How to Build a Successful Wine Club with Shannon Westfall
How to Build a Successful Wine Club with Shannon Westfall
Shannon Westfall (@vinfluence) is the founder of Vinfluence, the wine club that is helping you drink better by sending you handpicked wines from boutique wineries every month while supporting nonprofits that are making a difference.
In this episode, Shannon shares with us how Vinfluence was born out of her love of helping people and sharing wine. She tells us her story of how she broke into the wine industry with no experience from a career in wealth management. We then dig into how Vinfluence works from a business side, how it’s helping small producers reach a wider audience, and how Shannon is working to educate more people about wine through this company.
And, Shannon was kind enough to offer you as a Cru Podcast listener the opportunity to get $20 off your first order from Vinfluence! I wish I were living in the US so I could take advantage of this opportunity, but alas, I live in the UK, so I can’t. But, I hope you will in my absence! Go to VinfluenceWine.com to join the club and get $20 off your first order with the code CRUPODCAST.
By the way, while you’re signing up for Vinfluence, why don’t you kill two birds with one stone and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes? It’s quick and easy to do, all you have to do is go to iTunes, either online, or on the podcasting app on your phone, search Cru, and click subscribe. That’s it. Now you’ll get the latest episodes of Cru as soon as they come out. Can’t beat that.
Full transcript of the conversation below
In this episode we mention…
Shannon: I’m Shannon Westfall. I’m the founder of Vinfluence, which is a wine subscription service that’s all about helping people discover awesome small production wines made by great people while trying to do a little good to the world. I live in New York City but I aspire to live in a wine country one day, you know, probably California.
Chappy: Would you say Napa Sonoma or like Central Coast or Santa Barbara?
S: I don’t know. Maybe North Coast but like San Fran is not quite New York near the suburbs and that’s still kind of TBD. It’s going to be a while until we move. Everything’s kind of settled herein New York right now. My husband’s job is here but we figured if ever we move anywhere else, it’s going to be California.
C: Nice. Nice. I like it. I look forward to seeing where you go. So, why wine? When did you start taking an interest?
S: So, with wine, I just love how it’s so much more than a beverage. You know, it’s an amazing sensory experience, the taste, smell, texture, and there’s a story in every bottle, where it’s from, who made it, and who you’re drinking with. History, art, science, culture, I’m a total geek about it. So that’s kind of why. When I first took an interest on it, it’s really just during college. Frankly, I don’t like beer that much so, I was drinking cheap wine, Jungle Juice but every time I went home, my dad’s really into wine so he make that into something interesting for us to drink together and that was kind of the initial spark. Forgive me, I have long stories. When that really turned into kind of interesting session was on a trip in ’09 with my then-boyfriend, now husband, we we’re a couple years out of school and we we’re like, “Oh! We’re kind of adults now. What do adults do? They go wine tasting.” So we planned a ten-day trip to Napa in Sonoma because when we do something, we it all the way.
At first, we went up and down but we didn’t love how commercial it felt. It was like how Disneyland for adults. You have to stand in line to get a taste. They’re selling kitchen stuff in every store. One day we went to Calistoga, which I think still feels a lot more rustic and we went to bike. And that day was just so different. We we’re riding bikes around, stopping on different family-run wineries where you’re tasting with the winemaker. You get to hear their stories and ask why this, why that, what does this oak age mean, what was the vintage like. It was just like a different experience where we got to be so much closer to what was in the glass. And that romanticized the experience of tasting with the person that made it and seeing where it’s from. That really solidified the obsession for me and when we came home, we joined like seven winery’s specific wine clubs. That was kind of like the intro.
C: Impressive. Where there any particular wineries that stood out to you initially?
S: I mean the one that I think was the most fun to visit, we went to Vincent Arroyo. So, that’s really tiny. He doesn’t distribute anywhere. He sells a hundred percent through his club and we pull up to the house and it’s really like the barn. There’s a couple of dogs laying around because every winery is better with the winery dog. He’s standing out front. Mind you, he looks like Santa Clause, a jolly old guy. And he’s got a card table set up with 10-15 bottles on it, just open and he’s like, “Grab a glass. What do you want to taste. You just want to taste through everything?” He just stood there tasting with us for at least an hour. It made the ride home more difficult. We had to bike to a pizza place but that was really funny thing that stood out to me on that trip.
