Melissa Gisler Modanlou
founder, Rock Juice
“don't save the good stuff for weekends.”
…so goes the mantra of Rock Juice founder Melissa Gisler Modanlou, a woman who knows what’s up so well that we were moved to actual tears during our interview. happy tears, mind you — the kind you shed at the thought of, say, spending seven whole weeks of the summer in Italy with your family — but tears nonetheless. as founder of natural wine company Rock Juice and head of that aforementioned Italy-bound family, Melissa lives her life so fully that you can’t help be inspired (or cry tears of joy) when she shares a little bit of it with you. read on for her thoughts on clean living, easy style and the perfect wine pairing.
working in wine sounds divine. (had to keep that rhyme going.)
“it is. i love wine. i love the way it brings people together, how historic and culturally rooted it is. i’m also a total nut about clean, low-impact living and eating. and Rock Juice is about providing access to clean, organic, low-intervention wine — and is where these two passions meet.”
what path led you here?
“a long, windy one. i was recruited to San Francisco for a tech PR job during the gold rush of 2000, and played that game for five years before pivoting to try to make a career out of my true passion: hospitality, the culture of the table, and the food and wine that lubricates this important social function. so! with zero experience (but a ton of energy and determination), i raised money and, in 2005, opened an Italian wine bar and restaurant on Union Street. i had a great run with Ottimista, but sold it in 2012, when my child was two years old and i could no longer stomach the nights and weekends. then i had a second baby, and became hyper-aware about ingredients and the things i was putting into my body, and into that of my family. when i learned about all the shit potentially found in wine (95+ allowable additives! plus the biggest nasty: glyphosate), i got really pissed off that i didn't know this — even as a level 2 advanced sommelier who ran a wine program for seven years! Rock Juice was born out of my desire for more transparency in wine and helping people source clean wine.”
tell us more about Rock Juice!
“Rock Juice is a discovery subscription service for natural wine. each month we curate a unique selection of small production wines from organic and biodynamic farmers that are made the old-fashioned way, with wild yeast, low to no sulfur, and no additives. (important stuff: with no ingredient labeling on wine, it’s hard to know what’s in a bottle, and what you’re putting in your body.) in addition to the subscription element, we offer a well-stocked bottle shop for natural wine, and can ship to all but seven states.”
why natural wine over other wine?
“because wine is food, and we need to apply the same scrutiny to what we drink as we do for what we eat. and grapes are an agricultural product, one that is consistently in the top two or three “dirty dozen" fruits — you literally are drinking RoundUp, a known carcinogen, if you don't insist on organic wine! (ed. note: YIKES!) wine without all the manipulation and additives is simply more digestible, and less work for our bodies to process.”
what on earth does your day-to-day look like?
“like that of an over-scheduled mom! get the kids off to school and squeeze in a workout in the morning, then crank out as much work as possible before afternoon kid pick-up and dinner prep. (i love to cook, and do it most nights.) in between, there are vendor meetings in which i taste and select wines that meet our "clean" standards for Rock Juice. and there’s lots of content creation, too: writing wine notes, blog posts and social. we’re in the nascent stage of the natural wine industry, meaning there is a significant amount of evangelical work that needs to happen, as most folks aren't even aware of what goes into most conventional wine — or why they should care. and of course, there is the execution — managing the warehouse, orders, inventory and customer issues.”
QUICK: what’s a refreshing, crowd-pleasing bottle of wine to serve on a warm summer night?
“a light, chill-able red, like this juicy carbonic tempranillo from Spain: 2016 Bodega Vinificate Amorro Tinto.”
NOW FOR an age-old question: how much wine should we have on-hand per guest?
“conservatively, one bottle for every two guests, although i usually have more chilled and ready to go. the natural wines we stock (and personally love) tend to be much lower in alcohol, so they're easier to drink, especially with food, friends and sun. and they don't crush you the next day!”
your favorite food AND wine pairing for summer?
“grilled veggies and deep pink rosés that drink like baby reds. i’m currently craving the Valentina Passalaqua 'Mezzarosa' and grilled kale with a tahini sauce.”
speaking of summer, what are your plans?
“Italy for seven weeks with my family, with a good balance of beach time and visiting natural producers up and down the boot. Rock Juice research! (ed. note: GAH!) trading the city and all the daily routines for Italy, where i am out of my comfort zone, is a total reset. every day is an adventure — exploring new places, speaking a foreign language, meeting new people, navigating new terrain, and reconnecting as a family. i come back refreshed and excited about my job.”
…and what will you wear?
“the non-stop tee dress in black, which made the cut for my "capsule" Italy summer wardrobe. it’s comfortable, versatile, packable, washable and, most importantly, super flattering.”