Duyen Ha’s journey took him from tech to the kitchen and then to the culinary school, where he eventually founded the only American wine company to bottle exclusively in magnum sizes.
“Growing up my Vietnamese roots inspired my love for cooking,” she says. “In my mid-twenties, I left a great tech job at Google to test the waters – I worked as an oyster shucker for six months at Marlow & Sons.”
Ha was at the hip Brooklyn restaurant when she discovered two things: French natural wine and a love for the restaurant life. “That’s when the idea of starting a wine company first popped into my mind,” she says.
But the lure of all things culinary led her to pack her bags to head to Paris, where she attended Ferrandi, one of Europe’s top culinary schools. She began her career at Mirazur, Menton, France. After that, she moved on to Frenchie, Paris, where she became a sous chef.
“The truth is, culinary school is not for everyone,” she says. “The sexy side of cooking quickly vanishes. It takes a lot of grit and resilience to work 15-hour days, sleep deprived, sweating through chef whites, (going back day after day) to work harder and get better.”
Ha still loves working in the kitchen, and especially wine, says Ha. “Nonetheless, while working in some of France’s most prestigious restaurants as a Michelin-starred chef-in-training, I witnessed the incredible power of food and wine to build relationships, enhance communal experiences and extend the enjoyment of life’s most precious conversations and celebrations,” she says.
Ha says Frenchie’s wine director, Virginie Bonnet, was especially influential on her, and during her time in Paris, she kept getting drawn back to that idea to start a wine company.
“At the time COVID hit, I had so many connections, and the timing just felt so right for me to pursue my goal of starting a wine business,” Ha says.
In November 2020 she started working on her idea. Then, in December 2021 she and her business partner Mehdi Samaraoui launched the company. BONDLE. “I ultimately settled on a wine brand that would specialize in selling natural French wines in a the magnum format of 1.5 liters,” she says. “As implied by the name, BONDLE is centered around bringing people together to celebrate with generous magnum wines.”
BONDLE, a direct-to consumer business, sells French natural wine starting at $105. It is available to consumers in 30 states. The company had originally planned to launch in June 2021, but was delayed by supply chain issues and other challenges, but after the initial launch last December, they now have their second collection, and they’ve expanded their customer base.
“Mehdi and I started calling wineries with an initial pitch in fall 2020, as we had complied a list of about 20 winemakers,” she says. “We set about visiting them when COVID restrictions were especially strict. We couldn’t drive to France after 6 p.m. because they would close roads. We had to be extremely cautious.”
Then, in April 2021, she was called back to work at Frenchie so she worked her “crazy chef hours while juggling BONDLE.” But after leaving Frenchie by the end of June, she focused on her business. “The year leading to the launch was one of the toughest yet also the most exhilarating time,” she says. “But now, we’re in a good place, and customers love our wines. I would say that our number one focus is building and maintaining a sustainable business.”
According to her, the brand is focused on artisan winemakers and champagne is its biggest selling product. “It’s the only wine from our first collection due to its incredible popularity,” she says. “I was at Bar Martin, celebrating my new job offer at Frenchie, and the wine list was really long, but we ultimately decided n a champagne, and I fell in love wit hit. I was able to take note of the bottle. We are now the exclusive importer of this wine in America. They are female-owned, which is amazing, and they only make two thousand of that cute each year so this was a really special opportunity for us.”
Their red and orange wines are also two of Ha’s favorites. “The red wine is unique in that it comes from ungrafted vines, which make up a minority of the world’s vines, and to wine nerds, they’re pretty mind-blowing because it’s difficult to do yet result in superior flavor.
“Our orange wine is made from an extremely rare and difficult grape variety, Carignan Blanc, which very few in the UJ.S. have had the opportunity to try.”
Magnums, she says, appeals to people who are extraverted and who like to try new things and aren’t afraid to try new things. “It’s really become a no-brainer that if people knew about magnums ,they would order them a lot more,” Ha says. “A good friend brings two bottles of wine, and a great friend brings a magnum. I think it can and should become commonplace to bring a magnum to a party instead of two bottles.”
She says that wine is being embraced by consumers, and chefs in particular. “BONDLE perfectly encapsulates hat chefs are trying to do, which is to create the best dining experience possible,” she says. “Many of BONDLE’s biggest fans are in the hospitality industry.”
Art Basel Miami was attended in large part by this fan. There was a long line at the bar. “He happened to live around the corner so he ran back to his apartment and fetched two magnums of our champagne,” Ha says. “In the middle of the art fair, he popped the bottles, and poured champagne for everyone in the vicinity who was also tired of waiting in line. People were going trays,, and it was hilarious to see a guy slinging magnum champagne for random people.”