“It’s about doing something pure.” That’s how John Salling describes the opening of Noble Son Enterprises. Or, better put, that’s how he answers when asked about his life-mission to bring Central European wines to the American market. “They are the best old friend you just met” and he’s going to introduce us all to them over the coming years.
John F. Salling has had a lifelong passion for wine. The Connecticut resident has been an active member of the La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs for years and is a first level sommelier. But it wasn’t until he first reconnected with his Hungarian roots during a Quinnipiac MBA trip to Hungary in 2011 that he got the bug to really launch a business around building Central European wine brands in the US market.
“Wine connects us to the earth, to ourselves and to our history,” Johns explains. “For me personally, it allows me to connect in a meaningful and deep way with my Hungarian, Transylvanian and Polish roots. It’s about more than sharing good wine, it’s about sharing good history and good family and all those values that are important in our common history as people. [pause] This is my way of honoring those people and all that they believed.”
Since 2011, John returned to the region through several targeted trips to reconnect with his roots and connect with the right wine makers. His first connection was with the Sauska family, one of Hungary’s leading wine makers today. Accordingly his first stop was at their vineyards.
John explains, “I wanted to spend time connecting with the ground and the vines themselves. I travelled out to Tokaj, Hungary’s wine region famous for the desert wine of the same name. There I spend a few days with Gábor Rakaczki, head winemaker of Sauska Tokaj. We visited the fields, I felt the earth with my own hands, learned about the mineral composition, the process and gained insights you can only get with your boots on the ground.”
That trip had a profound impact on John, solidifying his decision to devote his life to sharing Hungarian wines with the world. He followed with similar trips to Sauska’s Villány vineyards to learn about their red wines, to other wine regions like Etyek and Mecseknádasd, later attending the Hungarian wine festival to meet leading wine makers from across the country.
When Sauska wine launched in the USA a few years later, John hosted small events for their US launch, from wine tastings in NYC and Florida to local Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinners around Hungarian wines. At the special invitation of the Hungarian Honorary Consul to Connecticut, last Spring he organized a wine dinner for the official visit to Connecticut of Ambassado Laszlo Szabo, Hungarian Ambassador to the United States. He spoke about Hungarian wines and the focus, of course, was on Sauksa for the evening.
That dinner was done at ROÌA Restaurant (New Haven, CT) with world-class chef Avi Szapiro, who himself has Hungarian roots. It was there that John announced his intention to launch Noble Son Enterprises. No fanfare, no public proclamation, just a personal announcement among friends… the way John prefers it. It’s personal for him. He continues to work with friends and partners like Avi with whom he has upcoming wine dinners already in the works.
After Noble Son Enterprises opened officially, John returned to Hungary to put his boots back on the ground, not only to learn and grow, but now to engage potential clients. On the US side he began working to promote Sauska wine, officially now as Northeast Ambassador of Sauska Wines.
“It’s all about building the brand and creating the pull. You can put as many bottles as you want on the shelves of all the stores in the US, but if no one knows about you, it’s pointless.”
In November John was a key presenter along side Ambassador Szabo at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington D.C.’s official Hungarian Wine Tasting. Selected for the evening were twelve wines from Tokaj and Villány, represented by three wineries: Sauska, Orosz Gabor, and St. Andrea.
John and Ambassador Szabo in DC Photo courtesy of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Today, Noble Son Enterprises is running full steam. Brand building is slow. It’s not marketing, its reputation building and that takes time.
For a brand that’s been in the US for a few years, like Sauska, it’s all about the promotion, events and media. “Media matters though”, explains John. “For example, I did a four minute spot on Channel 3’s Sunday morning show recently. I had one hundred email inquires about buying Sauska wine buzzing on my phone before I even managed to remove the mic and walk off the set. Every sale counts and, for me, more people know about great Hungarian wine.”
With Sauska’s reputation growing, John is expanding to the next Hungarian winery. While he won’t reveal the name yet, he says it will be one that he helps enter the US market fresh and grow. And he’s just announced his first Romanian wine, Budureasca, about which InvestCEE spoke separately with John (Part II coming soon).
“For wines not as firmly established in the US, there’s a lot more involved,” John says seriously then slowly smiles. “Of course it starts with good wine and good people. I look for that first. I’m very selective. I will only represent the best wines and people the region has to offer.
From there it’s all business. Noble Son Enterprises really becomes their US representative. They discuss strategy, price points, branding and from there vet importers, distributors, coordinate international shipments and legal services and more.
But, “it’s all worth it. People fall in love with these wines and the region with its rich history. I’m so honored to connect Americans with the best old friends they never knew they had… but when they meet, they know they’ll be friends for life.”
To learn more about John Salling and Noble Son Enterprises or to request him to consider your wine: www.thenobleson.com. To read about his most recent trips to the region, follow him on social media, on his site or read the series done on him on www.farmtovino.com.