C: That’s perfect. I love it when you show up to a winery and you really don’tknow what to expect and it ends up being like they start opening random barrels and “There’s this bottle, it’s like ten years old. They’re 15 years old. And there’s 20 left, let’s try it.” You’re just like, “Are you sure? Don’t you want to save it?” Those make the best stories, best memories I think.
S: Totally. I 100% agree!
C: So, before you started Vinfluence, what was your career like?
S: So, it was totally different, a totally different field. I worked in wealth management for almost ten years as investment adviser helping individuals and their families invest in portfolios, plan for their future, and that aspect of the business I love working with people, getting to know them. I can’t really say I have a burning passion in finance or the markets themselves. I kind of pursued that career path because I thought it was practical. It traces back to my mind because I think about like when I did this, I spent so much time doing something so different. I trace it all back to this piece of advice that my dad gave me. I was probably like a teenager and I remember verbatim he said, “Do what you love but if you can’t, do something that will make you enough money so you can do things and spend time with the people you love.” He was an attorney and I think we were on a family vacation at that time so he’s practicing what he preached. But at that time, I wanted to be a broadway star. I was like, I want to be an actress but I frankly didn’t have the raw talent to do that. That was never going to happen. So, I decided to follow money. I studied business in school, got a job at a bank after graduation, just in time for the financial crisis. Thankfully, I was at the bottom of the totem pole so, cheap enough labor that I didn’t get laid off. That’s what I did, went into banking and did that until I kind of came up with this idea and decided to take a risk.
C: So one, I’ve noticed quite a few, especially women who work in the wine industry, they, at some point in time, wanted to be an actor or actress, whether that’s in film or TV or Broadway, and somehow through that process to be there pursuing that dream or realizing that’s not really realistic. They got into wine. Then I guess also the other aspect of my question is this, do you think that before you got into wine that you weren’t sure what you were passionate about?
S: Yeah, totally. I mean I would bet that the connection between the people that want to be in entertainment and move into wine is probably just the proximity that so many people in the entertainment work in the service industry first then, they can get the passion there. Yeah, a 100% I didn’t really know what I was passionate about before I found wine andthat’s why I went into finance but, it wasn’t really like an epiphany moment that was like you should quit your job and work in wine. It was kind of just a slow realization. I like what I did everyday but I didn’t love it and life is short and maybe you should actually love and be passionate with what you do every day and over time that just though tasting trips have become wine. Then, I was just trying to think about how do I enter the industry, what facet do I want to be in? Ten years into a career I wasn’t really excited about going and starting from the bottom and being someone else’s employee working up a ladder. I also didn’t really want to go surely into the service aspect because then you’re working all hours of the night, I would absolutely never see my husband so, it just became, “I love wine, let’s figure something out and just do it on my own.”
C: So what was that process of figuring out on your own? Figuring out what is the best thing for me to do than this industry? Because I think a lot of people struggle at that, they think, “I can go be a somme or I can be a wine director or I could work at a hotel or resort or I can be a wine maker or I can do sales. There’s so many different options. And I think with the internet in the next five, ten years, there’s going to be more options out there. How did you go through that process of figuring out what you wanted to do?
S: The process was a lot of research and discovery of looking into those roles you mentioned. What does it take to do that? And through all of it, you’re working for someone else unless you’re a writer. I do want to write more and work on my blog. I’m not a journalist. I’m not trained to do that. So, it was kind of, I learned about this third-party marketer role which is technically what I am, which is a way to do and sell wine without technically selling wine. And that was just at the back of my head and I was thinking about applications to do that because that seem kind of weight in the industry without a ton of capital and you don’t have to physically buy wine and hold an inventory. So that was like marinating my brain and then it really was having friends over and drinking wine with them. We’ve been in so many winery-specific clubs since that initial trip to Napa and Sonoma, that’s what we would drink. We’d have people over and I think this time, we’re drinking like a Petit Syrah from Retro Cellars, which is it’s a tiny project from Mike Dunn, from Dunn vineyards. So, we’re drinking this Petit Syrah and we’re done with the bottle and someone’s like, “This is great. Where can I get it? Can I get it in a store in this local place?” and I was like, “No. You have to get it directly from the winery. They’re too small to distribute.” And so thinking about that, was like, some people, not just me, people want access to these artisanal wines, make it easier to discover for them, we get all this through a wine club. And I was like, “What if I started a wine club? Could I figure out a way do this as a third-party.” And I did. And so that’s kind of how Vinfluence came from and it’s not like a clean story but a lot of different things marinated in my brain and one day realizing, “Let’s see if this could work.”
