You might know him as the voice of interplanetary stoner boyfriend extraordinaire Jeff Fischer on TV's American Dad, but the real Jeff Fischer is a vineyard living, grape picking, seriously committed winemaker. His label—Habit Wine—is sold at prominent wine shops (Silverlake Wine, Flatiron Wines, Astor Wines, and many more) and appears on lists at noted restaurants nationwide, including Eleven Madison Park, Alinea, Republique, Gwen, and COI, just to name a few. Not bad for a guy whose TV doppelanger's greatest claim to fame is owning the master tapes to Blues Traveler's first album.
Born out of a love of Santa Barbara County fruit, each of the wines at Habit are personal to the winemaker. “I honestly only make wines I would like to drink,” Fischer tells Sprudge, and that includes recent small releases like a 2017 Santa Ynez Cab Franc (250 cases), and a 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (just 74 cases made). Habit's range also includes several white wines, including Chenin and Grüner releases (both from Santa Ynez) and a 2017 Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc.
Happily, and as a departure from many of the other small winemakers we feature on Sprudge, Habit Wines are available for sale direct from the winemaker, via an easy to use Paypal equipped webstore. To learn more about his work with Habit—and to check in on a major and somewhat controversial plot point from a few seasons back on American Dad—I spoke with Jeff Fischer digitally from Los Angeles.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Jeff Fischer, thanks for talking with me. For starters, your background is in voice acting — how did you get into winemaking?
I was working as an actor but supporting myself by waiting tables for years. I was burning out and the last job I had was at a very fancy French restaurant in LA and we sold and drank a lot of very high end French and California wines. Wine reps would come in and I started asking them how I could get a job selling wine. They said, “If you're an actor, this isn’t the job for you”—wine sales happen during the day, which is when I would go on auditions. I was really into wine at that point; I remember enjoying wine at the table as a young kid with my grandfather, and my dad and always had a love for wine. So when the door was closed for me to wine sales, I started learning how to make wine at home in my garage. I took classes from a winemaker north of LA, and studied, read, and met with amateur winemakers to learn more. That continued for seven years before I launched Habit in 2008.
These days there are a lot of so-called “celebrity wines” — but your work with Habit feels fundamentally different. How closely involved are you with all the work that goes into Habit?
Well, this isn’t a vanity project. I started Habit in 2008 in exchange for space to make three barrels of a Bordeaux blend from vineyards sourced exclusively in Happy Canyon, up in Santa Barbara. I do everything except the farming, which I discuss with my friend who manages all my vineyards. I wash barrels and tanks, manage sampling and lab work, and work on picking decisions and manual labor. I do have some help—I've been working with the brilliant winemaker and friend Ernst Storm from South Africa, and we have been sharing a space for the last six years—but I'm as hands on as you can get. Ernst has been an amazing mentor. We do most of our own lab work and neither of us has any employees, but we do get some friends to help during harvest. I live in a trailer on my friend’s vineyard and have for the last seven years, although I do still have a small house in LA as I go back and forth for work.
It's cool that you're working with the Coastal Vineyard Care Association (CVCA) for all your wines—why is this important to you?
One of the most important things for me when buying fruit is having long term contracts in vineyards that are farmed meticulously and either sustainable, organic and biodynamic. I want the best fruit possible to make the best wine and I trust that Coastal has the same goals in mind and they have the absolutely best team of viticulturists in California.
Is there a Habit Wine you are the most particularly proud of? One of your wines in particular that you feel like really captures what you're about?
Not really. I honestly only make wines I would like to drink. If I truly didn't love it, no matter how successful the wine was, I wouldn't continue to make it. Wine is like music or movies: no matter how much you might love something, if you listen to or watch the same thing every day, it gets boring. All of my wines are expressions of a time and feeling and that changes day to day.
I know these wines are popular in restaurants, and you've got a list of restaurants serving Habit up now on your website. Is there a particular restaurant you can shout out that you think does an emblematic job with your wines? Or a place you're especially proud to be poured at?
That’s a very tough question. When I first started making wine in 2008, I was hoping to have my wines at the best restaurants in the world. I didn't want to make my wine exclusive to a mailing list and try and get big scores. i have such an affinity to restaurants as i have worked in them half my life and really admire that world. That said, Caroline Styne at AOC, Lucques, and Tavern was one of the first to buy my wines and its still such an honor to have my wines on their lists. So happy she won the James Beard award! Her wine programs are amazing.
It seems like Habit Wine has been really embraced by your team at American Dad—we keep seeing the label pop up in new episodes. How have the little animation nods come about? Are you aware of them happening, or are they surprises that come in from the animators?
Well, it helps when you supply bottles to the writers and animators! I'm joking, but it's really wild that has crossed over. My character though is based on me, so they have been writing stories about things that have happened in my life from the beginning, they just take it to another level. The writers on our show are truly brilliant. I remember the first time I saw an episode where Roger writes his grocery list and adds Habit wine on it.
Now it's more and more, but in very subtle ways sometimes, such as me making wine in Amphora, bottles of Habit on the table to pair with monkey brains, and so on. It's wild and I am so grateful.
Now in Season 12, Episode 6 “Roger's Baby” are we to understand that your character, Jeff Fischer, after a long saga involving alien abduction and an imposter named Zebleer, has now been reborn as wholly human, thus performing the standard sitcom reset? Do you accept this plot line? Or do you believe that your character Jeff is in fact still an alien waiting to re-emerge?
Yes. Roger had to eat my brain, which was the only human thing left of me and give birth to a fully formed me to make me fully human again. Of course I accept the plot line, it makes perfect sense to me. It's American Dad! We have an alien living in the house and I'm high most of the time!
This isn't a question, really, but do you think you could lobby the writers to have Roger open a glou glou natural wine bar in the attic?
YES! We have a very cool episode coming up with Francis Mallman and Nebuchadnezzar's! Let's hope we can guess what wine that will be!
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder of Sprudge. His writing has appeared in T Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine, and Willamette Week.