Importer & Documentary Filmmaker.
Why did you leave radio and the music business?
The short answer is I wasn’t having as much fun anymore because the industry had changed quite a bit. For the bulk of my career it was entrepreneurial – companies were smaller, often family-owned entities – but things became increasingly corporate with five or six multinationals owning everything. Consequently, the focus shifted from the quality of the product to how many nickels you could squeeze out of it and I found myself working only for the money. That really turned my head.
What are you doing now?
Currently my wife and I own and operate Caveau Selections in Oregon. We import Burgundy and Champagne from 30 different producers and market them in the United States. Before that, we made wines first in Northern California and then in Oregon. I also recently co-directed and co-produced a documentary called Three Days of Glory about an annual wine celebration in Burgundy and some of the extraordinary local wine makers during their most difficult harvest year.
What surprised you most about the transition you made?
I wasn’t really surprised by anything I learned about the wine business. I was just naïve enough to jump in and figured the net would appear if we were about to crash. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew what I wanted to do. I guess the surprise is that it actually worked.
How did you decide to pursue these specific opportunities?
A number of things converged. I began to be less happy with what I was doing as an independent promotion executive in the music business and I became ill. My house in L.A. was on the market and we were in the midst of a transaction to move up into the hills. I got a call one day from my wife, Martha; she was at a friend’s house and saw a painting on the wall that resonated with her. She said I need to see it, so I went. It was a six-feet-tall, three-feet-wide rabbit gazing skyward. After I looked at it, the woman who owned it said “I can see this speaks to you. You should have this painting.” She sold it to us for the price she had paid for it and we thought we’d hang it in the new house in the hills. Meanwhile, our old house wasn’t selling. Martha found out from her friend who had sold us the painting that it was called “Rabbit Receiving His Own Information.” Martha figured out what it meant for us and how it applied to my illness. She decided the message was that we had to slow down to see where we were supposed to go. And that’s what we did. We walked away from the big house up in the hills and decided to go north to the Napa Valley to do something in the wine business. I had been exposed to good wine when I was growing up in Chicago. My stepfather was into food and wine in a way that most people weren’t in the meat-and-potatoes sixties. I always loved it, but it never occurred to me I’d do anything connected with it for a living. I had always been obsessed with music and radio.
A couple of years later, we’d moved up to Oregon and opened Scott Paul Wines. We used a sketch of an image from the painting as a logo and it was on our labels. I was in a framing store getting some art reframed for our new house and it so happened the framer was interested in wine. We got to talking about it and he asked if the rabbit on our logo was based on a painting by Cody Bustamante, a local artist and Professor at Southern Oregon University. Of course, it was. So, basically, we ended up bringing that painting home. It hung in the tasting room until we sold winery. Now it hangs in our house. It was all the painting. The woman. The story.
What general advice would you give to people trying to transition the way you did?
Follow your passion. Pick something that you would do for free and give it everything that you’ve got. That’s what we did. We had a clear idea of the world we wanted to live and work in and just went for it without a thought that it wasn’t going to happen. Failure wasn’t in the picture. We didn’t try to be everything to everybody, we just tried to stay with what we cared about.
Given your vast experience both professionally and personally, do you have a top 5 or 10 list of things that you would tell people if they would like to follow in your footsteps or follow a similar path?
-Don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done.
-Become an expert in whatever niche you want to be in. Study it obsessively.
-Seek out mentors. Approach and bug people, kindly and politely, of course.
-Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.
-Be a learner.
-Be a great listener.
-Believe in yourself. A small amount of “crazy” lets you leap into something completely new.
-As I used to say about radio, but it applies to anything you want to excel at, pick the thing that makes you feel that you couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Scott Wright is a student of Burgundy and Champagne for more than 30 years. He’s the former Managing Director of iconic Oregon Pinot Noir producer Domaine Drouhin Oregon, and with his wife Martha founded Oregon winery Scott Paul Wines in 1999, and their import business in 2005. He teaches master-class Burgundy and Champagne seminars and tastings around the country and conducts annual wine tours in France for customers. He’s been a featured winemaker several times at the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), was featured in the documentary film American Wine Story (2014), and is the co-producer and co-director of an acclaimed feature documentary on Burgundy “Three Days of Glory” released on November 16, 2018. He found his way to a life in wine after a long career in the music industry, first as a nationally syndicated radio personality, and then as a marketing executive at Epic Records and a partner in the promotion and marketing firm HITS.