C: I think that’s good and I think, like I said before, a lot of people are trying to figure out how to maybe not be a somme, maybe not necessarily down to a specific place, maybe they want to find these wines that was confined, no shop around them has, and I think that’s part of the reason why we’re seeing more and more wine clubs pop up. And the people that are influential in this industry, whether they’re master somms like Brian McClintic and his wine club. There are starting to be some ecommerce shops in L.A. and stuff pop up. I think that’s why because they want these wines, they know where to get them, it’s just extremely difficult to get them and when they share it with their friends, their friends want it as well. So it just makes sense.
C: With starting that and figuring out, this is a good idea, how did you validate that idea, initially? Because coming from a banking background and finance background, I feel like there is probably something there where you’ll be like, “Alright, I have to try this before I dive into it.” Or maybe there wasn’t?
S: I talk to a lot of people and did research, reading reports on trend in buying wine and buying wine online and what millennials are looking for and other things but, to be honest, I was kind of if you build it, they will come, which is probably not the smartest business move but I believed in it and I thought that I could trap it together in a way that if I completely fail, I wouldn’t be living in the poor house. And I was done with finance. Where am I in my life? My husband and I had kids soon, in a couple of years, and so I didn’t want to waste so much time doing like a minimum viable product and mocking something up on the side. I didn’t think it was really fair to my job to be having a side hustle. There’s all sorts of conflicts of interest. I didn’t think there was a good way to actually build it and put it into place before I quit my job and if I’m going to launch a business that centered around wine, I should probably do it while I’m not pregnant or have children. That also was like, flame, lighting fire that if I’m going to try it, I have to do it now. I just have to resign and go for it. But I could have probably adjusted more.
C: So speaking of booze dropping and just going for it, what are some of the biggest challenges in starting an online wine club?
S: There’s a lot. The first roadblock that I ran into, because I had found all the wine club software and this compliance program and this processor, all these behind the scenes solutions that I thought were just going to fit together perfectly. Then I realized that didn’t work. The things didn’t talk to each other the right way so I had to find people and pool together solutions on the transactional business side. That was a hurdle that stretched out the ramp time to launch. I’d say that the other biggest challenge is first, kind of spreading the word and building awareness about my club. Since I’m a one-woman startup with a limited budget, I can’t spend a ton on advertising and it is as you said, a pretty saturated space. So getting the word out there and also educating the consumer by how wine clubs are different, how some might be designed around moving around with what the distributor cannot sell, some are producing their own bulk wine, some are really all about the label and not so much the wine, differentiating clubs and then minds specifically. That’s definitely been a challenge. Credibility too, I would say, I am a certified sommelier now but I don’t have a long history in the industry so getting people to learn about it and watching them trust my palette, having people take a chance, or come taste the wine, or learn about it from their friends, it’s a slow grind and there’s a lot of challenges but I guess that’s also what keeps it interesting and fun.
C: I guess what I’m thinking about the past few weeks is, I’m 23 and I feel that this podcast is getting to a point where I could monetize it, kind of like what you were talking about in the beginning, and been exploring the idea of either importing or maybe selling English wine, which is growing and growing, it’s trying to be a big market but it’s that credibility aspect. I’m 23, I’m almost 24 and I have WSCT and all that stuff, I’ve worked in wineries but it’s the credibility aspect when people say, “Why should I trust your palette?” What do you say to that?
S: So, I think you have to get some validating reviews up there so getting early subscribers and early adaptors to give feedback and making that public so people don’t just have to take the seller’s word for it. They can look at other consumers and people who have experienced the product and say, “Well, they like it. So, I guess we’ll give it a try.” And then frankly, one of my marketing strategies is to try to do in-person events and whether there are things that I’m just a 100% hosting or co-sponsoring with different business, providing people the opportunity to actually taste the wine, to taste the type of things that I’m going to have in the club and then they don’t have to trust me because they’ve experienced it of hopefully that would give them the trust in me. I don’t think there’s a quick fix. Those are the things that I’m going to do and you just have to establish it over time.
