Wine Collector Series: Rob & Mindy Albright
In our second edition of our Wine Collector Series, we're getting to know Rob and Mindy Albright — Napa Valley Cabernet enthusiasts and Freemark Abbey Wine Club Members from the up-and-coming town of Overland Park, KS.
It isn’t called Paris of the Plains by accident.
The scenic urban area on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border—better known as Kansas City—is a Midwestern capital of culture for a number of reasons, from the historic City Market to the art museums and architecture to its status as one of America’s jazz cradles. And, of course, there’s the barbecue.
In more recent years, no shortage of high tech companies have set up shop in Kansas City and its metro region. It’s a contrast to the city’s historic image, although energy and ambition have always paced its growth.
On the Kansas side of the border, the large, affluent suburb of Overland Park is home to Shamrock Solutions, an established and forward-thinking tech firm. With their novelty URL “luckyyoufoundus.com,” the husband-and-wife team behind Shamrock, Rob and Mindy Albright, certainly have a flair for the Irish. They also have a thing for Freemark Abbey, but more on that in a minute.
“Mindy and I have both travelled a ton throughout the world,” CEO Rob Albright explained over the phone while he and his family were on a Thanksgiving weekend road trip. “I went to Ireland a few times back in 2007 and 2008 and just fell in love with it. And then we have grandmothers who are heavily Irish. Mindy’s maiden name is McKenna, which is Irish, as well. So it kind of all made sense for Shamrock Solutions.”
Mindy serves as the company’s Chief Financial Officer, and next year will be the Albrights’ tenth in business together. They founded Shamrock Solutions in 2009 with a straightforward goal, as Rob put it, to “help companies with tons and tons of documents.” Along the way, he added, the company has found success “not only managing document work, but also managing tasks, processes, and basically just making any office more efficient. Shamrock gets rid of some of the manual processes and tries to help customers get streamlined.”
Specializing in process- and documents-heavy industries like accounts payable, health care, higher education, and insurance, the Albrights’ platform has attracted attention—and new business—on both U.S. coasts and in Europe. With satellite offices in New York and London, the company’s footprint is international. Of course, it all started a decade ago in the so-called flyover country along the Kansas-Missouri border.
When they aren’t working or raising their young children, the couple enjoy a passion for food, entertaining, and wine. They arrived at that last part from different directions.
Up to about age 30, Rob’s drinking experience was with wines from Missouri, which tend to be sweet and white. Mindy, on the other hand, grew up in Iowa and was introduced to California Cabernet by her older sister. “I’ve loved wine ever since I was in college. I mean, for me it started with whatever was cheap and I could afford in college. I had some good friends who introduced me to it, but I should actually just say it was my sister. She introduced me to Cabernet when I was really young.”
Pushing Rob’s taste towards California, according to his wife, took a little work on her part. When they began dating, he was still on the Missouri wine train. “Rob always liked that sweet stuff, which I thought was gross!” Mindy said with a laugh. “So I’d just get a bottle of Cabernet for myself. Then I told him, ‘We need to go to Napa. I’m going to change you. You’re really going to like this.’ And he said, ‘I doubt it.’”
Then she laughed again. “The minute he had some good wine out there, he loved it.”
Rob concurred. “On our first Napa visit, we tasted some Cabernets that just blew it up for us. It was like, ‘Wow, this is really good!’”
During another early trip, this time with their toddler son in tow, Rob and Mindy ran up against some resistance at Napa Valley wineries with unofficial “no children” policies. When they finally came across St. Helena’s Whitehall Lane, who not only welcomed them but let their son hug a six-liter bottle for a photo op, they were permanently sold on the Valley and its hospitality. They now try to make two trips per year.
The couple’s affinity for Freemark Abbey started closer to home several years ago. Going with the recommendation of a wine manager at a favorite Overland Park restaurant, their first bottle of Freemark Napa Valley Cabernet was a bit of a revelation. “The manager at the time was a guy we’d started to get to know a little better,” Rob recalled. “He said, ‘You’ve got to try this Freemark.’ So we kind of fell in love with it there.”
“You know, we try to get out to Napa on a regular basis. After we started visiting and tasting at Freemark, it became one of our favorites and one of those things where it's a must-stop winery when we're in town.”
Not that the Albright duo suffers Napa Valley wine envy for the rest of the year. The 2500-bottle cellar they installed in their home might be an indulgence to some, but for people with both the passion and the means for such appreciation, it’s more second-nature. At the same time, decorating walls with 5- and 6-liter bottles of Freemark Abbey and other wineries’ Cabernets puts them right back in the indulgent camp. When it comes to collecting, these people mean business.
“We're really big entertainers,” Mindy said. “So when we decided to build a new house, my vision for our house was the wine cellar. I knew exactly how I wanted it to be laid out. I wanted a really large table for family functions where everybody could be around the table, drinking good wine during the holidays or otherwise just be together.”
Rob seemed on board with the cellar concept and design and pointed out that he’s also involved on the wine collecting side. But that Kansas City barbecue might be equally close to his heart. He stands behind the regional dishes—especially burnt ends, the city’s most famous brisket cut—as being as good as what you find in Raleigh, Memphis, or Austin. It’s a style of cooking that feeds into his own concept of hospitality. Perhaps most important to a guy with a huge cellar and an opinion on these things, it pairs well with Pinot Noir and even some Chardonnay. It most definitely goes with Napa Valley Cabernet. Freemark Abbey’s is no exception.
The Memphis smoker Rob and Mindy have at home gets a lot of use, but, as Rob noted, “a couple of our passions are eating and going out to nice restaurants.” So the couple also enjoy taking advantage of Kansas City’s diverse dining options, from barbecue to white tablecloth. And though both sides of the city are crawling with wine distributors, “one of the first things that I always do when I look at restaurants in the Kansas City area is check out their wine list,” Mindy confessed. “I don't mean to be a wine snob! I just feel that once you start to have really good wine, why go back?”
Like many cities these days, Kansas City has a vibrant restaurant scene. With Freemark Abbey and other Napa Valley wineries populating a wide variety of wine lists, there’s a strong connection between California winemakers and Kansas City-area chefs and restaurateurs.
“I think at one point we were a flyover state,” said Craig Adcock, a wine-savvy chef and the owner of an intimate, eight-seat restaurant in Lenexa, Kansas, next door to Overland Park. But such generalizations appear, happily, to be a thing of the past. “Now we're more of a 'layover' state, where people actually seek us out. I think this town is a totally hidden gem where our wine scene is definitely established, though more on the Missouri side; on the Kansas side it's up-and-coming.”
For the Albrights, “up-and-coming” happened nearly a decade ago. With Shamrock Solution’s 10-year anniversary around the corner, they’re planning a spring trip back to Napa Valley to commemorate their 2009 kickoff. They’ll probably reconnect with Freemark Abbey’s Direct Sales Associate, Nat Bandel, a friend since he first hosted them at the winery a few years ago. Perhaps they’ll say hello to Ted Edwards, if the busy Winemaker Emeritus isn’t off on one of his own trips. What’s for certain is that a bottle of ’09 Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery library—most likely a Cabernet Bosché—will have their name on it. “That’s a yes,” Rob confirmed, peering into the not-too-distant future, “on celebrating with a bottle of Freemark.”