Joseph Carr has created a life and community on Cape Cod that is as rich and soulful as his wine
Go behind the scenes of Joe’s interview! Watch HERE
“I walked by a French restaurant one day, and I looked in the window to see people dining by candlelight, and waiters wearing tuxedos,” says Joseph Carr with a twinkle in his eye that suggests just how powerful this moment was for him. “So, I went to my dorm and gave a girl three dollars to cut my hair, which was hard for me because I had really cool, long hair,” he explains with a laugh. “I went back to the restaurant to ask the owner for a job, and as he was scrutinizing me, his wife came and said to him, ‘Fred, this kid has been coming in here for a week now, and he went and got a haircut—a terrible haircut—so why don’t we give him a job.”
Today, Joseph Carr is known throughout the wine world for his insightful vintages, for his incredible talent as a sommelier, and for a much better haircut. Along with his twin sister, Carr was the first of his family to go to college, and he went with the intention of studying physical education. But, in a serendipitous turn of events, his college dropped the physical education program in his first year at school, so Carr turned his attention to creative arts—an education that has served him well throughout his years of passionately creating wines, which he refers to as “art projects.”
“I started at that restaurant as a busboy, but I didn’t want to be a busboy because they wore vests. I wanted to wear a tuxedo,” Carr says with a laugh, crediting the lime green tuxedo he wore to his high school prom with giving him such an affinity for high fashion. “Fred came to me one day and gave me a bow tie, an empty bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a book on wine. He told me if I could come back on Monday and be able to tie the bow tie, open the bottle of wine and know everything about the book, he’d let me be a wine steward. And he walked away thinking he’d never see me again, but little did he know I already knew how to tie the bow tie from my days at Methodist Sunday School.” As Carr sat in his dorm reading that book on wine, he found himself transported to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany, Florence, the Noir Valley—“places that the son of a lumberjack was probably never going to see in his life,” he says. He read the book three times.
Carr did indeed become a wine steward at the restaurant, and thus began his adventure into the wine business. He went on to become the youngest Level 2 Master Sommelier in the country at 23 years old, a certification of distinction earned through years of study and application. For years he traveled to all the places he had read about in that book in college before landing a position at an Australian wine company, Mildara Blass. “I started at the very bottom, and I knew I was at the bottom because nobody reported to me,” he jokes.
Working for Mildara, Carr was given New England as a territory and intended to commute from his home in New York. Four years later, as the president of the company, he walked by a small cottage in Dennis. “I told my wife, I think I found someplace really special,” he recalls. The walls of that cottage were falling down, the pipes were rusted, and there were mice infesting the space. Carr’s wife took one look at the home and said, “This is where we’re going to live someday.” Indeed, she was right, and they purchased that property as well as the cottage next door shortly after.
After 9/11, when Carr, like so many, lost loved ones, he decided he wanted to work for himself and give up the corporate life of constant travel. “My wife, Dee, and I opened up a bottle of wine, and we stayed up until 3 in the morning talking about it. The next day I quit my job,” Carr says. Carr’s first venture into building his own company was his Joseph Carr label, a sophisticated wine born in Napa Valley. Josh Cellars was next, a passion project dedicated to his late father and born out of Carr’s ever-evolving sense of creativity. “It was supposed to be an ‘art project,’” says Carr. “I only expected it to last a couple of years. I used to sell the wine out of the back of my truck, and the first year we made a thousand cases. Last year we made three million.”
The Josh brand is known for its approachable flavor and price point. The distinctive label is written in the handwriting of Carr’s mother, who also gave him the inspiration for the name. “My father was a post-Depression child. He lived in Vermont and worked on the Rutland railroad for years, sending his paychecks home to his mother,” Carr details. “He gave me core values of trust, responsibility and working hard.” When it came time to create this project, Carr struggled to find a name for his new wines until his mother suggested he name it after his father. “Why not ‘Josh,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, Mom, who’s Josh? What are you trying to tell me?’” jokes Carr, who only ever knew his father as Joseph. “My father had a life before kids, and he hung out with this hell-raising group of guys who called him Josh. I loved the idea, but I said to my Mom, ‘I never heard my father called Josh,’ and she said with a laugh, ‘That’s right. Because anyone who called him that was not allowed in our house.’” The story of his father’s nickname is a fitting contrast to the elegant calligraphy of Carr’s mother, and equally fitting is the dynamic interplay between sophistication and approachability that makes Josh wines so unique.
