In just under 50 years, more or less, the United States has gone from a comparative wine desert to a brimming wine oasis. This premium came in waves generated first by European exporters and prolific domestic producers and, more recently, by networks of global winemakers who have successfully introduced their offerings to the US market. In 2020, the United States was the world’s largest consumer of wine in total volume, but not in per capita consumption (it was Portugal).
Despite all the plentiful supply, however, the process of buying wine in the United States did not change until fairly recently. Complicated shipping regulations and blue laws meant that most people found their wine at a local liquor store or, if they were lucky enough to live near one, at a dedicated store. Now wine can be easily purchased online at sites such as wine.com, while shopping for groceries from services such as Instacart, or increasingly, through wine subscription clubs like SommSelect.
In this crowded market between LIVING, a membership-based wine education and subscription program launched last fall by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur named Michael Baum. It focuses exclusively on organic and biodynamic wines – most of them from France – and on providing information on growing regions, grape varieties and individual winemakers.
Baum, who made his fortune founding and selling tech companies, fell in love with French wine while living in Paris with his family for a year. He bought a 300-year-old Burgundy estate, Pommard Castle, in 2014 and immersed himself in the world of winemaking. He quickly became obsessed with organic wines. “The more I learned about the process, the more I came to believe that wines made from grapes that weren’t sprayed with pesticides and herbicides are better for you and the planet,” said he said during a recent visit to CGVthe offices of. “I also think they just taste better.”
Baum transformed his own vineyards into organic production and in doing so met other winemakers who had done the same. “Less than three percent of the wine produced in the world is produced using organic or sustainable practices like the ones we promote,” he said. “One of the challenges for those who make wine like this is to present it to consumers. Another problem: “The words ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ mean different things in different places. Not everyone understands what we are doing.
Baum’s idea for VIVANT was to create a market where members can find organic or biodynamic wines made by small producers and also discover what is unique to each. The site can be used simply as a shopping portal, but some of its more unique features include live tastings and seminars focused on specific regions or types of wine.
Members pre-register for tastings and receive a kit containing six samples, then tune in to a show where one of VIVANT’s wine advisors moderates a discussion about the offerings. The experience is decidedly “connected”. For a recent course, a Texas-based wine expert led a virtual tasting of Bordeaux white wines, complemented by pre-recorded interviews with winemakers from their respective vineyards in France. There were also interactive quizzes as well as informative graphics, including maps of the regions, plans for winemaking equipment, and close-ups of grapes. “The winemakers who are part of VIVANT believe that when people see and, more importantly, taste what they are doing, they will convert to natural wines,” Baum said.
Indeed, there is something uniquely enlightening about seeing a winemaker reach out through sandy, limestone soil or hold grapes etched with noble rot, while drinking the end product of their efforts. It is also helpful to hear the VIVANT expert describe the qualities of a wine, how it matches or deviates from traditional examples and how to best appreciate it.
One of VIVANT’s main goals is to promote and sell the wine of its participating winemakers, but Baum hopes it will spark change in the industry. To this end, the company donates 1 percent of its membership, tasting kit and wine purchase fees to research programs focused on sustainable agriculture.
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