When I spoke to musician Brandi Carlile a month or so ago about her XOBC Cellar wines she said one of her main goals in working within the wine industry was to make wine feel more inclusive.
” Wine has a tendency to be associated with a discerning, kind of highbrow consumer. But I would like to see it shared amongst people that value togetherness and value diversity,” she told me.
Joe Welch, founder and CEO of In Good Taste Wines, agrees with Carlile completely that wine should be more accessible.
“It’s been such an exclusive, intimidating, almost condescending industry for so long that if you just talk to people like humans and let them know anybody can have an opinion on wine, there’s no right or wrong opinion, people really connect with that because it is such a visceral part of everyday life,” Welch says.
For Welch, who worked at DoorDash and for Elon Musk at Space X before founding In Good Taste Wines, part of his approach with In Good Taste Wines to make it more welcoming to people is to make it more affordable with a smaller bottle, which they call a glass-size bottle. I shared a few bottles with oenophiles who very much appreciated both the quality of the wine and the size, which allowed them to open a bottle without either being forced to drink a whole bottle alone or waste the rest.
Welch has found an ally in Grand Reserve Rewards, a credit card specifically for wine lovers. Like Welch, Vertical Finance CEO and founder Matthew Goldman , who started the Grand Reserves MasterCard, has a passion for wine that led to his business venture and he is hoping to use Grand Reserves to brig fellow wine drinkers together.
“Credit cards are not inherently social, but wine is. We think of ourselves not just as a credit card, but as membership and our goal is to bring people together who love wine, as well as with the producers,” Goldman says.
He is right, in that wine is a lifestyle for many people, be it through clubs or tastings. I spoke with both Welch and Goldman about their ventures and their mission of bringing wine to the masses and making it more social.
Steve Baltin: Tell me about the bottles and what makes them unique.
Joe Welch: We call them by the glass bottles. We say each one is one glass of wine, but in reality each bottle is a quarter bottle of wine. So you pour it into one glass and it’s like, “Oh, this is a Monday night pour, this is when you really need a glass of wine.”
Baltin: When was the bottle invented?
Welch: The bottle itself was invented three years ago. we basically were looking at the wine industry and trying to figure out how to make it easier to explore. It’s such a human product and it’s such a global product that is ripe for discovery. But it’s also really expensive to try and discover new wine. A good bottle is gonna set you back at least 25 bucks, that’s a big risk to take if you can’t pronounce the label or can’t even read the label because it’s in French. So we said, “Let’s try and find a simple solution for this. What can we do to make it much easier to explore wine?” And the simple solution was shrink the bottle. We looked at the industry and saw there was this rise of canned wine, boxed wine, but we thought what was lacking was that perception of quality that customers are so accustomed to when it comes to the wine industry. People do have preconceived notions based off the quality and the price point. So we wanted to make sure we were taking all of this historical context, all this beauty that’s been imbued in the wine industry for decades, if not centuries and showcase that in a smaller packaging. So that’s what we set out to create from scratch. We patented it back in 2017, patent was approved in 2019.
Baltin: I had interviewed Brandi Carlile about her wine, XOBC Cellar not long ago, and one of the things she spoke about was making wine more inclusive. And it sounds like you are coming from a similar place.
Welch: Yeah, it goes a lot further than just the price point of wine. First off, no wine needs to cost a hundred dollars a bottle. Even if you own the land, even if you go full in quality across the board, highest quality equipment, the majority of that hundred dollar bottle cost is going to marketing. So wine should be, for a good quality bottle, be between 20 and 30 dollars. The price point is important, but also the way wine is talked about and the way you kind of interact with people around wine. I think it’s been such an exclusive, intimidating, almost condescending industry for so long that if you just talk to people like humans and let them know anybody can have an opinion on wine, there’s no right or wrong opinion, people really connect with that because it is such a visceral part of everyday life. People aren’t opening up White Claws over dinner, they’re having a bottle of wine. So they want to feel included. There are kind of a new wave of wineries being created, ourselves included, that are trying to focus on that and figure out how we can work together and bring more people into the industry rather than how can we make this elite and exclusive as possible. So everything from our price point to how we interact and talk with our customers is built on keeping it social.
Baltin: Where does you love of wine come from?
