I heard about AmoVino through my friends at Juice Imports in Calgary, who specialise in importing natural wines only. We got to talking about what a risk it was opening their business many years ago, but that their intuition was right and many businesses have since followed in the same direction. The first agency they mentioned were the "natural wine girls" in Vancouver, and of course it piqued my curiosity. I had to find out who these women were.
A simple message via Instagram led us to building an online friendship, and a mutual respect for each other through our passion of wine. I really admire what these babes are doing, so I wanted to pick their brains and hear about their experience thus far.
AmoVino is a partnership between Jessica Luongo and Marisa Varas.
Photo: Christine McAvoy
S+C: Tell me a little about AmoVino
J: AmoVino is a boutique and modern wine importing and marketing agency, but really, it’s a lot more than just that. It’s a vision, a shared dream, a collective conscious of like-minded small farmers, vignerons and family legacies who believe in the greater good, and choose to make wine without the use of unnecessary chemicals, in a way that respects our environment, and nurtures our souls.
M: It is our baby! AmoVino’s purpose reflects the principles that Jess and I live by: supporting family farmers, reducing or eliminating unnecessary chemicals in our earth and in our bodies, and taking small steps to improve our environment and reduce our impact. It has come to be bigger than us, and people have a certain expectation of Jess and I to select representative wines that primarily taste delicious, are priced right, please the wine geek and still have a mainstream likeability for the consumer. We love to give people the opportunity to feel a sense of pride when enjoying a glass!
S+C: What’s it like owning and operating your own biz as young women? Do you face any barriers or discrimination?
J: Oh boy! *pun intended* Well, everyone faces barriers or discrimination, women or not, so of course we do as well. Are there discriminations against us as women? I sure as hell hope not, but I’d be naive to say 'no way!’ It’s there, we’re aware of it, and as my brazen business partner who I love so dearly has phrased it in the past ‘We’ve been women our whole lives, this isn’t anything new’. We know the world we live in, and we’re here to shake it up from the inside out.
M: We are having a great time owning and operating our own business. We are in a very interesting time in our industry with changes constantly arising, and more than anything I think we are looked upon as a new and fresh perspective in the eyes of our peers. Being relatively young to the industry and women brought us a lot of support when we first started AmoVino. We are keen to challenge the way things have been done, and we have had so much community support it is incredibly encouraging and heartwarming. These positive experiences have far outweighed any discrimination!
S+C: Best wine for a first date?
J: Riesling. If they don’t like it, you can pretty much just get up and leave. #IfYouDontLikeRieslingFuckYou
M: I like to mess with people – it is a good thing I am already married. I would probably pour the Donkey & Goat Stone Crusher, and not say anything about the fact that it is orange or cloudy, and see how long it took them to comment… A memorable and delicious conversation piece!
S+C: Wine you reach for after a break up?
J: Whisky. Just kidding. Sherry. Just kidding.(Maybe not kidding though!) Champagne, definitely, always. Get a grower Champagne, Chris @ Village Liquor Store in West Van and Taylor @ Kitsilano Wine Cellar have some awesome selections!
M: I am on board with Jess’ suggestions. Could I buy a tub of ice cream and drown it in Tokaji? Also, any of the Cerejeiras would be a good switch after a few bottles so that you aren’t breaking into the premium stuff when you won’t appreciate it!
S+C: Most orgasmic food and wine pairing?
J: Well, like a good orgasm, this wine pairing builds and morphs into all kinds of lovely feelings as time goes on... I’ve experienced some new levels with our own Donkey + Goat Stone Crusher which is a skin-contact white made from organic Roussane from Southern California. It evolves from fresh yellow raspberries, peach pit, and beeswax into ginger-pear, orange rind, and acacia flowers all drenched in honey as it opens up in the glass. The awesome gentlemen at Annalena have recently been pairing this with shisito peppers, which have such a bright, distinctive flavour and so does the wine, creating this total flavour bomb with the interesting textures from the light tannins and crunchy peppers.
M: I do love to play with wine and food pairings at home, and I had some pretty fabulous inspiration on my last trip to Portugal. The Quinta de Cerejeiras Reserva white pairs incredibly with wild mushroom risotto with a sharp, aged parmesan. The light tannins and high acid complement the creamy risotto and the salty parmesan accentuates the ripe, grilled pineapple notes in the wine. *Note: Jess makes a *killer* risotto, and has taught me that there IS a wrong way to make it! If you’re lucky maybe she’ll pass along the recipe ;)*
S+C: Sluttiest wines you’ve tried as of late?
