There are a ton of reasons to pass the mic to Jermaine Stone. Throughout his life, he’s been comfortable with one in his hand on a wide array of powerful stages. This November, he’ll be using one to open his first ever Wine & Hip Hop Festival – a street party symphony of music and vino on the streets of Brooklyn that is the next level for Cru Luv Wine, of which he is the founder and CEO. His “Wine & Hip Hop” journey has put a mic in his hand for podcasts and international videos capturing those two passions.
Before that, he was an aficionado you could trust to work his mic as a Wine Auctioneer – working high speed flow between merchants and consumers at a rate that could peak at two hundred connections an hour.
Vaulting even past that, Stone is now recognized by Wine Enthusiast as a “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” and is a recent recipient of Wine + Culture Fest’s “Visionary of the Year” Award from The Hue Society.
The vibrant energy behind all those accomplishments first pulsed in him back when he held a mic as a wildly different kind of performer. Jermaine began his artistic journey as a rapper. That identity established a soundtrack he would carry with him as he made the wide world of wine even wider. Meet the man who makes wine and hip hop one.
From Box Boy to Badass
“Growing up, I assumed my career path was rap. You couldn’t tell me or anyone around me that I wasn’t gonna be a rapper.” Jermaine was still just a teen when his music started showcasing on HOT 97, XM RADIO, and BET. He still gets hit up about his music, but he also recalls a period of self-discovery as his star began to rise. The further he made it inside, the more he realized the music business just wasn’t a place for him, “I just didn’t see myself making music videos.” To this day, he’s never stopped writing, but he has no regrets about stepping away from that industry…
… into the world of wine, where he started from the bottom of the whole team – but it was a team that would later help discover his next evolution.
Stone worked a packing job at Zachys Wine Auctions, a cherished gem in the crown of the international fine wine market. Thriving there, Jermaine was eventually promoted to Logistics Manager and became a trusted and beloved member of the team, “People knew how I rolled, how I got down on the party side.” That high octane spirit might seem like it would jar with the Bid Department life of monitoring precise wine auctions, business transactions, and whose paddle was up first. Jermaine himself describes that work as sometimes feeling “like watching paint dry and telling people which speck dried first. Speck by speck.”
It was the wisdom of Zachys CEO, Don Zacharia, himself to pump a new vibe into the auctions by passing the mic to Jermaine — who admits to being intimidated by the idea. He almost passed up on destiny, immediately refusing. Zacharia pushed, however, knowing a good idea when he had one. Jermaine eventually took on this brave new stage to work his very first wine auction…
… and he was terrible (His word, not mine. I have a feeling he’s being hard on himself.) Jermaine wasn’t impressed with his second outing either, still fumbling with numbers and French and German pronunciations. He was still having to spell out things phonetically to try and get it all right.
That’s when he heard some sage advice, “Why don’t you just treat it like you’re on stage rappin’?” It was a lightning bolt, and Stone’s skillful pivot is a proud memory, “That was the last bad auction I ever had.”
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Jermaine’s history with a rapper’s mic infused him with a special set of skills when it came to wine auctions, “It’s the same exact mechanics. You play off the crowd. You carry the energy and, you know, you have to say shit real fast.” He worked the room with energy and style. It wasn’t long before he was tapped to bring his verbal flow to the stages of Wally’s Auctions, and he never looked back.
With those auctions came exclusive behind-the-scenes dinners. At one of these, in 2004, Stone took a taste that elevated his horizons even more, “Everybody brings a cool wine. Those wine dudes like to flex just like rappers. I knew a dude who re-created the Cheers bar in his basement next to his wine cellar.” At the time, wine was in the height of a Bordeaux phase. Jermaine thought that was his wheelhouse, “Expensive and prestigious. I had immediate respect for it when I tasted it. I was never intimidated by very nice bottles.”
It was a bottle of White Burgundy, however, that took his tastes to the next level: the ’98 Leflaive Montrachet. “It didn’t even taste like Chardonnay. That balance of acidity. It was completely different. Wine with that type of age on it… I really began to love older wines. That vintage taste. There’s nothing like it. At that moment I got it.”
Growing in every arena, his innovations didn’t stop on stage. Jermaine was also instrumental in helping usher already-successful Wally’s into the bold frontiers of the Internet age. He sees Live-Simulcast Auction Bidding as a revolutionary tool for merchants… but also a way for consumers to take advantage of low prices because there’s no overhead for venues and catalogs, “You go to a wine auction for the same reason you go to car auctions – to get a deal. Buy the mixed lots. Wine specialists build those like DJs making a mixtape. Extras they can’t marry up with any other cases. If you want to try some fun, vintage stuff, that’s where you do it. Value that also helps develop your palate.”