C: Absolutely. It seems that with wine, the more you try to take it online, the more we realize that it’s such as person to person sales that somebody have to try it before they buy it most of the time. And it’s, I feel like, that’s kind of why wine likes behind the digital space of it but I think it’s growing.
S: And I think that try before you buy trend, if you step away, if you trust the person that’s selling it, I think the trend actual try the wine before you buy it is a little bit fading with our millennial generation. I think we’re much more experiential and willing to take a gamble. It’s like going to a restaurant that you’ve never tried before. You’re willing to eat there so you’re committing to spending that money. You might not like it. Well that’s not different than buying a bottle of wine that you’ve never had before. You don’t know if you’re going to like it but it’s still experience which in itself is fine. You’re discovering something new. So I personally, what I’ve seen is that I think, once you trust the source, you don’t have to have the wine before you buy it.
C: Definitely. Definitely agree with that. What has been your experience with starting Vinfluence of people actually buying online. Clarify this. I was just talking to Dustin Wilson and he starting, as you probably know, Verve Wine, and they have this whole algorithm and all this stuff in their website is amazing and saying that only about 15% or less of their actual sales come from online. Which I thought was kind of surprising with their website and everything being kind of a differentiator in their business model, I’m curious as to how you approached that or kind of seen sales or people approaching, actually buying wine online, whether they’remore open to it or they’re kind of skeptical or you know, what has been the feedback from customers?
S: I wish I had a better answer for you but I’d say so far, I don’t really feel like I’m selling wine online. I’m selling the club memberships. I am launching online stores soon which will give me better answer, eventually, where people can come and buy individual bottles that’s not functional right now. So people right now are just signing up for the subscription. It’s a little bit TBD but I hear what you’re saying and I think there’s a difference. It’s very generational. Older consumers, I think, are less comfortable buying it online but younger consumers, I think, are more willing to if they find a source, it becomes easy to them like buying clothes online. Any other good that you just get used to ordering and having it show at your door. I think one of the hurdles to buying wine online that might be holding it back is the fact that alcohol deliveries have to be signed for so, not everyone lives in a doorman building or is at home during the week and so it becomes difficult to reschedule the delivery at have it sent to a business and pick it up somewhere else. I mean you can certainly get around it and if you live in a city like New York, it’s much, much easier if you live in the suburb but that’s probably one of the hurdles of people buying online. They might look online to find something and then go to Wine Searcher or something else to find it in a local store because maybe to them, it’s equally hassle to them to have it delivered or go to the store and pick it up.
C: That makes sense. I think, as you mentioned, the millennial aspect of we’re used to buying stuff online, we’re open to trying it and I think wine sales and just alcohol sales, in general, are going to continue to increase online. It’s just a time thing and people getting used to it.
S: Exactly. I mean, not too long ago, it seemed crazy to get groceries delivered online and now everyone does that and these other things that are relatively new but are huge. Everything is just, the time it takes for it to adapt, but I think that’s where it’s moving actually. I think the wine industry is moving more towards clubs, other forms of direct to consumer transactions.
C: Absolutely. So, take us through the process of when we first sign up for Vinfluence to a box of bottle arriving at our door. What’s that process look like?
S: It’s pretty simple. You go to the website, www.vinfluencewine.com, and then you go the Join the Club page and decide how often you want wine, monthly or quarterly, how much you want, three or six bottles, fill that out, click Submit and you’ll get an email from me. I also then send a physical welcome gift for my new members and then two weeks before the next monthly shipment will be processed, I will send an email that’s about the preview of who’s the winery we’re featuring, what are the three wines, some tasting notes, and that’s how to get people excited about what they’re going to get to taste the next month but also give people the option to opt out for if for some reason they don’twant those wines or they’ll be travelling. It’s a totally “no commitment” club so people can skip a shipment and cancel anytime unlike things that really lock you in. But you know, assuming you read the email or you’ve ignored and do nothing, you get the wine next month. So, you tell people that their card has ben processed and that shipping information, wine gets to them, then they open the box and there’s three wines and a detailed booklet that I put together that’s going to tell you why I picked the winery, the whole story of the winery and even the winemaker, details on each of the wines. So, the tasting notes, the winemaking notes, how long it was aged, how much oak etc, a breakdown of the wine profile, tanning, acidity, balance, alcohol, everything more than you you necessarily need . Some people I’m sure is thrilled in a way but people that are looking to use the club as a way to become more educated about wine and also discover their palette preferences that’s a helpful tool. I also usually have another kind of story or something educational about wine like why does oak aging matter and what does it do and at least two custom recipes that actually pair with the wines. So, it’s kind of packed with information, lots of pictures. What I’m trying to accomplish with that booklet is giving people the experience of feeling as if they almost went to the winery, a feeling like they know it and they can appreciate the story in every glass.
