written by Channing Mathews, featured photo credit: Niya Bates
If I’ve ever met anyone who has very much embodied the spirit of their own brand, it is Matt Harmon of Harmony Wines. Matt is a Charlottesville native whose roots always seem to draw him back to the city. “I’ve tried to leave Charlottesville multiple times, but it just keeps pulling me back in.” His newest venture, Harmony Wines, has been a labor of love and inclusion in a business that is well known for its pretentiousness. Matt’s approach to wine is simple: “I want Harmony to be the wine that makes people feel comfortable no matter the setting. Putting my wine in cans really pushes the narrative of ‘However you drink, drink in Harmony.’”
But his journey into the wine business was anything but simple. After securing a job in sales and marketing in Richmond, Harmon was laid off after less than six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was this loss that gave him the final push to make Harmony Wines happen, manifesting a dream that he had been laying the foundation for throughout his career journey. “Prior to my sales job, I knew I wanted to start my own business. So one of the things I did was start a podcast [Bad Guy Good Wine] centered around wine. I would interview people in the business world, artists, creatives, people in the music industry. And from that I was able to leverage certain relationships to feature my wine.”
Yet, Matt’s love of wine did not stem from fancy wine tastings with splendid mountain views. It all started in his kitchen with an unfortunate dinner and wine pairing. “I love cooking, and one day my dad told me, ‘You should try some wine while you are cooking.’ So I went to the store and picked up a sweet white to have with a pasta I was doing. And it was not good. At all. And I became so intrigued about why it didn’t work. There is a science to it.”
Matt’s unfortunate pairing prompted a deep dive into the science of wine. He pursued the who, what, where, and whys of wine, visiting wineries and wine bars to find out more. In the process, he made an important discovery: “I fell in love with this idea of creating an atmosphere that felt more comfortable for me and my friends. Going to wineries was something that I enjoyed doing, but I noticed that my friends who looked like me were like, ‘Nah, I’m not going out there’.” And some of the biggest [reasons] were about music, dress, and being unaware of the wines and not wanting to look silly.” And it was through this discovery that he curated a wine business focused on curating inclusive spaces for wine through events and teaching spaces that did not require the pomp and circumstance of traditional wine excursions.
A prime example of such an event was the inaugural Daze of Rosé event that took place on April 15th. Not one to follow anyone’s tradition, Matt created his own blend of rosé that drew upon both French and Virginia grapes, which are two “no-no’s” in the wine business. “You don’t blend Virginia rosé with an actual Provence rosé. And then you definitely don’t put it in a can.” After being rejected from a wine competition due to his audacity to can rather than bottle his wine, Matt chose to create his own competition featuring local wineries and the community. “The idea behind it was to get the voice of the people. A lot of times there’s judges and people don’t know who these judges are. And we are being told that this is a good wine because so-and-so said so. And I think it was cool to have people who are behind the product to say ‘Ooooh this is what we collectively say is the best rosé’, is a really cool idea. With DJ Nobe spinning smooth beats and weather to match, Matt reported an awesome turn out with folks coming from Norfolk and Richmond to participate in voting on the best rosé. The winner, Castle Hill Cider’s Rosé 2021 may have beat out Harmon’s canned experience, but the Daze of Rosé event was certainly Harmon’s true win.
Matt has come a long way from his original wine pairing mishaps, and now has a clear favorite. “I have this down to a ‘T’. It is a Cab Franc with a blue cheeseburger with bacon and sweet potato fries.” A burger and wine…can’t get more inclusive than that!