“Josh is a family company,” says Carr. “Board meetings were always held at our dining room table and consisted of myself, my wife, my daughter Cailen and our rescue dog Max at the time. One day, my wife asked me when I was going to make her chardonnay, and I said, ‘I’m a red wine maker.’ And she said, ‘Really? Well I’m the president of the company.’ So I made chardonnay for my wife.”
When he’s not holding crucial meetings at the dinner table, Carr enjoys sitting in his kitchen searching for inspiration with a yellow notepad or wooden spoon in hand, cooking at his La Cornue range oven. Perhaps one of his truest passion projects is his Dennis home that he built on the very same property he showed his wife years before. “I grew up in a small town, so Dennis feels like home to me,” says Carr. “I shop at Dennis Public Market, frequent the local restaurants, go to the theater, watch kids play baseball on the beach—it’s a very compelling place filled with artists and talented locals.” As much as Carr enjoys the culture of California (his first visit came when he hitchhiked all the way to Napa as a young man and met people from Spain, France, Italy and other parts of the world who had brought with them their culture and, of course, their wines), he considers the Cape his home and a place that means family to him.
Almost exactly a year ago, Dee Carr passed away from cancer. She had a strong affinity for animals (to this day, Carr, who lives with their rescue dog Molly, is a huge supporter of animal rights and local humane societies), a deep devotion to her family, and a love of their annual all-white croquet tournament, held on the front lawn of their Dennis home. “I met my wife through a blind date,” Carr recalls. “I showed up wearing a bow tie, and I heard her whisper to her friend, ‘I think he looks like Peewee Herman,’” and the rest is history.”
Along with their love of wine, Carr and his wife shared a passion for literature. Joseph and Dee built their company, their home and their lives together against a backdrop of some of the greatest words ever written. It is fitting that wine was the product of their relationship, because as Robert Louis Stevenson writes, “Wine is bottled poetry.”
In Dee’s obituary, Carr quotes
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Yielding is not something Carr has ever done, and as he continues to spend his life following his heroic heart and strong will, his wife is present in every aspect of his life—in the sunroom where Molly sleeps, in the grand piano their daughter plays, in the lakeside walks Carr takes along the property, and in his wines.
Today, Carr spends his time working on more of his beloved art projects. His latest venture with winemaker Aaron Pott, called Dylan’s Ghost, is named after poet Dylan Thomas. The back of the bottle features a Thomas quote: “I hold a beast, an angel and a madman in me, and my efforts are their self-expression.” Carr has plenty of efforts to show throughout his life, and his wines are simply one incredible part of a life of self-expression.
Carr is often moved by the effect of his wines on people’s lives. “My wife and I used to sit at home and read things like, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Carr, I met this guy and we went on a date. He ordered a bottle of Josh, and now that’s our wine.’ Or, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Carr, we were just at a wedding and our nephew and his new wife served Carr chardonnay, and here’s a photo of that wedding.’ ‘Mr. and Mrs. Carr. I love your cabernet sauvignon. I’m going through a divorce right now, and on Fridays, I spend a lot of quality time with you.’ ‘Mr. and Mrs. Carr, our son’s name is Josh. He’s a proud member of the United States Marine Corps. Oorah. Two years ago, he was killed in Afghanistan, and we shared your wine to celebrate his life.’ It doesn’t get any better than that,” says Car with a tear in his eye.
Carr believes that with success comes failure, and that it’s how you handle those inevitable failures that sets you apart. His advice? “Find something you love to do, and find someone you love.”
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