By Ian Consoli
It is no mystery that I am a huge fan of virtual events for wine club members. We introduced semi-annual virtual pickup parties to accommodate the release of our wine club shipments in fall 2020. We started these virtual events during COVID when we had no choice, but elected to continue them because their benefits in access, intimacy, and convenience were significant. Wine Club members from around the country continue to express their gratitude through emails and social media comments for allowing them to connect with us from afar. Viewership of the events remains consistent, participation remains high, and the conversations started by viewer questions continue to bring value. From my conclusion in a blog I wrote in 2021 on the virtual pickup parties:
We're excited to continue to host this kind of event in the future. We're meeting our members where they are, we're teaching them new recipes, and we're giving them the opportunity to interact with the proprietor, winemaker, and chef.
All-in-all, we can say the virtual events are a success, and we look forward to continuing them. Today, I want to highlight a decision we made that elevated the experience and made the continuation of the series possible: producing tasting packs with Master the World.
It was always clear that we needed an option for guests to taste along with us from home. The first virtual pickup party we did was in the fall and aligned with the latest release of our Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Those are the only wines we bottle in 375ml packaging, primarily for distribution to restaurants. They worked perfectly as a two-pack for this initial virtual event – not least because restaurants were largely closed at that point, so we had 375ml bottles to spare – but when it came time for our spring shipment, we had no small format bottles to work with. As with any of our virtual tastings, we could invite attendees to pick one Tablas Creek wine to enjoy with the broadcast (from their shipment or not), but we needed something more.
We evaluated repackaging our 750mL bottles into 187mL but faced four significant hurdles.
- Technology: rebottling wines and having them emerge in good shape is a challenge that requires the purchase of specialized equipment and comes with a learning curve.
- Labor: rebottling would pull our cellar team away from their tasks for one to two full days. There's the cost to pay employees for those days and an opportunity cost of what else they would have done.
- Packaging: small batches of anything are expensive. Having to source new bottles and screwcaps, print new labels, and make sure that everything was compliant with the TTB was a non-trivial challenge, and expensive to boot.
- Shipping: the sample kits we proposed must ship around the country. That meant sourcing shipping boxes, negotiating shipping prices, and navigating different states' restrictions on bottle-size limits. Another hurdle for staying compliant.
That is when Master the World (MTW) came on our radar. Founded by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein and Wine Business pro Limeng Stroh, MTW was created to help sommeliers studying for exams to taste wines from around the world without having to deal with the cost and challenge of sourcing full bottles. To facilitate this, MTW rebottles 750 mL bottles to 187 mL format and builds and ships tasting kits all over the country. Well, that sounded exactly like what were are looking for. Plus, they're pretty darn cute!
After a call with the founders, we had a solution on our hands. Master the World has a system they developed where every bottle gets tested to ensure it is sound. They rebottle under a layer of inert gas, so the wine gets into the 187ml bottles in good shape. They solved our labor issues by taking on the entire process. All we needed to do was send a few cases of each of the wines in our VINsider Classic Shipment to their facility in Northern California, and they took it from there. They took on the TTB for label approval, and as of spring 2022, they even started making custom labels that match our full-size bottles. The kits sell through Master the World, not Tablas Creek. That allows them to handle all the shipping and compliance, and their licenses enable them to ship to even more states than we can.
We saw an opportunity to allow our virtual attendees to taste all six wines in our classic shipment and went for it. The kits sell for $99, which is manageable for our members and allows us to break even between the cost of wine and MTW's services. Guests purchased all 100 kits we made the first time through Master the World and the 80-kit runs we did for subsequent virtual pickup parties. We found a solution by finding the right partner, and we are delighted with the results for our members.