When winemaker Jeremy Carter co-founded Tarpon Cellars in 2017, he wanted to make a little noise in the normally harmonious world of Napa wines. Not content to follow the lead of most wineries in the region and focus solely on big-shouldered Cabernets and silky smooth Chardonnays, he decided to step off to the side of the stage and play his own tune. He was like the guy who showed up to the orchestra with an electric guitar.
“I wanted to do something a little bit different from both a wine-making and community standpoint,” says Carter. “I felt like the wine industry, in general, had done a poor job marketing and connecting to young people, and I felt that there was an opportunity to connect with them, much like craft breweries had done over the last few decades.”
Given his background, it only made sense that he would look at things a bit differently. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Carter never dreamed he would end up in the wine industry. But after graduating from Florida State University, he accepted an internship at a winery in California, thinking he would learn the hospitality side of the business. Instead, he found himself in the middle of the production side of the industry and quickly fell in love with it.
For the next decade, he worked his way up the ranks with positions at luminaries like Luna, Chappellet, and Duckhorn. The work was fulfilling, and he quickly gained notice. But he felt the pull to go out on his own and create wines for an audience he felt was underserved.
His vision for a more modern winery led him towards an unusual location for the rollout of Tarpon Cellars, the American South. Much like the classic and southern rock bands he grew up listening to, he took his show on the road. Instead of focusing on big box retailers, Carter became a fixture at music festivals, wine dinners, and restaurants across the region. It was an approach he had seen many craft breweries follow to connect with their consumers, and he liked the authenticity that they bred with their fans.
“To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing in the beginning. I just
wanted to make interesting, approachable, yet unique wines,” says Carter. “So many winemakers seemed to overlook the Southeast, but I knew from growing up there that a passionate young audience was there looking for something fun. They are the future of the wine industry, and I have spent many days and nights on the road introducing them to the joys of great wine.”
Carter’s vision culminated in 2020 when Tarpon Cellars rolled out their Cambaro wine label. Crafted to be food friendly, aromatic, and according to Carter, “crushable,” they have quickly taken center stage. Priced under $30, they feature four different varietals, accounting for 95% of Tarpon’s sales.
Cambaro, a Spanish word for crab, was chosen to represent the laid-back vibe that Carter envisioned for the wine. Each bottle has a custom Spotify playlist linked on the back label, giving drinkers a soundtrack to enjoy while they sip. Plus, the custom-painted images from Atlanta-based artist Charlie Hanavich adorning each bottle are eye candy for a generation that came of age with social media.
Sporting long hair and a bushy beard, Carter resembles a rocker more than a winemaker. He also shares another trait with the bands he so loves. He is always on the road. In 2022 he spent 92 nights away from his home.
“I have hosted more wine dinners and events across the south than any other winemaker I know from California. That’s why I now split my time between homes in both Charleston, SC, and Napa. I want to be near
the people I am educating about our wines and the events we sponsor,” says Carter. “I find inspiration for my wines by being on the road and meeting people. They inform us what we will do next.”
His time is well spent. Tarpon Cellars just passed the 10,000 annual bottle mark and continues growing. By focusing on restaurants, bars, and smaller independent wine shops, the brand has built its momentum around its personal connections and healthy online presence. Now found in seventeen states, Tarpon is moving beyond its Southern footprint into the Northeastern US as demand grows. Carter and his winery are starting to move onto the center stage as its fanbase grows and more Millennials discover his wines.