John Salley & the Vegan Vine

This morning, I was able to visit Allan S. Goodman, Inc. for their weekly sales meeting. Goodman, a family owned business, is run by Dave Heller, a YPO friend. Goodman and sister company, Rogo Distributors, are very close and are long time East Hartford neighbors. So close, that this morning, I rode my bike to Goodman from our  Burnham Street plant in nine minutes. It took a few minutes longer on the way back because I had to go up Long Hill, and I had a bottle of wine in each of my panniers. Goodman couldn’t be more different from Horst Engineering. We have entirely different products, but business is business, and I find any capitalist venture fascinating. Capitalist ventures that feature wine tasting on Friday mornings are near the top of my list!

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This sales meeting was extra special because they had a guest. The guest was John Salley, who had a nice career as a professional basketball player in the NBA and has followed it up with a career as a wellness advocate and media personality. Salley’s latest venture is as part-owner of the Vegan Vine, a Northern Central Coast of California winery. Salley’s presence made for a lively Goodman sales meeting that was part pep rally, and part information session. I was invited as Dave’s “vegan friend.” That label made me laugh, but I’m proud of my lifestyle.

When I pulled in to the Goodman parking lot on my bike, Salley happened to be coming into the building. It’s hard to miss a six foot-11 inch man, especially one who I watched many times in the 1980’s and 1990’s when I loved to watch TV sports. As I dismounted, I said, “Good morning.” His first words to me were, “Thanks for doing your part to take care of the planet.” I thought that was pretty cool and it was a nice way to start a Friday. He made a good first impression with his big smile and cheer.

After I parked my bike in the lobby, Dave and I sat in his office and spent 30 minutes quizzing John on business, wine, basketball, wellness, Hollywood, and life. We had a fun chat. Salley is a smooth talker, quick-witted, and irreverent. Honestly, I didn’t know he was such a champion of animal rights, a plant-based diet, and other wellness related topics. He is base in Los Angeles and I haven’t owned a TV since I left my parents house in 1997, so his more recent celebrity status was off my radar. I’m glad I didn’t know much about his wellness career because he had me laughing heartily on multiple occasions.

The sales meeting was hilarious. 40 of us were in stitches as he pitched his wines, told stories, and cracked jokes. He pushed the sales team to get out there and push his wines. That’s their job with a package store on every corner. At $14,99/bottle, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are both reasonably priced. He stressed that the wine stands on the merits of its quality and that the vegan characteristics are an added bonus. I wish I had a recording because some of his thoughts about veganism were excellent. His humor was spot on. He isn’t politically correct, but his matter of fact style is fun and engaging. After the meeting, he was happy to take #salleyselfies and proved that no selfie stick could compete with his long arm. He didn’t judge those with questions about veganism. Several people professed that they eat meat, but he was OK with that. He is proud that his wine is served at some of New York’s best steak houses because it’s a good wine.  Despite this, his passion for his causes came through loud and clear. He said that he doesn’t eat meat because he wants to be strong as an ox, so he eats what they eat:  plants. He said he wants to be as strong as an 800 pound gorilla, so he eats what they eat: plants. His life changed in 1991 when a friend helped him realize that he was poisoning his body. She helped him reverse course and go from an unsustainable and unhealthy lifestyle to one that now revolves around care for his body, mind, spirit, other living things, and the Earth.

His story resonated with me and the wine was pretty good too. Most wines contain egg whites, casein, and other animal products. They are used as “fining agents.” In addition to being vegan, the Vegan Vine’s wines are made sustainably and in an all natural way. Salley has been involved with the parent organization, Clos LaChance, for three years. They went through a period of new product development, rebranding, and bottle redesign. Now they are finally hitting the road in an effort to expand distribution. The Goodman sales meeting served as the launch for eastern Connecticut. The wine will be rolled out in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in early 2016. It is already available in New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and elsewhere outside of the northeast.

Meeting Salley, talking shop, and learning a bit more about the wine distribution business was a great way to spend 60 minutes on a Friday morning. By 10:00 A.M., I was back at our plant, and focused on precision machining again.

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