Do you reckon the 1995 yearbook at Hilton Head Preparatory School listed Josh Peeples as “most likely to own a California winery”?
That’s the role he’s playing this week during four events at the 12th annual Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival.
It’s a homecoming for Peeples, who has traveled 2,788 miles from his home in Yountville, California, in the heart of the Napa Valley. He’s home on Hilton Head Island, where he grew up in sort of a bubble as son of Tom Peeples, the island mayor for 15 years, and Mary Ann Peeples.
At the festival, Josh will mingle with elite chefs, pouring glasses of fine wine from the Elyse Winery, which he purchased with partners last October.
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Oh, how his grandfather would be shaking his head at such a sight. Super-entrepreneur Tommie Peeples sold W.T. Rawleigh products door-to-door on Hilton Head long before there was a bridge.
The islanders called him “Rawleigh Boy” because of his small size. But they expected his visits, and made handshake deals on his array of ointments, liniments, fly killer, wigs, livestock medicine, vanilla extract and such.
I wonder how Rawleigh Boy would have fared if he were peddling $50 bottles of wine.
Or how Hilton Head would have gotten to this point without the likes of Josh Peeples’ father, a home builder who came over from Ridgeland as a teenager to work construction. “I was the fork lift,” he said.
I doubt if the yearbook said that Andrew Carmines was “most likely to organize a festival to showcase local chefs and seafood.” It is the primary fundraiser for the David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation to honor his late brother and benefit local charities.
So it is that the seafood festival — which started Monday and runs through Sunday with its big event on Saturday at Honey Horn — has become a coming out party for the new generation of Hilton Head brand-makers and entrepreneurs.
James Beard celebrity chefs now come to the festival, but its local roots go back generations.
Carmines is the son of Brian and Gloria Carmines who bought Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks more than 40 years ago. He is the president, and has created the Shell Ring Oyster Co. to raise oysters in Port Royal Sound.
Tours into the local waters were led by Christopher and Matthew Shoemaker of Bluffton, whose father was a shrimp boat captain and mother was dockmaster at Hudson’s.
Presenter Clayton Rollison, chef and owner of Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar on Hilton Head, is son of island retail icon Avis Rollison who ran the Porcupine clothing store for 42 years.
Kevin Ryan, of Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, is son of the late Don Ryan and Helen Ryan of Hilton Head.
Chef Jonathan Buck, who was born and raised on Hilton Head, is presenting as chef de cuisine of the popular Husk restaurant in Greenville.
Jewelry designer Selena King, who grew up here, will be selling her wares.
More than a dozen local chefs will be participating in events throughout the week, and Outside Hilton Head will be recycling oyster shells.
“We’re kind of overshadowed by Charleston a lot,” Andrew Carmines said, “but what we’re seeing here validates that we are doing things the right way.”
He said that includes “shortening the supply chain, trying to produce and process the food ourselves, and serving food seasonally.”
All of that is important to the new generation of Hilton Head’s brand-makers. And so is corporate philanthropy.
Josh Peeples worked construction for his dad as a boy.
But moving a continent away from that sweltering work was not his plan.
After graduating from the College of Charleston, he took what was to be a short trip to California and essentially never came home. He’d planned to go to law school, but instead got in on the last years of the dot-com bubble with a start-up software maker.
“It was truly the wild, wild west,” he said. “You made it up as you went.”
He became a “weekend warrior” to the Napa Valley wine country, and that led him and his ex-wife to create a successful wine brand in 2002.
He moved to Napa Valley and spent decades directing sales and marketing for luxury brands. He became a partner in Addax Wines, Standard Deviation Wines, Institution, and Out East. And then came the big plunge -- buying the Elyse Winery with a few partners, including his personal partner, Cheryl Foil.
Their winemaker, Russel Bevan, has produced wines judged to be perfect for 10 years running.
“Certainly growing up on Hilton Head prepared me for Napa Valley,” Peeples said. It’s heavy on tourism and he learned as a child not to complain about that but appreciate the benefits tourists bring to small towns like Yountville.
It also helped to see his father speak with ease before crowds of hundreds.
“The wine industry is very social and outgoing,” Peeples said. “It’s definitely not a business for a reclusive personality. My parents gave me good social training.”
He watched his parents get involved in charitable work, and not just by writing checks. His father built the concession stand when the Gator youth football program got going. And the pole barn gathering place at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn is named for his mother for raising millions of private dollars for the museum.
“Ninety percent of my travel is to philanthropic events,” Peeples said.
He’ll be traveling back to Hilton Head this April for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Sea Pines.
The winery will share a hospitality tent with his father’s construction company. It will be at the 18th tee box at Harbour Town, where they can raise a glass into the sun setting over Calibogue Sound and propose a toast to “Rawleigh Boy.”