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Businesses across the world had to pivot at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to replicate out-of-home experiences in the homes of customers, and many of these new services are here to stay. Delivery services, which were already popular pre-pandemic, are now considered practically essential across industries to maintain connections with consumers. The hospitality industry is no exception, and many people are seeking out subscription models for experiences they would normally get when dining out, such as curated wine selections.
“People are so busy in their everyday lives they are looking for people to curate experiences for them by looking to experts in that specific field,” said Ian Cauble, master sommelier and founder of online wine retailer SommSelect, which offers several monthly wine clubs.
SommSelect has offered wine subscriptions for several years, which helped the brand meet the heightened demand for these types of companies.
“We started SommSelect to bring the sommelier experience into the homes of people across the country and educate the world that working with a sommelier can actually help you drink better for less,” Cauble added.
Many foodservice businesses have also adapted to offer at-home dining experiences. James Beard Award-winning Seattle restaurant The Whale Wins operates its own wine club that includes recipe pairings.
“Not only did customers miss and want to support their beloved restaurants, but there is trust in not only the food, but the wine and overall taste and style of what those restaurants provide,” said Jen O’Neil, beverage director for The Whale Win’s restaurant group Sea Creatures.
Curating wine selections
The major effort of the wine professionals creating monthly selections includes choosing bottles that can fit the taste and lifestyles of various consumer types.
“With SommSelect our goal is to fill a gap in the market for quality wine, sold at a reasonable price for both serious and casual wine drinkers,” Cauble said. “Along with our team of Sommeliers, I taste hundreds of wines a week to hand-select every bottle included in our clubs and online shop. … Based on what we love we fit them into various clubs and ways for our customers to consume the different products at SommSelect.”
SommSelect provides four monthly subscription packages: The Explore 4, a travel-themed offering of four wines; The Somm 6, a split of three red and three white wines that the company’s sommeliers are particularly interested in currently; The Somm 6 Reds, a similar offering of red wines only; and the Blind 6, a collection of six numbered bottles that allow the user to create a blind tasting experience, which includes detailed notes from Cauble about each selection.
The Whale Wins Wine Club offers two subscriptions of two bottles and four bottles, which always includes white and rosé options because the restaurant loves having them year-round, according to O’Neil.
“I also pick wines that are not in every grocery store and wines that fit our sensibility,” she added. “I do try to have educational themes too, but sometimes it is just ‘we really love these wines — check em out.’”
Connecting with customers
The wine club has been especially significant for The Whale Wins because it allowed customers to continue to feel connected to the restaurant even when the business had to close during pandemic restrictions. O’Neil also reported that the subscription service has even grown since the restaurant was able to fully open back up.
“It only makes sense — if you can’t sit down and have a glass of wine then have your trusted restaurateurs pick it out for you to drink at home,” she said.
Because SommSelect has been delivering wine subscriptions long before the pandemic, the retailer was easily able to provide a service that many wine lovers were searching for when restrictions began.
“As restaurants and travel shut down we were glad to be there to help new and existing customers explore the world of wine safely from home,” said Cauble. “What we heard most often from our customers during this time was that SommSelect offered an escape to dream about one day traveling again to the Italian wine country or seaside vineyards in Greece.”
With higher vaccination rates and fewer travel constraints, many consumers are once again returning to pre-pandemic activities. However, these monthly wine deliveries have proven to maintain value for many people who discovered the benefits of creating at-home wine experiences.
“The generation of wine drinkers today are incredibly passionate about the world of wine — it’s become more of a hobby and a pastime for people in their everyday life than just something to drink with a nice dinner,” Cauble said.
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