A JERSEY-BASED WINE LABEL BUILDS A BRAND AND CULT FOLLOWING IN AN EVER-EXPANDING AND WILDLY COMPETITIVE SECTOR

BY ERIK SCHONING PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO AT ABBIOCCO ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE

Rosé wines are here to stay. The trendy pink beverage has exploded in popularity over the last ten years, evolving from a staple in Montauk summer homes and NYC rooftops to a fixture in every suburban wine store. Eventually, a successful product transcends its own trendiness and simply become essential. Notorious Pink, a New Jersey-based wine label, is fast cementing its position in a still-expanding rosé landscape.

In 2011, Craig Hetherington was coming off a 22-year career on Wall Street when a friend from childhood, Paul Governale, approached him about investing in a wine and spirits startup.

“He came to me and said, ‘I heard you’re investing in some companies,’” Hetherington said. “At first I thought it was just an investment. But the satisfaction of helping something start from zero and grow was appealing. I had a lot of fun. It got me going again.”

Notorious Pink launched in 2016, as widespread national interest in rosé was peaking. At the time, rosé wine was often misrepresented as overly sweet, despite the fact that traditional French rosés tend to be on the drier end. Hetherington and Governale identified a gap in the market between mass-market, syrupy rosés and their drier continental cousins. Notorious Pink, made with 100% Grenache grapes from the south of France, was born.

“It’s a very drinkable rosé,” Hetherington said. “We’re a balanced wine, fruit forward with crispness on the back end. We found a great vineyard that produces great products, and we wanted to be able to get that to as many people as we can, at a reasonable and sensible price.”

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This wine hails from Domaine la Colombette, a revered fifth-generation family estate. Despite its relative novelty on the American market, rosé’s roots run deep in France, and every step of the process is time tested and meticulous. Mature grapes are bled while the younger fruits are pressed, and the musts are fermented at low temperatures. The final product is pale pink in color, with gentle fruit notes on the palate (think crisp melon, peach, and raspberry.)

Notorious Pink is currently a top ten premium rosé, a title earned through careful expansion and more than a couple savvy business partnerships. Hetherington and Governale have expanded carefully from the tri-state area outward, a move that has allowed them to draw on a lifetime’s worth of relationships and connections. Despite a small sales team, Notorious is now available everywhere, from local mom-and-pop restaurants to giant casinos to sports arenas.

Of course, any kind of success in the spirits industry requires a touch of luck, too. A partnership with Citi Field paid huge dividends right off the bat, during the Mets’ April home opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“The first night, in the ninth inning, Lindor hit his second home run of the game,” Hetherington said. “And as the ball was going out of the stadium, our banner was up. So the next morning when it was replayed, probably 150 times on ESPN, we got calls from all over the country. Friends and family saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re in Citi Field!’ That exposure has really helped us out a lot.”

In a spirits landscape dominated by celebrity brands and international conglomerates, Notorious has found success growing authentically and organically. As Hetherington said, the toughest hurdle for an up-and-coming brand is recognition that bit of familiarity when a customer looks at a crowded menu or scans the aisles at their liquor store. Building that familiarity, whether through partnerships with Citi Field or a neighborhood watering hole, has been a lengthy and often difficult process, but one that is now paying off in spades.

“In the beginning, it’s tough as a small company,” Hetherington said. “You’re gathering and raising money and trying to make sales. We all do all the work. Until we are that big company and have a sales force of 20, 50, 100 salespeople, we are all going to wear multiple hats as we grow.”

Gradually, Hetherington and Governale have seen that hard work and in-the-trenches attitude pay off. In recent years, the brand has doubled its output. Notorious Pink has picked up plenty of hardware at competitions, including Double Gold Medal Top Fifty Rosé 2015, five gold medals, and a host of silver and bronze medals in regional competitions, as well as in Paris. Its success has allowed the brand to launch two other wines, Infamous Gold, a white, and Scandalous One, a red. It’s all in keeping with the brand’s unpretentious, fun approach to an industry that can often feel stodgy and inaccessible. The secret might be out on rosé (the blushed varietal no longer sees the explosive growth it experienced from 2015 to 2020), but for winemakers today, it’s all about sustained growth, building a brand carefully with both purpose and passion.

Notorious Pink notoriouspink.com