C: That’s really good. I’m really jealous that I don’t live in the US anymore. I can’t actually get this now.
S: I know. I have people in Canada and the UK and they ask me if I ship and I haven’t figured out how yet. I don’t think it’s legal but maybe one day. And then I’m working at adding some user experiences on the other end of the spectrum while adding to the website the ability for people to rate the wines they received and that’s safe so it’s easy for them to go back and reorder. Also in the works since we’re very young.
C: I like that. That’s very good. I’m really, really mad that I can’t sign up for this now. But everybody listening, if you live in the US, you can.
S: And there is another couple of club member perks that are available for people who want to use them. So when I do have events like wine tasting dinners, members get early access and discounts on it and then I also have agreement and partnerships with those wineries that I haveand will feature in the club. So if you go out to Napa or Sonoma, you can taste it all those wineries for free. So you’re tasting as if you are a member of that specific winery. So, it’s kind of like a passport to wine country in that sense and anyone who want to use that a club member, I’m happy to help you plan your trip as well.
C: That’s really good. I hope people listening to take advantage of that because if you haven’t been out to wine country going tasting, that can add up, if you’re going 10-20 wineries over a span of a week or whatever, that’s a lot of money and a lot of logistics and figuring it all out. So, definitely, definitely take advantage of that.
S: No one has yet but I really hope they do, though.
C: I definitely would though. So, what’s the mission of Vinfluence?
S: You can get from the name, Vinfluence, that there’s something going on but my mission is to be a positive influence on the world through wine. And I think accomplishing that in three ways. So, first thing, the most obvious, I give 20% of my proceeds to charity. So every club shipment has a tangible positive impact either it’s fighting hunger and food waste, combating deforestation by planting trees, or supporting youth development and club members do have a say in which cause the donations associated with their membership goes to. Secondly, I do want to influence people’s wine buying behavior by steering them towards smaller producers by helping them discover how amazing a lot of them really are and that’s supporting small businesses because that’s what these wineries are, they are small, independent family-run businesses, and that’s still kind of backbone of the US economy. I feel like that helps in some way. And then third, is to try to help the push towards with the wine industry in theUS moving towards sustainability. Granted that the demand from wine that I’m generating is at this point just a drop in the ocean but, everytime someone chooses a sustainably produced bottle of wine over one that’s not, it helps move the industry in the right direction and I do have a focus on working with wine producersthat are committed to sustainability. SO having a smaller footprint in the vineyard being organic as possible and pay their workers a living wage and just all around trying to bemore responsible producers and stewards of the land. I’m a little bit optimistic but that was kind of the thought process behind Vinfluence, trying to make it a place where you can find, enjoy, discover great wine and be doing some good at the same time.
C: It seems to be from a lot of smaller producers, they are the ones that are really conscious of sustainability in the process that they’re doing in their vineyard in a bio dynamic standpoint or just an organic standpoint and the consumers starting to really take note of that and I’ve seen people in the wine shop. They all say, the pick up a bottle and ask the guy working there, “Is this organic?” Telling about it if it’s sustainable, what does that mean? What does bio dynamic actually mean? And I think the more that we can educate people on these things, it’s only going to be a positive influence and not only in wine but in everything that people start to buy. They’re looking for products that are actually good. Good for themselves, good for the planet, goof for the humanity as a whole so I think it’s amazing that you taking the mission of your company to a whole new level of not only going from sustainability in organics or what not but how can we make this for people, profit, and planet as a whole.
