There’s something funny going on in Charleston, South Carolina. Somebody’s producing awesome parties to raise money for international charities AND branding a kickass wine and culture website AND trying to shake up the US wine distribution system, all at the same time. Are you serious, you ask? Well, check out Wine Awesomeness and see for yourself…
The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Logan Lee and Charleston restauranteur & sommelier Brad Ball, the site is run along with partners Dale Slear and Luke Correale. According to their manifesto, Wine Awesomeness is on a mission to educate younger wine drinkers while making positive contributions to the world at large.
I caught up with Lee recently in NYC, and he broke down the story behind his innovative company. Inspired by a presentation at a 2010 Harvard Business School conference on social entrepreneurship by a group called Tickets for Charity, whose model is to share profits from ticket sales with various charities, Lee realized he could apply the same concept to the high margin sales of sparkling wines.
Champagne (v.) – for a cause was the initial expression of this vision, and the first charity they supported was the UN Foundation’s Girl Up, a non-profit that funds education for girls coming up in the developing world. Initially conceived as a one-off event, Lee realized that the same model could be extended to non-sparkling wines. He decided to partner with local sommelier Brad Ball, and the seeds for Wine Awesomeness were planted.
Logan is no stranger to innovation. Five years ago, he founded the transportation and logistics jobs recruiting company Trans-Personnel, where he developed a successful job board that leveraged social media to connect job seekers with the jobs they care about. Lee’s specialty is in using the web to solve problems and create new opportunities, so it’s only natural that he should want to look for ways to scale his ideas.
At their website, the Wine Awesomeness crew is putting a fresh face on the wine scene for millennials, offering hand-selected wines from artisanal producers. As Lee says, “Wine shouldn’t be this pretentious game for just wealthy people.” They’ve embedded their knowledge of wines in the rich culture of art, music, fashion and design to deliver a universe where younger wine drinkers can easily find themselves. In addition, they’ve been busy promoting themselves this year in major markets like NYC, San Francisco and Chicago with a continued focus on supporting great foundations such as Charity Water, the Scleroderma Foundation, Malaria No More, and coming up later this year, Save the Music, through their Champagne (v.) – for a cause branded events.
One of the biggest obstacles Lee and company have encountered is the rather arcane system used for distributing wine within the United States. Interstate regulations governing the transport and sale of wine differ from state to state, and laws on the books can date back as far as the days of Prohibition nearly a century ago. Also challenging is the three tiered-system for getting wine into the country, involving importers, distributors and retailers. With such a disconnect between wine producers and consumers, Lee maintains no one has really figured out how to successfully brand wine to the extent of, let’s say, Budweiser. However to Lee, this is just another problem begging to be solved, and he believes that Wine Awesomeness is up to the task.
So far, the company appears to be successful at integrating their various tracks, but as Lee points out, there is always room for improvement. Fortunately, the process is proving enjoyable for all! As Logan says, “You can never complain about getting to hang out in cool places across the country.”
From their self-funded beginnings, Wine Awesomeness has continued to solidify via re-invested revenues in preparation for the next steps of strategic partnerships and angel investment. Building their multi-layered brand is giving the team opportunities to innovate in a number of exciting directions, especially on their website, which is not even six months old! I think we can look forward to great things from this creative team that is asking the question, “Wine is already an innately sexy product, why is not anybody telling that story?”
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.