Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, wine sales in the United States have soared. According to Nielsen, cumulative dollar wine sales in March [2020] were nearly $2.5 billion, up nearly 30 percent from the previous year. According to the Wine Analytics Report, consumer spending on domestic wine in June was $3.4 billion, and spending on wine in the 12 months ending in June was $70 billion.

In bars, restaurants and wine cellars, however, wine sales have fallen or disappeared altogether due to forced closures, social exclusion and travel restrictions. So we drink a lot of wine, but not in crowded restaurants or on group trips to wine countries.

However, during the pandemic, four women set up businesses to introduce the community aspect of wine to private homes and remote farms. From bubble cans and specialty glasses to virtual tastings of wine, beer and even coffee, these entrepreneurs have created new ways to associate with beverages.

Kelly Mitchell/Photo of Dr. Oluwa Tosin Adegbola

Making conversation

In the early days of the pandemic, wine and liquor stores were considered essential businesses, but social distance made it difficult to learn more about the wines being purchased through informal in-store conversations with local merchants. Wine educator and consultant Kelly Mitchell saw an opportunity to create a Kelly Selects wine club that would deliver hand-picked wines and educate consumers on each batch.

I have developed a well thought out package that represents regional and varietal diversity, says Mitchell. I prefer small-scale production and vinification with a minimum of intervention. Food friendliness is also an important factor, as it includes tasting notes and matching recommendations.

Mitchell buys from wine merchant Wired for wine, and says it’s about the value of the bottles, not the marketing, the labels or the brand.

 

That’s the big difference from the structure of most wine clubs, she says. There is also a great sense of community that has formed organically online through Instagram. Kelly Select gave me the opportunity to communicate about wine to a broader national audience.

Ronda Fraley / Photo : Jess Rockow

Sommelier Rhonda Fraley founded her business, Wine Party, in the midst of the pandemic. She hoped to create a unique and local organic wine tasting experience.

Since working in the hospitality industry, I’ve seen how much people love the experience that wine creates: talking to a sommelier, discovering new wines and leaving with a little more knowledge about wine than before, Fraley says. This is the kind of experience I wanted to create for my friends, but I couldn’t find anything on the market that met all of my criteria: carefully preserved organic wines, an easy way to elevate the experience of sharing a bottle of wine, and a fun way to learn the basics of wine for everyday.

The wine festival also offers courses that teach students the fundamentals of wine.

My wine students are more confident in their wine choices because they know more about the taste of wine or its association with food, she says. They research the grape varieties and the different regions and make an informed choice.

Community conservation first

After seeing many of her colleagues and friends in the hospitality industry affected by the coronavirus, Alexandra Schreckengost founded Virtual With Us, a platform for building relationships through virtual tastings. She has used her 15+ years of marketing communications experience in the wine and spirits industry to bring people together around wine.

The customers I work with feel like they’re almost in a restaurant, Schreckengost says. It’s not that our tastings replace the restaurant, they never can. But if you’re stuck with takeout at home, a sommelier at the table is a fun way to make up for lost time with family and friends.

Alexandra Schrecengost / Virtual with us

Schrecengost likes to make lists of different brands of drinks for customers to try.

If we make people smile and entertain, we’re doing our job, she says. The goal of our program is to create a piece of remote happiness for everyone to develop their personal and professional relationships.

It all started with a girls trip, now we are.

Founders Erica Davis and Catherine Carter created the Sip Society in January 2020 to share their love of champagne. During their post-graduate trip to Napa Valley, the girls visited Domaine Chandon. They enjoyed their experience so much that they both joined the winery’s wine club.

At first, it was a fun way to relax and unwind together, Davis said. We’d get together for our monthly periods or bi-weekly girls’ nights, open the box and talk about it.

Having tasted everything from Chandon, the friends wanted to explore other sparkling wines and champagnes. They couldn’t find anyone to replicate the experiment, so they did it themselves.

The Sip Society offers subscription boxes, or as she calls it, a gift box, delivered every two months. Each bottle contains three 187ml bottles of sparkling wine, a tasting guide, a $10 credit for a full bottle and a tasting gift that changes each time.

Beverage gifts can be anything, such as special flutes or other glass items. Davis and Carter host a weekly Instagram Live for fans and subscribers of the @officialcommunity. In the Thirsty Thursday chat you can discuss any of the wines in the gift boxes in detail.

Alcohol consumption is so common that we introduced virtual events early in the pandemic, and that has been part of our business model, Davis says. We quickly realized that it was important for people to be able to communicate remotely, and our experience boxes are designed to allow people to do that.

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