What’s surprising is that for someone named after a 40-ounce bottle, Earl Stevens—better known as E-40—certainly raps a lot about wine – everything from his early ’90s hit the intentionally misspelled “Carlos Rossi” to his recent collaboration with The Lonely Island on the hilarious send-up, “Santana DVX.” No longer content to just rap about wine, E-40, who grew up just outside of Napa Valley, added winemaker to his resume last year when he launched Earl Stevens Selections.
How did you get into wine?
Growing up, my mama worked real hard, and she always looked forward to the weekends when she could kick back and relax a little. I remember Friday nights – back when I was just a little moustache – she would turn up the O’Jays’ ‘Living for the Weekend’ and drink her Carlo Rossi. Little did she know…
Your song introduced that wine to a lot of people. Did the company ever thank you?
I would call them all the time trying to get something going. I said, you people don’t understand – I’m driving a lot of traffic your way. Check your sales. I know they shot up once I started rapping about you. (Laughs) Nothing.
When did you get the idea to make your own wine?
I love going to tastings and learning about new wine, so this was a natural fit for me. The right opportunity finally came along in 2011, which is when I started working with a place in Napa. Two years later, my company Earl Stevens Selections introduced its first three wines, a Cabernet-Zinfandel blend and two kinds of Moscato.
You’re not shy about bringing the buzz. The Mangoscato is 18 percent alcohol.
Most Moscatos are so low in alcohol that you might as well just go sip a smoothie. The kind I make tastes like delicious mango, and it has enough alcohol to get you where you need to be. How can you resist that? You do have to be careful though. It tastes so good that you might start out drinking in moderation, but end up drinking in ignoration.
Who’s the audience for your wine?
I make wine that I like because I know there are people out there who are into the same things I am. I enjoy fruity wines that pack a punch. I know that may not be what certain cork dorks are looking for, but I don’t always like everything they praise either. It’s the same thing with music: nothing makes everyone happy, so make yourself happy first.
Why isn’t the name E-40 anywhere on the label?
I didn’t want it to look like a rapper’s wine—there are no microphones or musical notes anywhere. I want people to judge the flavor and not the look, so I asked the designer, who also makes labels for Sierra Nevada beer and Caymus wine, to make a label for me that looked like it had been around for generations. I’m really proud of this wine, but I wasn’t sure if I should put my ‘government’ name on it. Then I realized, if there’s room for great wineries with urban, inner-city names like Rodney Strong and Kendall-Jackson—why not an Earl Stevens too?
Any chance wine will take the place of music in your life?
No. I love music too much. Besides, I was making music when I was poor, so why would I stop now just because I have a little money? What’s funny is to see how much the music business prepared me for the wine hustle. Before I signed with a major label, I did everything on my own, from selling tapes out of my car to finding distributors to building buzz. Wine is the same game, just different players.