Home Sales & Marketing Hospitality These Wine Professionals Started Virtual Businesses During the Pandemic—Here’s What They’ve Learned

These Wine Professionals Started Virtual Businesses During the Pandemic—Here’s What They’ve Learned

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How three entrepreneurs launched digital services and plan to sustain them in a post-pandemic world.

—Chasity Cooper

Pre-pandemic, wine enthusiasts of all levels would travel the world to visit exotic wine regions, fine-dining restaurants, and experience the best of what the world of wine has to offer. Since March 2020, the shutdown of so many bars, restaurants, wineries, and tasting rooms meant that sommeliers and wine professionals were forced to become spontaneously creative with virtual wine tastings. While shelter-in-place measures have been lifted over the last several months, social distancing measures have forever altered the way that wine can be experienced in person.

Luckily, several businesses have been established to bring a unique, immersive tasting experience to the comfort of consumers’ homes.

Acquire-Wine.com provides concierge services to clients who need recommendations for their private cellars. / Kait Miller Photography
Acquire-Wine.com provides concierge services to clients who need recommendations for their private cellars. / Kait Miller Photography

Hospitality veteran Haley Moore turned her side-hustle into a full-time endeavor in January 2020, shortly before the pandemic began. When restaurants closed in March 2020, Moore lost the majority of her income, and transitioned to virtual experiences as a temporary solution. To grow her audience, Moore created food and wine packages and shared them with  private clients and restaurant guests she had cultivated over the years. “I could’ve never foreseen what a transformative experience it would turn out to be,” Moore says. “In 2020, we hosted 5,000 guests in 20 different countries and all 50 states – all via Zoom.” Acquire-Wine.com, which launched in 2013, also provides concierge services to clients who need recommendations for their private cellars. “The intention is to apply the same level of Michelin star sommelier service by giving our members an elevated retail experience,” she says.

For virtual tastings, Moore and her team have created tasting packages with a unique selection of wine and food pairings. From tasting aromatic whites and new world reds paired with artisanal cheeses and rustic crackers, to cooking a creamy white truffle risotto paired with a clean and crisp Puligny Montrachet, Acquire invites guests to try their hand (and their palate) at something new. Moving forward into 2022, Moore is launching a chef series called “A Moveable Feast,” featuring celebrity chef-curated menus and allowing guests to purchase the cooking kits and participate in the live online event or receive the recording after the conclusion of the event. “The virtual space has felt like a real restaurant to me for some time now,” Moore says. “When you’re doing a virtual event, you can command the space in a different way, which leads to countless potential connections. It is truly the greatest way to develop future business.”

Brianne Cohen, certified sommelier and wine educator and creator of Virtual Vino
Brianne Cohen, certified sommelier and wine educator and creator of Virtual Vino

Like Moore, certified sommelier and wine educator Brianne Cohen quickly learned that there is something special about connecting with people virtually that can’t always be achieved in person. As shelter-in-place mandates were enforced nationwide, Cohen began marketing an online tasting experience–Virtual Vino–to her social media audience, which resulted in 120 people on a Zoom call. “I realized at that moment I had something. For 12 weeks, after the live event side of my business was decimated, I hosted weekly online wine tastings that were free or low-cost and marketed to the public,” she says.

Cohen did such a great job promoting her tastings that in June 2020, she started receiving requests for private tastings with corporate clients. “Since March 2020, I have taught over 150 virtual wine tasting classes, have seen over 6,000 people on my zoom screen and doubled my gross annual revenue from what it was in 2020,” she says. “I now have a team of five people supporting me, so that I can focus on my core competency of delivering fun and approachable wine tasting experiences.”

Alexandra Schrecengost's, creator of Virtual With Us
Alexandra Schrecengost’s, creator of Virtual With Us

While interest in virtual experiences has grown substantially, business owners remain cognizant of issues that impact the entire industry—like the current supply chain disruption. For Alexandra Schrecengost’s business Virtual With Us, the challenge of shipping and delivering amidst delays, shortages, and other logistical hiccups has been both an advantage and disadvantage.

“They’ve caused us to develop contingency plans for all kinds of situations, which have resulted in a quick and thorough mastery of our supply chain that keeps clients serviced and happy,” she says. While wine tastings remain the most popular of the company’s events, Schrecengost has extended her offerings with Culture With Us, curated cultural gift boxes that feature items from women and minority-owned brands from around the world. As more companies continue to relax their in-person attendance requirements, Schrecengost finds that her customer base is more loyal than ever and excited to learn what kinds of new hybrid programming they’ve developed precisely for these remote and hybrid office models.

“I predicted that our business wouldn’t be affected by the resumption of indoor gathering, and that turned out to be correct,” she says. “It’s a very exciting time to be in this space because it is the most inclusive and provides an opportunity to accommodate different kinds of people and activations.”

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Chasity Cooper headshotChasity Cooper is an award-winning wine journalist whose work can be found at the intersection of wine and culture. With wine education, Chasity’s goal is to break down the barrier of intimidation and make learning about wine enjoyable for all. A Chicago native, Chasity enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends. TW: @chasityscooper IG: @chasityscooper

 

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