From the Golden Arches to the Chateau
Auctioning was his path into the industry as it was, but Jermaine still yearned to use his voice to make the wine world his own. To expand its identity. For that, he developed Tasting Notes from The Streets, “a visual event series that pairs food from the hood with international wines.” (It turns out Jermaine was cut out for making videos all along…)
In every episode, he speaks to people in the streets about the real culture of food and wine – and isn’t afraid to go where sommeliers fear to tread, “We even have an episode pairing wine with McDonalds. You have to hide your head in shame when you say you eat McDonalds, but this is the stuff you have to talk about. That’s the responsibility of art. To document the fabric of society. The things that don’t go on the stat sheet.”
The series blasts way past fast food, this year shooting ten days of groundbreaking content in France… including an entire episode shot on the Lafite property, “It felt like I was being received by royalty. Smoking Cubans in the Chateau barrel room with the Baron as I was introduced to the prestige of Lafite Rothchild.”
Even in the Old World, Tasting Notes stayed street with a whole new flavor as Jermaine interviewed the natives of Bordeaux and Burgundy – one-on-one, unless they needed a translator, “We were pretty turned up. It was a lot of fun.” The food was one of a kind as well, “We bought all the ingredients fresh in the markets, with a Michelin star chef cooking hood shit for us.”
Even at Lafite, the show is still taking the pretentiousness out of wine, “I’m in the vines with unlaced Timberlands and army fatigues on and they’re still receiving me the same way. No culture vulture shit on either side. This dude from the Bronx was signing in the same book Queen Elizabeth signed in on. It brings an honest face on wine and was a life changing experience for me.”
“Do it for the intention, not the attention.”
Through it all, Jermaine has kept a strong sense of self – founding Cru Luv to stay true to his connections and messaging, “When you want to blend wine and hip hop, we’re the people you call – and this has been our busiest, most aggressive year ever.” Their content spans the worlds of podcasts, videos, and this year’s Pass the Aux Sessions.
Pass the Aux traveled the country and set up wine pairings like rap battles, boasting wines from Germany and Bordeaux with a mission to get people to think differently, “Commonly, when you think about Bordeaux, it’s centered on red blends. Germany, you think Riesling, but you don’t think about Pinot Noir – the focus of this tour was to highlight that.”
Stone was opening minds with the music as well, picking songs back and forth with his interviewees to challenge and impress each other as much as their audiences. He bowed out of the battles in places like Miami, instead wanting to feature local artists and wine influencers to give each event an authentic feel all its own. In Atlanta, that meant LELIYG founder Mason Washington and wine influencer Tahiirah Habibi mixing to present the full fabric of the city’s culture. In Los Angeles, Jermaine featured The Westside Winos and former NFL cornerback-turned-somm Will Blackmon to pull the culture from the city into the event.
Jermaine did battle, however, in the Chicago event, which highlighted Prosecco DOC. For that event, he had to come up with thirteen pairings (extras for their appearance on Big Time Chicago). They kept a party vibe while still dropping knowledge about Prosecco DOC production methods, “Prosecco’s second fermentation happens in the tank, so I paired it with No Limit Soldiers so they’d remember how important that tank was. Then I dropped a Master P song, then DMX to Kanye. The crowd went nuts. My hip hop Rolodex has no end.” Stone is a big champion of Prosecco as a choice for when you need something approachable in price, “It’s a great way to enjoy quality wine even when you don’t got it and you’re on your way up.”
Coming up next…
It’s been a big year for Jermaine and Cru Luv, but it’s far from over yet, “We’re gettin’ our get back for what we set up to do in 2020.” This November 11-13, that means finally getting to launch their first Wine & Hip Hop Festival – nine events presenting dynamic mash-ups that promote both the wine and hip hop offered, including a Pass The Aux session that Paris wine influencers with DJs, “It’s like the wine and hip hop SXSW.”
All of the information about that event is up on wineandhiphopfestival.com – where you can keep up with all things Jermaine Stone. Go for the wine info, join The Wine and Hip Hop Club, and stay for the killer playlists with a deep catalog of songs from everyone from Rick Ross to Rihanna and Kendrick, plus everyone in between and beyond.
The story of Jermaine Stone is full of deep pours and blistering soundtracks, but it’s also an inspirational journey of motivation as well, “If you feel like stopping, remember why you started. If it’s real, you will continue on. I reinvent myself every 6 months – Pass The Aux, Tasting Notes from the Streets, Wine & Hip Hop TV, The Wine & Hip Hop Podcast… and I’m not even finished yet! I’m still collecting Infinity Stones, that’s why people call me Young Thanos – when I bring these things together, I snap my fingers.” Thankfully for us, Jermaine’s plan tastes and sounds a lot better than Thanos’. For a man with his drive and vision? There’s truly no endgame in sight.
For Kevin, being a writer has always required a great deal of wine. He never dreamed he’d be able to combine his love for the two. His screenwriting includes works for Paramount, MTV, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Bad Robot, and his role as Executive Story Editor on “Blood & Treasure,” an action adventure show on CBS and Amazon. Before that, his thirst for sketch comedy led to pieces for The Onion and National Lampoon – as well as the stages of UCB, HBO Workspace, Comedy Central Stage and festivals in San Francisco, NYC, Vancouver and beyond. He’s a write-at-home dad always ready for a winery road trip… especially a dog-friendly one.