Welch: I was born in Ithaca, both my parents are physicists so they are kind of super nerds and they nerded out over how chemically complex wine is. Worked at Twitter, DoorDash, Space X. Space X has an amazing mission, but Elon [Musk] is just a notoriously difficult person to work with at times. So I was kind of trying to find where I wanted to go next. I went up to wine country and was living up there while I sort of relaxed and that’s when I fell fully head over heels in love with wine. That incepted the initial idea, just trying to create something I personally wanted to enjoy.
Baltin: How will In Good Taste grow in the future?
Welch: We’ll do four kits in 2021, we’re gonna launch our version of a subscription model in January. It’ll be a quarterly subscription. So we’ll release every three months.
Baltin: What is the relationship between In Good Taste and Grand Reserve?
Welch: Matthew linked up with my co-founder through a friend of a friend. People trying to do new things in the wine industry is a very tight-knit community. There’s not a lot of innovation, there’s not a lot of exploration that goes on. Probably due to the old joke if you want to make a small fortune in the wine industry start with a large one. So that scares a lot of people away very quickly. So we met Matthew right when we had pivoted towards into selling into hotels. He saw what we were doing, was super encouraging the entire time. And it’s been great watching sort of both companies side by side over the years and navigate pretty treacherous waters to kind of get where we are today. So to be able to come full circle, see both products live and doing so well is really exciting. Starting a company can be a very lonely job, so when you are able to work with other people who are in the same position as you, you can really connect with them over that because it’s shared hardships, shared experiences. So we’ve been really lucky the entire time to have partners like Matthew who have been able to support us the entire time.
Baltin: Wine is very much a lifestyle for enthusiasts. How does the Grand Reserve Rewards program augment that lifestyle?
Matthew Goldman: Wine is a passion for many millions of people. Our program helps to connect wine lovers with high-quality, boutique producers. Members enjoy exclusive offers, unique access and special events that bring them together directly with the artisans who produce delicious wines. Our rewards program enables our members dollars to go that much further and to enjoy rewarding experiences and merchandise that complement their passion for wine.
Baltin: How old were you when you developed your love of wine? And how has it grown and changed over the years?
Goldman: I first understood how amazing wine was when I was in Australia doing a study abroad semester when I was 20. My father came out from the States to visit me and we took at one-day Barossa Valley tour with a great tour company called the Groovy Grape. We visited the Jacobs Creek Orlando winery and finished the day trying The Chocolatier (a tawny port) at Lambert Estate Wines. I was floored to learn that you could make a wine that tastes like chocolate. While I’m not much of a port drinker today, the idea that all these flavors lived inside a grape and could be brought out by a skilled winemaker was eye opening. In the past decade, my taste has evolved and, perhaps based on early Australian Shiraz experiences, I am drawn to the wines of Santa Barbara County and the Rhône-styles that are produced there like Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. In a normal year we take an annual trip and visit favorites like Zaca Mesa and Beckmen Estates. Grand Reserve gives me a opportunity to try even more wines and I am finding so many to enjoy.
Baltin: Because wine is a lifestyle as mentioned and has such a social component to it, how do you differentiate Grand Reserve’s credit card from other credit cards by using that social component?
Goldman: We think of ourselves not just as a credit card, but as membership and our goal is to bring people together who love wine, as well as with the producers. We are just at the beginning of the journey and will be investing into more virtual events, future in-person events, and ways for card members to connect with one another. Wine is best enjoyed with company and that idea runs throughout our program and company.
Baltin: What do you want people to take from their experiences with Grand Reserve?
Goldman: Our goal is that our card members will be able to find a new wine or producer that they love. If we can help people along their journey and connect them with a wine that brings them pleasure then we are being successful. We aim to be non-judgmental of tastes, have a broad variety of producers across regions, size, and price point, so that everyone can find something new to love. We have so many (400+) great producers we work with, we know there are many wines for everyone to love.
Baltin: How have your plans changed in a Covid world and will you merge those with future plans in a post-Covid world?
Goldman: Our original plans were to go big on in-person events — working directly with our partners in tasting rooms, bringing winemakers to dinners in cities across the country to meet card members, and bringing people and wine together. I have been awed by the ability of winemakers nationwide to rapidly shift to a virtual-centric world and make virtual tastings so wonderful. We love working with our partners to put on these virtual tastings where members can meet them directly. I don’t think virtual events will go away now and there are advantages to enabling people to attend more events, regardless of where they live. We are looking forward to starting an in-person series when it is safe to do so.