On The Road
What started out as a fun idea to showcase Union Wine’s product offering has evolved into a dream job for Phil Reiker. Phil is the Canbassador, the man who steers a renovated 1972 Citroën HY Van into every nook and cranny across America. Clocking 38K miles in 2017, he’s seen his fair share of tornadoes, truck stops, and breakfast burritos. We slowed him down for a chat about what he’s learned on and off the road and what it takes to truly follow your passion blindly.
Phil’s role as Canbassador fell into place in the most non-circuitous way—it was a combination of his personality and his willingness to try anything. “Being patient and being open are two skills that have served me well and run counter to how we’re programmed to live.”
When you’re driving all over the United States for a living, one can rest assured you’ll spend a fair share of time thinking. When he is on the road, Phil averages a solid 160 miles a day and shows no sign of stopping. In fact, he has quite lofty goals for what his position is and what Union Wine can stand for in five years’ time. But before we get too far along, let’s back up a little bit.
“We’re not California, and we aren’t France, and we’re OK with that. Oregon is unique and so is our wine.”
Union Wine makes wine. In a can. Born from the idea that wine should be accessible, Ryan Harms opened up shop a little over 10 years ago in 2005. Their mission is simple: pay close attention to the details while leaving the fussy parts behind. You can see that ethos echo all the way through to how they talk about wine. "At the end of the day, wine is just a beverage. And then it becomes part of something greater. It brings people together over a meal, for celebrations big and small. That’s incredibly satisfying to all of us."
It should come as no surprise that the company that has set out to change America’s interpretation of wine is the same company that gave life to the Canbassador. The whole idea was “birthed out of Portland’s culture,” remarked Phil. “There’s not many places that have such an affinity for food, wine, and food trucks. We saw an opportunity to encapsulate our influences and heritage to showcase our wines.”
As you step inside the Citroën, it’s hard not to feel and see Portland’s influences. Old barn wood has been restored and used to create a tasting counter. Stickers adorn the top, each one marking an epic adventure the van has made possible. It’s uniquely Oregon, which is a reflection of how Union does things.
If there’s anybody uniquely positioned to be the first Canbassador, it’s Phil Reiker. He’s a guy you meet for five minutes and instantly become close friends with. Exuberant yet soft-spoken, a great story-teller who doubles as an even better listener, Phil is truly one-of-a-kind.
When chatting with Phil, one of the things that stuck with us is how he talks about life on the road. A lot of people tend to romanticize travel but in actuality, it’s pretty damn difficult. “I remember in Pennsylvania when I got my first reverse 9-1-1 to my phone that alerted me of a tornado warning,” reminisced Phil. “It must have been three minutes later and I was about 500 feet from a real tornado. Tree branches were flying by and I was trying to take photos but the reverse 9-1-1 kept popping up. It was just totally surreal, certainly not clear like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz. I just had visions of the wine truck just taking off, marking the end of this era.”
Fortunately a tornado wasn’t enough to stop the Canbassador. As the years add on, it’s become a lot easier for Phil to make the most out of any situation - never viewing any task as simply another chore on his list. He’s learned the tricks of the trade, engaging with truckers about where the best places are to take showers and get food. He’s always in search of the best breakfast burrito (if you’re wondering, COFAX in LA is in the lead at the moment). Life on the road has moved from a true novelty to just another day.
Phil is a prime example for following your passions and being adaptable to the opportunities that follow. And after our chat, this seems like we’re just at the beginning for what the Canbassador role will look like in a couple years.
For many of us, role models help to guide us and make sense of the world — and it’s no different for Phil. One company that has always inspired him is New Belgium Brewing. From how they take care of employees to the first Tour De Fat that had up to 150 people show up, New Belgium Brewing has always put people first. “They just never waiver in their underlying value, always maintaining a human conscious approach to business. They’re a B-Corp. They’re wind-powered. They’re one of the first brands to launch craft beer in a can, making it easier to bring craft beer on your travels.”
Phil has high hopes for what the Canbassador role can evolve into and truly hopes to bring Portland’s affinity for the good things in life to every pocket of the nation. You can follow his travels @unionwineco or @canbassador, and if you happen to learn their truck is pulling into town, don’t hesitate to pay Phil a visit. Just be warned, you might just find yourself a new best friend.