S: I like how you say that, people, profit and planet. I think I can adopt that. Thank you. I just wanted to make it a good company as well as a profitable one eventually. I think that everyone as you said is moving towards sustainability, we’re seeing that in the other industries. There are fashion companies now that are about using recycled fabrics that they’re pulling from huge fabric landfills. In far east countries, there are a lot of companies that are trying to do it and you have to see the small guys having success with it before a lot of the big guys start to implement it because it takes a lot of attention. To use an example, keep a vineyard with no intervention, sustainable. I have one winemaker I have worked with. He’s like, no, it’s tough to be a hundred percent organic because sometimes, sulfur is considered an organic spray. It’s very hard though. It’s harsh on the plant. It’s harsh on vineyard workers so, if you’re walking the vineyard everyday and you find this small spot that has mold, you can either maybe spray it ten times with sulfur or once with a non-organic solution. That’s actually the better thing to do. I can’t say that everything’s a 100% organic. It takes a lot to weigh the pros and cons of what you’re using but being in the vineyard and looking at the grapes everyday or as often as possible, that’s the purview of the small producers. That’s what keeps them a little lower impact because they’ve got closer eyes so they can resolve issues with the vines before it spreads to a whole section which just needs to be cloud with chemicals.
C: Absolutely. I guess where the people plant profit comes from is, I studied sustainable development, and that’s kind of the mantra or the three pillars you could say of sustainability is what we’re doing, is it beneficial for the people that are involved. So all the stakeholders, whether they’re the producers to the end consumer, the planet as a whole, not only in the local place that it is, whether it’s a vineyard. I’m talking about wine in this aspect but also the planet as a whole and it doesn’t make sense financially. Maybe using, like you said, a synthetic product or a non-organic product that you can use once only a little bit of it. It doesn’t affect the vine that much and it doesn’t affect the entire vineyard that much and it’s also cheaper to use than spraying sulfur ten times which could spread. It has a harsher effect on the vine. Unfortunately, it’s not organic and so when have this regulation coming in saying you’re not organic, it’s hard to justify saying yes, we want to be 100% organic but it really makes a worse product and it could be not beneficial bottomline. It’s a hard line to walk but I think we’re going there and transparency is coming through more.
S: I think there just needs to be more consumer understanding what sustainability means because it is a squishy term and there is so much of people having to make decisions like that organic versus non-organic. It is just not as black and white as organic. It’s complicated. People have to kind of pay attention or find a producer or distributor or wine club that can pay attention for you.
C: Exactly. I’m curious from a, this is just kind of a selfish question and curiosity of, do you handle the wine itself. Do you actually pack all the boxes with bottles and everything or is that somewhere else? Because this is from a legality standpoint of me wondering whether, because I’ve heard of people, the just send their orders to the winery and as a normal third-party and essentially drop shipping the orders to the customers. And then others are, we take all our orders, we order all the wine from the winery and pack it up in our place and then send it out to the consumer.
S: It is a good question because it’s complicated and the cost for packing and shipping state to state, it’s frankly kind of a mess in the US but I’m setup so it sort of dropships scenario. I handle all of the club administration and payment processing on my end and then I take the spreadsheets I work with the winery in what format. So I take the orders, I work with the winery to say, what format, what type of spreadsheet do you want this all in? Get that information to them, they’ll either pack it and ship it in-house or many of them work with other third-party shippers, other fulfillment houses so they get the orders too then they get packed up and sent out. So I give the booklet to them as well so that’s included in every box but I never physically take custody of the wine. It’s really from the winery or winery’s fulfillment house directly to the consumer.
C: I think that’s a good way, not only good way from a legal standpoint, but tax standpoint and all that stuff. It’s a benefit from the consumer standpoint if they know this wine is not coming from any where else. Maybe it’s been to a distributor but majority of the time, it’s probably going straight from the winery to them.
S: Absolutely. I don’t think people actually think about that. They don’trealize that buying this wine in the store, it wentfrom the winery to probably their fulfillment house to distributor, maybe to a central hub for store before the specific store location. And you don’t know a lot about the storage conditions along the way. Like, did it sit in a hot truck overnight or something else that can degrade the quality of wine. People don’t think about it. I totally agree with you that going directly from the winery and we’re watching shipping and weather paying for temperature control it needs making sure it arrives in pristine condition.
