An Interview with Marketing Guru Bo Silliman of SLO Down Wines – by Andy Coffaro.
By now the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook from his Harvard dorm is the stuff of legend and, literally, a movie. If marketing mastermind Bo Silliman and his cast of calculatingly brilliant juvenile cronies at SLO Down Wines continue their current meteoric rise, they just might find their own story appearing on the big screen someday.
Bo, along with fellow vino lovers Brandon Allen and Chip Forsythe, started SLO Down Wines as a bootlegging operation on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo around eight years ago. As their reputation grew on campus as the go-to dudes for booze, they started to take the venture a bit more seriously and eventually mastered the magnificently decadent Sexual Chocolate 2010, which is now available at Sigona’s Farmers Market.
Sexual Chocolate 2010 is a blend of 75% old-vine Zinfandel from Napa’s Howell Mountain and 25% Santa Barbara Syrah. “It features really, really deep and dark fruit. It has a velvety mouth feel, is super smooth and pairs well with another bottle of Sexual Chocolate, which then pairs well with yet another bottle,” Bo joked with me over the phone this week. When I told him both my girlfriend and I were feeling pretty darn warm and fuzzy after only one glass this past Friday night, Bo said, “That tingling means it’s working!”
The god of wine himself, Bacchus, would be proud.
Standing Out Amongst the Grapes
The first thing you’ll probably notice in our store when you visit the Sexual Chocolate display is the bottle’s label. It looks as if it were written by hand with a number 2 pencil and features poetic prose such as, “We started making wine knowing it would be used for late night drinking, and that the French are annoying; We came up with this full-bodied red that pairs well with Wednesday nights and pizza.”
Spend just a few minutes on their company blog and you’ll instantly realize that these guys are all about having a good time, making people laugh, great wine and breaking down the preconceived notions of what it means to market in the wine industry. Even the name of the wine itself comes from the 1988 classic “Coming to America” featuring Eddie Murphy (you know, back when he was actually funny).
“Everything we do, whether it’s jokes on our website or the wine in the bottle, is very calculated. Combined we have over 15 years of branding, marketing and packaging experience. At the end of the day, we wanted to strip the intimidation factor off of the wine. We want people to be able to actually pronounce it.”
I could hear and feel Bo’s fierce passion flooding through the phone. “The wine is genuine. That’s why we don’t get lumped in with other gimmicky wines out there. We know what’s relevant, which is why the people that get it, love it!”
Getting Away with It
“The only reason we can do this kind of funny stuff is because the wine is good.” Bo couldn’t be more correct. (Or maybe he could. I don’t know. Sounds like it would take math to figure that out.)
Sexual Chocolate 2010 is a full-bodied red that practically makes your head explode with joy just by smelling it. The 14.5% alcohol content is by no means overpowering, but I can personally attest that when you reach the end of your first bottle you might weep with despair like an infant if another isn’t standing nearby for instant consumption.
What really impressed me while talking with Bo is that he doesn’t really seem to care about fancy adjectives and ridiculous alliterations to describe his wine. At one point he bluntly stated, “Punch it with a screwdriver and drink it while camping.”
This is the beauty of Sexual Chocolate 2010. One could very easily use fancy language to describe all the elements of this blend. But who cares. Order a pizza, snag some burgers, call up a few friends (or have it on-hand for date night) and just enjoy it. Save the bourgeois B.S. for pretentious and overpriced wine tours in Napa.
The “Oh Crap!” Moments
Before Bo and his close friends were slinging wine like bootleggers during Prohibition, he was studying premed at the University of Louisville. I asked him if he ever had any “Oh crap! What am I doing?” moments when he left school to swan dive directly into the epicenter of the wine universe.
“Of course I did. I would be a complete fraud if I didn’t say I had those moments. But at the same time, Brandon and I were recently drinking beers with Dave Phinney [considered by many in the wine industry to be a total rock star] and he told us he loved our wine and that we’d be super successful with it. That helps to wash away those ‘What am I doing?’ moments.”
“Most of my friends are married. They’re having kids. They’re buying homes. But at the end of the day, I still don’t have that ‘Oh crap’ moment – probably because I’m drunk off my own wine, which is pretty cool!”
What’s on Tap
Bo said the 2010 Sexual Chocolate vintage is pretty close to selling out. Since there’s only 3-4 more months left of this wine, you might want to snag a bottle or three inside Sigona’s before it’s too late.
In terms of what’s on the horizon for Bo and his cast of SLO Down merry men, he said we can expect the 2011 Sexual Chocolate to hit the shelves possibly by this fall or early 2013 at the latest. He also mentioned that they’ve been doing some barrel sampling for a small production of a new cab blend called LoveHammer. “It pairs well with lamb and big cheeseburgers,” he said.
“We’ll also be rolling out a Chardonnay blend so be on the lookout for it. It’s going to be called …”
After telling me the name of this new white, but confessing that the moniker hadn’t been trademarked yet, Bo said while laughing, “Put that name in your article and I’ll punch you in the face!”
Dully noted Bo. If anything, that will make for a hilarious scene in the SLO Down Wine movie that no doubt will be playing soon in a theater near you.