Hiram Simon began his career relatively late in the last century at The Wine Society, a unique English institution owned entirely by its customers – one of the few remaining Co-operative Societies in Britain, which is today still the pre-eminent mail-order and internet retailer. The man whose job he coveted just retired recently. Not, however, before obtaining a brilliant training in the basics i.e. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, with the occasional leavening of Sherry, Rhône and German Riesling, or, on exotic days, Chianti and Rioja. Despite the proto-socialist character of the place (famed leftist Edmund Penning-Rowsell was its long-serving Chairman), daily drinking consisted mostly of aged classed-growth Bordeaux and fine burgundy. After debunking to London for an especially unhappy year at an advertising agency, he came to California, specifically Berkeley (his home to this day), on Labor Day, 1982. The next six years or so were spent toiling in the hard but not-unfruitful soils of direct sales of mostly German wines to private consumers in office or home settings. Some of the relationships formed in those days remain intact now. In 1989, he started his own company, WineWise, with the help of Paul Marcus, who remained a partner until 2017. Initially created to serve the needs of his private customers, it morphed in the mid-1990’s into a wholesale import company. The twin pedestals of WineWise’s activities have always been France, particularly the profusion of what we used to call French Country Wines (in other words, normal wines for normal people) and Germany. A major turning point came in 1993 when Hiram met famed importer and raconteur Terry Theise for the first time. This relatively chance encounter had a transformative effect. Very soon, WineWise was appointed the California distributor for Terry’s nascent Austrian portfolio (The Vienna Wine Company was the name chosen for that “division”). Soon thereafter, the German wines joined the book and, when Terry took the plunge into the untested waters of Grower Champagne, it was natural that WineWise would be the distributor of those miraculous wines, too. The relationship with Terry, forged on numerous tasting trips in Europe and visits to California, has developed way beyond commerce into the area of profound personal friendship which has survived the ending of our direct commercial relationship. In subsequent years, the company has judiciously added new countries of interest to the range: first Spain, where the undreamt-of opportunity to import the supernal wines of López de Heredia arose in 2004, and then Greece, whose breathtakingly original wines have been a passionate interest for many years. The most recent acquisition has been Portugal, the originality, quality and value of whose best wines cannot be bettered anywhere.
Since the start, WineWise has been a part of Martin's prolific wine career in some way or another. Before building a career as a buyer, educator, speaker, judge, and winemaker, he was a young wine shop clerk cobbling up funds for a French trip in the early 2000s. Thanks to Hiram’s boundless generosity and grace, Martin was able to visit and taste one of WineWise’s top producers in the Loire Valley. Thus, our portfolio established permanent residency quite early on in his heart. Martin continued to source from WineWise while managing a Napa-based wine merchant, where he got to know both Hiram and Brian (now retired) quite well. Unsurprisingly to those who notice the WineWise way, a growing friendship kept their orbits close. As the principal buyer for prominent wine club programs (The New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine, and Williams-Sonoma-Wine) it’s rumored that Martin was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s “Top Forty under Forty” as a direct result of the sheer volume of WineWise collections he sourced during his tenure. At least, that’s what he’d like to think. Gradually, Martin developed a multifarious career that transcended national boundaries. Highlights include: being the first Master of Wine of Mexican descent in 2018, winning Best Paper at Vienna’s AAWE Conference in 2019 for his research in consumer purchasing behavior, producing one of Wine & Spirits Magazine’s “US Best Cabernets” under the Peter Paul Wines aegis… twice, and being named one of Wine Business Monthly’s 2020's Industry Leaders for co-founding Wine Unify, empowering diversity, equity, and inclusion in wine through education funding and mentorship. Through his Reyes Wine Group consultancy, Martin developed a deep passion for fostering sustainability, which culminated in co-founding Napa Thrives - a groundbreaking, community-driven symposium accelerating meaningful sustainability & climate action leadership in Napa County. During his spare time, Martin occasionally writes (his work has been featured in JancisRobinson.com and Napa Valley Viticultural Society’s Journal), co-hosts the James Beard-awarded FourTop podcast on the culture and future of our industry, judges for several international competitions (Texsom, Decanter, IWC), and unfortunately for dinner guests, is an incorrigible purveyor of dad humor. Nevertheless, WineWise had the last laugh when Martin joined Hiram as Principal, finally passing through the noble gates of the virtuoso portfolio he’d only caught glimpses of while stocking empty wineshop shelves long ago.