C: Absolutely. That’s really good. And a lot of people who know a little bit about wine, they’re into wine but they don’t know how impressionable wine is. I mean, even just going from Aux Couture Winery in Europe and put it in my suitcase, buy a couple of bottles and pack in my suitcase, go on a two-hour flight and by the time I get home, the wine tastes slightly different than when it did in the winery. And that’s just from living around, temperature changes, not being cold enough, maybe I need to check all my bags if you have liquid in them. So if you have wine, you should check them. That wine’s going to be really, really cold and the air. So, coming back down, there’s fluctuations. It really does change so the less travel time that you have and the less people you’re moving stuff around, the better your wine is going to be as if you’re actually on the winery.
S: Even if there’s a lot of people saying you should let the wine rest after it’s been in transit, some people will say as much as six or eight weeks. That’s usually unrealistic for people to have wine around and not drink it for that long unless they’re purposely aging it. I would say, if you can’t, at least a week so you can reduce some of that bottle shock. You see, that’s such a good point and considering how many people you have in New York, I can say, if you live in an apartment in New York that doesn’t have temperature control, and most of them don’t, you have a window air conditioning unit, get a wine fridge because otherwise, when summer gets hot and you leave your apartment at 70 degrees, it’s going to get up at 90 degrees. Your wine’s going to start to cook so when you go home, you have to cool it up again. That up and down temperature is actually terrible for wines and that’s 90% of the apartments in New York. So if you’re going to have wine and it’s not like you bring it home and drink at night, you got to get a wine fridge.
C: Absolutely. Ineed to get one because my apartment in Bristol, basically none of the buildings in Bristol have air conditioning and my bedroom is the coldest place in the apartment, much colder than the kitchen that has a wine rack. So my bedroom just has wine bottles everywhere. My sister walks by and she’s like, “You look like an alcoholic.” I know, I’m trying to keep the wine good so, it actually tastes good so, it’s a problem. I just need to get a wine fridge. Good advice.
S: And don’t put it in a regular fridge for a long period of time because there’s regular refrigerators vibrate so it’ll break down the wine over time. Wine fridges are specifically designed so they don’t vibrate.
C: So what sort of future time frameare you working to make sure that each month you have all the wines and you need to send now. I guess you have all the marketing materials and education materials to get all that together.
S: I’d like to be totally booked and locked in with wineries six months in advance. It’s not always the case but that’s my goal and then as far as putting materials together, that can vary. I do like to visit every winery that I work with in person, standard interview with the winemaker, take most of my own photos. So depending on when I get the chance to get out and visit them, if that’s how I found them in the first place which is often the case then, I have everything from the get-go. But sometimes, you might be doing a trip like a month before you’re going to feature that winery and you took a turnaround. And putting the booklets together sometimes I can procrastinate a bit and have those ready only a week or so in advance. But in this day and age, you can get stuff printed and shipped pretty quickly. So I’d like to have a wineries locked in six months in advance but as far as the materials and everything else goes, sometimes it’s just in-time processing.
C: So how often are you traveling?
S: On a fair amount, at least quarterly, I’m in California probably like five times last year. Which is a lot. I’ve to be in California this year but I was in Oregon, Washington, since I’m addingthem to the mix. It’s at least quarterly, I’m in some wine area of the US and tasting. It’s amazing now because these used to be just purely vacations and now they’re for business expenses.
C: It’s awesome, isn’t it?
S: It’s a great excuse.
C: Very nice. So we’re almost out of time, what’s the goal and dream for Vinfluence?
S: The first goal is simply to build a large enough subscriber base that it becomes a financially viable company for me. I don’t want it massive. That would also make it difficult to needlework with the size of the wineries that I’m working with, which the biggest winery that I’ve worked with together is 4000 cases a year, which is still tiny and a lot of them are under a thousand. I want to continue working with the size of people so the plan eventually is that you traunch them into sort of into kind of vintages so you can have one member of the club that’s in for two years be getting wine from one winery and a new member is getting wine from a winery that the first guy got two years ago. So, administration gets more complex but I want the club membership to be substantially and another thing in my radar is potentially dividing the club into different types, Red Only, Whites Only or Full Body Wines. A little bit more tailor to an individual person’s palette without painting them into a corner like, Take this Quiz, How you Like your Popcorn, things like that. Clubs I think can do a little bit. I guess I want to expand to experiences so I’m curating trips with club members to wine country where we’re all out there together or maybe we help with stomps with grapes, I think that’s more new term than creating different types of the club. My kind of eye in sky, my eventual goal is for Vinfluence to grow to a point where it could kind of help make brands. If we could become not necessarily big enough but maybe exclusive enough and a good enough reputation that if you’re good enough influence that helps the winery and maybe get some distribution or get in other notable restaurants. I really want Vinfluence to be great for the consumer but also be a brand builder and help to the wineries that I’m working with.
