Scott Miller of Amlés Wines wins Wine, Beer & Spirits Industry Awards Napa County winery owner category
The winner of the Napa County winery owner category winner in North Bay Business Journal’s beverage alcohol industry awards says his wife and he plan to open a winery next year and devote the profits to charitable work.
How did you get into the industry? And what has been your career track since?
My wife Sharon Virts and I found great success in our professional lives together, and in starting a new chapter, have focused on historical preservation and philanthropy. Believing in “paying forward” our good fortune, we established The Virts Miller Foundation in 2016.
We also purchased a dilapidated 19th century estate in Loudoun County, Virginia, called Selma. Sharon had admired Selma as a little girl for its stature and saw the structure fall into disrepair over the years.
A brick-by-brick endeavor, we were able to restore it over a two-year period. Selma became our home and the center of many long, happy nights sharing wine and ideas for the foundation, as well as a symbol of what was possible.
It was during these nights that I first broached the idea of starting Amlés Wines, a wine brand where 100% of the profits would go to The Virts Miller Foundation to support what we refer to as the pillars of a thriving community: education, culture and historic preservation, health, and opportunity. Amlés is Selma written backwards, a nod to seeing our own reflections and the good we could do in our next chapter, as well as to the artwork on our labels, by reflectionist painter JD Miller.
Sharon and I have a home in Yountville, so we have always had a strong connection with the Napa Valley.
As fans of Château Haut-Brion, we approached Philippe Melka to be our winemaker. He got his winemaking career start there, and we loved that connection.
After all, Thomas Jefferson, the most famous Virginian in history, was the first person to import Château Haut-Brion into the United States. He also spent time socially at the Selma Mansion because senator Armistead Mason had lived there in the early 1800s.
All of these connections were important to us. We then recruited my good friend and acclaimed reflectionist artist JD Miller to help create original works of art for the labels, making these wines not one of a kind in both the wine and art space.
JD was completely taken with the idea to make a wine that would not only give back to communities in need, but also express the historical property and various figures known for their drive, determination, and integrity of purpose, through a modern lens. Thus, Amlés Wines was born.
How have you or your company influenced the industry in the last five years? What are key accomplishments?
From a wine perspective, we are a new brand, officially launching in the spring of 2021.
We plan to invest 100% of proceeds from the sale of the wines back into the Virts Miller Foundation, which has already committed more than $10M to what we refer to as the pillars of a thriving community: Education, Culture, Health, and Opportunity Development, particularly in economically depressed and rural communities. While our Foundation’s focus has primarily been in Loudoun County, we look forward to using Amlés Wines as a way to expand our assistance to the Napa Valley.
What changes have you noticed in your industry in the last five years, and how have you and/or your company moved to capitalize on or adjust to those changes?
We know that Napa Valley wine—at the highest level of farming and winemaking—continues to gain momentum. We looked around us and did not see anyone making aspirational wines for the “greater good,” and saw an opportunity to do something we love, while at the same time giving back, that would be completely unique.
We are taking the best of what we know in Napa—heritage sites, and the best of what we know in California winemaking—Philippe Melka—and combining that with one-of-a-kind artistic labels. Through this process we are giving wine lovers a one-of-a-kind bottle with an emotional connection of participating in a mission of social impact.
How has the pandemic affected your business? What has been the impact of restrictions on visitors, closure of restaurants and bars, surge in online shopping, and rise in digital consumer experiences and marketing?
Amlés will launch in the spring of 2021, so we are hopeful our launch will sync with the “springtime” of returning to a post-pandemic world.
We don’t have a tasting room or winery as our wines are made at Wheeler Farms, so we have not been impacted in that respect. We would have liked to have had many in-person events leading up to the launch to spread word of the wine and the good work we do with the Virts Miller Foundation, and have pivoted to virtual events in the meantime.
How have you responded to the challenges and opportunities of the virus-influenced economic downturn? How much are these measures making up the difference in sales?
Given that we are a new brand, we have not seen any economic disruption.
However, Sharon and I have an unrelenting desire to give back. Through our foundation, the Virts Miller Foundation, we seek to give back to those who are in economically depressed and rural communities in Northern Virginia and Napa.
Which of your adjustments and initiatives do you think you’ll continue past the pandemic, and why?
We will continue to use our foundation and Amlés Wines to support those in need in our two communities.
How are the North Bay wildfires and power shut-offs affecting the outlook for your business?
Fires in the Napa Valley are certainly a concern long-term, and these recent fires came at a horrific time, especially considering all of the challenges surrounding COVID-19. All we can do is try stay positive and put one foot in front of the other.