Wine that asks “why?”

Introducing alit wines, a new kind of wine company

Mark Tarlov
Nov 16, 2016 · 5 min read

Today, I’d like you to meet alit: a new kind of wine brand that is stripping away all of the extra layers between the winemaker (me) and the wine drinker (you). Our goal is to bring you closer to the story of our wine, the people who make it and the place that it comes from.

What does that mean?

We call it wine with integrity: the idea that great wine should be made naturally and without compromise, with no synthetic ingredients or chemicals. It should be shared with everyone, not just the critics, at a totally transparent price that won’t “break the bank.” That same wine should also deliver pleasure to its drinkers, enhancing the atmosphere, conversation and experience.

Like Aristotle, I am a firm believer in the rule of three, so I want to share with you the three principles that make alit truly unique: how we grow, farm and ferment our grapes; how we determine the price of the wine; and how we share it with you.


We make our pinot noir in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, about an hour south of Portland. Our grapes are planted in the volcanic soil native to the Valley. We farm biodynamically and organically, which means the only ingredient in our wine is grapes — no additives and no chemicals.

We ferment the whole cluster (grapes and stems) in three-ton stainless steel tanks. The stems add a nice, harvest flavor — with autumnal scents like cinnamon and nutmeg. (The grapes are picked in the fall, after all.) Once the fermentation process is complete, the wine rests in barrels for one year. Our barrels are 33 percent new French Oak.

For us, the fermentation process (how grapes become wine) has become a fascination … an obsession, really. To paraphrase Da Vinci, “nature begins with a cause and creates an experience. Humans begin with an experience and discover the cause.” With alit, we want to uncover the cause that makes the experience so delicious.

To do that, we have partnered with MIT to study the microbiomes that live in our vineyards. We only use wild yeast for fermentation, and research tells us that 40 percent of the flavor and aroma in our wines comes from the metabolic action of the yeast eating the sugar in our fruit. In other words, the rambunctious micro-flora in our vineyards naturally produce wines of complexity, elegance and harmony. As you can imagine, the particular nature and activities of different yeast strains is something we — and the scientists — are eager to understand.

The more we learn through this MIT research, the better equipped we are to farm more strategically. We are learning to do “less” so that nature can do more.

Grapes will grow almost anywhere, but the “where” will substantially change the taste. We now know that the “where” is not solely an issue for the plant. The better positioned you are with regard to all the various aspects of the “where,” the better the fruit. We believe that the wild yeast produce the music of wine, so having the right “where” will support a full orchestra of micro-flora producing a wine where tone and texture become a multi-layered, acoustic harmony rather than a simple tune. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is our “where.”


It is my belief that the best bottle of wine in the world should cost $28. This assumes that by “the best” you mean a bottle of wine that delivers a great deal of pleasure, while speaking clearly and with integrity about the place (the vineyard) and people (the team) who create the wine. Another set of three — pleasure, place and people.

Before alit, I ran two vineyards: Evening Land and Chapter 24. During those years, I sold wines in the range of $60 — $100 per bottle. As the winemaker, I took home around $28 for each bottle sold. Do you know where the rest of that money goes? To the middlemen: the national distributors, the state distributors and the retail stores. That leaves wine drinkers like you paying as much as 3X the price of what a bottle costs to make.

When I started alit, I was determined to sell it direct-to-consumer with no middlemen. For that reason, alit wine is available for purchase only on and you will pay exactly what it costs us to make the wine, plus a small cut for me and my team: $15.10 per bottle + 45% gross profit = $27.45 per bottle.

How did we arrive at $27.45? Here’s the breakdown.

All-Natural Farming & Fruit—$ 5.66
Alit Team of Five—$ 2.14
Winery & Equipment — $ 3.31
French Oak Barrels—$ 1.11
Custom Packaging—$ 2.88
Total Cost—$ 15.10
Gross Profit Margin (45%)—$ 12.35
You Pay: $27.45

To provide the most value to you, the drinker, we’re selling our wines in three-pack options for $100 each ($27.45 per bottle with 3-day air shipping included.) I believe that by sharing the cost of each step of the process, we can have a meaningful conversation about what we do and why it costs what it does.

My goal is to offer you, the wine drinker, the opportunity to have the winemaking process illuminated as much as possible. I want to be fully transparent about how much it actually costs to produce wine made without compromise.


Now that you know how we make the wine and what it costs, let’s talk about where you can get it.

By selling the wine online-only and not through distributors or retail stores, we can deliver extraordinary value on the price—but even more exciting to us is that we can share the alit experience with you firsthand. Our story isn’t getting lost, like a game of telephone, as the wine moves from the vineyard to the distributor to the store.

You can learn about our team, our vineyards, how we make the wine and more on our website. When you decide to purchase, the wine will go straight from the Willamette Valley, right to your door.

Are you ready to get alit?

— Mark

Photo credit: Hana Asano

Mark Tarlov

Written by

Mark Tarlov has been making wine for more than a decade, and considers it a surprising extension of a career spent telling stories.

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