C: I love that. That’s something that I was talking to, courtesy of yourself, Palmer Emmitt of Judge Palmer and he was saying that they make like1500 cases across two labels and like ten different wines or something like that. And half of that 1500 is one of their Cab Sauvs. And I didn’t realize that being that small, I guess, it makes perfect business but distributors don’t really want to work with you because it doesn’t make sense for their bottomline because you’re just so tiny. It doesn’t make sense for them to put all the time and effort in marketing this wine when they can only sell only 400 bottles, if that, it’s only a hundred bottles. It doesn’t make sense and so eventhough they make an incredibly high quality product, a lot of people just don’t want to work with them because it doesn’t make sense financially.
S: it’s tough and financially, distributors continue to consolidate in recent years and that’s going to continue to be harder and harder. Now is definitely one of the thoughts that you need a little confidence in building influence, I thought that there wouldn’t be interest from wineries to work with someone like me. My goal is to help them grow their brands. It’s tough for them.
C: And I think we’re seeing more and more small producers starting to pop up so I think it’s just going to continue to be like that where we see more producers trying to come up but also more clubs come up and they kind of grow togetherwhich is really good.
S: A symbiotic relationship hopefully.
C: Absolutely. So what have you been feeling grateful lately?
S: I would just have to say I feel grateful for right now and the whole year and since I started Vinfluence, my husband, he’s been so incredibly supportive of me taking this huge risk and leaving a career that is established and trying to build this on my own and he’s also my best marketing asset I’m definitely very grateful for him.
C: Where can people connect with you online and join Vinfluence?
S: You can find me at www.vinfluencewine.com. Chappy, I put together a discount code for your listeners so you can get $20 off your first order if you put in code CRUPODCAST. On Instagram you can find me at Vinfluence and on Facebook, we’re Vinfluence.Wine.
C: Perfect. Awesome. Thank you for that. It’s really good. I’m excited for people to go and join the club.
S: I’m excited too!
C: Definitely. I’ll put that in the show notes and I’ll also put it in the show description on iTunes and all that stuff. So hopefully more people will see that as well. So, last question is, what is one wine you’ve been excited about lately, and I think this is interesting and kind of tricky one because maybe you can give a wine that has been a part of Vinfluence and maybe one that isn’t a part of Vinfluence.
S: I think one, actually in my first month, I had some Rome varietals and one of the wines I like then, probably obsesses for the past years is Syrah. Syrah from everywhere. Syrah from Rome, Syrah from Washington, from Santa Barbara. It’s just so interesting and versatile. You can have lighter body versions of it. You can have deep, dark, super rich. There’s meatiness, there’s herbalness, there’s dark berries. I think Syrah is very complex and delicious so that’s wine I have featured and I am a little obsessed with. And also really interested in some of the Calitals, Italian varietals grown in California, I think they’re small plantings of them. Some of them are blah and some of them are really, really good. So this is kind of a cheater because I am featuring Calitals in the wine club next month. I found this great producer Nero d’Avola and I haven’t featured her yet. I’m excited about the wine. I’m kind of generalizing but Calitals and Syrah.
C: Cool. Perfect. I have, it’s not a Calital, but it’s from Sicily, Nero Mascalese, a few months ago and it was just, I wasn’t, I’ve never heard of it. I just only saw it from Sicily. It’s so complex and the finish is like, it’s almost like you’re smoking a cigar. It’s just like smokey and gorgeous and I need to get another one. It was like 8 pounds a bottle which is like $11. It’s so good.
S: Those kind of wines have been very popular. I feel like recently, I’m having a moment and everyone was going, “It’s organic. It’s delicious yet it’s light.”