J: In terms of a confident, self-liberated style of wine that leaves just enough up to the imagination, because discretion is sexy, I’m going say this super yummy Sauv Blanc from Sicilia, it was one of a kind and it was 1 of 2 bottles I was legally allowed to bring back to Canada from my trip. I recently drank it at 3 years old and he was still fresh as a field of daisy next to a salty and sandy ocean filled with mango merchants. Just, absolute shivers, even now just thinking about it.
M: Based on Silk + Coupe's definition of a ‘slutty’ wine, (I do my research) El Guia has a loveable mainstream attraction. This organic Tempranillo based wine made from 100+ year old vines from Rioja is fun and flirty without being over complicated. It is the perfect charcuterie wine, and you can put a bit of a chill on it and have it on the patio. It has a touch of carbonic maceration and is blended with a small percentage of Viura, adding a *POP* to the old vine Tempranillo, and enchanting the geekiest of wine geeks. We like to describe her as grown-up Beaujolais! Let’s call her Maria. Did I mention her cork is always covered in wine diamonds? Keeping it classy.
S+C: What’s the worst stereotype you’ve encountered ?
J: Tough to give the award to just one! I’m Italian and it’s been assumed I only enjoy Italian wines? I’m a woman so I only enjoy wines made by women? I’m vegan so I only applaud vegan wines? One time Marisa and I were asked by an export manager if he signed his winery on with us did he get to chose which of us he slept with. That one might take the cake, stereotype being women only sleep their way to the top I guess? Throw booze into a boys-club and some wild things get said.
M: I think Jess covered most of them. One that we find funny is that a wine is too ‘clean’ to be ‘natural’. That one always baffles me.
S+C: What wine best pairs with shitty reality TV?
J: If you’re going to indulge in a guilty pleasure than go all in with a bottle of rose, Spain has some great value there, maybe get 2 bottles for your gang? Nothing will make you feel more classy about yelling at a T.V. of scripted characters than a pretty pink glass of fun!
M: I think it depends on what you are watching… If MasterChef is on, snacks are necessary, so I would probably pop some Champagne to pair with my potato chips.
S+C: Tell me one of the most impactful/emotional wine experiences you’ve ever had.
J: I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t have an immeasurable amount of those life-changing wine experiences, it’s the reason we do what we do. Trying wine from my family’s vineyards in Campania was something special. As was my experience at Antica Bottega del Vini in Verona with some amazing wine professionals who I am proud to call my friends still to this day.
M: I have to say my wedding in 2017 was a magical and surreal culmination of Victor and our love for each other, and for wine! We had it on the Mediterranean coast in Catalonia, wine barrels and wine-colored flowers scattered the location and the bridesmaids were in wine-coloured dresses . We served AmoVino wine from Finca de la Rica, and Soto y Manrique – and the connection to our portfolio made our celebration all the more special. To top it all off, Jess and the team at Blue Grouse managed to sneak a bottle of the 2012 Paula Sparkling into my room before the ceremony began. My way-too-excited bridesmaid quickly opened it and it exploded all over her dress. We laughed and it eased the pre-wedding nerves – I will always remember that!
S+C: What are some pet peeves you have about the industry?
J: When people simply repeat things they’ve heard about a wine or winery. Have an original opinion, try the wines yourself, do some research. I implore that behaviour because I know AmoVino wines can impress regardless of what writer or judge vouches for them.
M: If I could change one thing it would be spitting into a shared bucket of other people’s spit. There are people who master it. I am not one of those people. I like having my own little paper cup to spit in, free of technique-judgement, and without risk of having anything bounce back and hit me in the face. I am also trying to limit my use of single-use cups, so 2019 is the year I practice spitting into a bucket and get over my fear/disgust.
S+C: In three words, describe your wine personality.
J: Mystical. Demanding.Comforting.
M: Thought-provoking. Evolving. Unordinary.
S+C: Share with me your best elevator pitch for people who know fuck all about wine.
J: Have you ever felt so in love with the earth and your life and the people around you who are maybe a little blurry around the edges but give you so much joy thinking you can accomplish absolutely ANYTHING? That’s what wine is.
M: What if I told you that a handful of farmers handpicked, crushed, and carefully fermented grapes before ageing them for years and artfully bottling their living masterpiece, to ship it across the world with the entire purpose of enhancing your entire dinner experience tonight? I can get you that masterpiece. Here’s my card. *Elevator doors open and I flick my hair and sashay away*
Thank you to the lovely ladies of AmoVino for taking the time to chat with me!
You can find out more about them here: www.amovino.ca