When we made the decision to partner with Vin Couture, we loved the high touch, personal experience they offered their clientele. We loved that the Vin Couture team treats every guest with the same genuine, thoughtful attitude. We appreciated the meticulous care Kelley anne takes in selecting each winery she represents on the floor. And we were struck by her passion for even the smallest details. Appointments at Vin Couture are private, although, when possible, the staff welcomes curious guests who wander in (or up) from the street and invites them to enjoy a glass. Or two.
A few weeks ago, we took a moment to talk with Kelley anne on her warm way with people, her slightly obsessive compulsive aesthetic tendencies and how her professional life took shape before Vin Couture…in other words, all the ideals that first inspired us to showcase Donum Estate wines at her Healdsburg lounge. Below are the highlights from what started as a brief interview, but turned into one of those wonderfully epic conversations fueled by coffee and green tea.
First and foremost, how do you select the wineries represented in the Vin Couture portfolio? I select the wineries based on a few criteria. They have to fit in the definition of couture, as we have defined it for the wine industry. Couture means low production, high quality. That’s number one. In addition, for each varietal represented on our menu, I want a handful of wineries producing the same varietal but representing different regions, terroir and winemaking styles. The idea is to offer guests diversity within the portfolio.
With Donum, I was introduced to Anne by the original owner of Flowers, Tom Hinde. Anne came up to Vin Couture for an initial meeting, and I was struck by her warmth as well as her winegrowing style and her great passion for the vineyard work she does. I call her a vineyard expressionist; I was blown away by her deep knowledge of her craft. And the one of a kind Pinot Noirs she makes represent that knowledge. They’re incredibly layered, with a lot going on under the surface. I also loved that they were each unique to their vineyard, that she really let each site speak through the wine.
That sounds like a detailed process. How did this detail-oriented persona develop? You have a strong entrepreneurial background. Can you share a bit of your history? The first company I owned was called Details. At that time there wasn’t a label for what I did, although essentially I orchestrated large corporate events. It went beyond event coordinating to encompass large scale productions. Over time it evolved into a more intimate personal event coordinating program, focused on high end social events and large budget weddings. It was a natural progression.
And this business took place in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton region, if I’m not mistaken? Yes, then I moved to Healdsburg eight years ago. I spent two years working in a few winery cellars before moving to the tasting room, where I helped small wineries develop their VIP programs. At the time, the premise was based upon the large winery model of selling to the masses through distribution programs. The idea of a Direct-to-Consumer refocus, of selling more wine to a smaller audience, and of increasing quality and building consumer loyalty was a new concept for many small properties. This contract work inspired me to open Sips. I essentially married my events and wine backgrounds and built very high end wine country itineraries for private buyers.
How high end are we talking? Very. If a client wanted to dine in a private cellar and then have a helicopter drop them in a private vineyard, I made it happen. Until I started VinCouture, this was my absolute favorite career move. My job was to please customers by designing one-of-a-kind experiences, and I just loved it.
And then came the crash of 2008. It definitely caught me by surprise. The bubble burst, and within a few weeks, I learned that the Sips business model was no longer relevant for the travel and leisure consumer.
Shortly thereafter, you realized that you had been selling large volumes of wine for these wineries (without taking a cut, by the way), and while making these sales, you had also been qualifying their customers, discovering their needs, wants and tastes. Instead of a traditional tasting bar, you were offering them an experience. Wineries began to call you to teach them what you knew. Your expertise became a hot commodity, and you began developing wine immersion programs that brought wines to consumers during private events, country club settings, etc. They became so successful that you decided to “give them a roof,” as I’ve heard you say. And Vin Couture Lounge was born. Is that a pretty accurate picture? You got it.
So tell me about the VinCouture experience. A guest walks in, notices the elegant but inviting décor and is greeted by a warm, engaged staff member. This place should feel alive, and the experience should be customized to each person that walks in the door. Once they’re seated, my staff is to make the guest understand that it is all about them. Even the POS system I designed and invested in is made to translate the needs and wants of each guest in a group directly to the kitchen. The experience is a back and forth, not just a teaching session.
So, tell me about Vin Couture’s other program, Swirl after 6? Ok. So, here you are in town with three girlfriends. Or, you’re on a date with your husband. You’ve finished dinner, and want to head to a great lounge environment, with live music. You can order dessert or a cheese plate and enjoy a glass of wine…and, when you decide you love it, you can actually take two bottles or a case of it home with you, and it’s priced at normal retail rather than a restaurant mark up. That’s Swirl after 6. It’s a unique, engaging spin on the traditional taste-to-purchase model, and it has become big with our local crowd.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve hurdled in these opening months? Opening in December. That was not the original plan. I got tied up with the ABC, and because I didn’t want the wineries to pay for the down time while I worked out the details with the ABC, our opening was significantly delayed.
What’s the best part of your day? My time with the customer. I get antsy when I’m tied up behind the scenes. I love directly connecting to the people who come in our doors. The wineries come in close second. I really enjoy building relationships with the winemakers and winery owners.
On a personal note, what is your own wine style? I had dinner with Anne, and I slipped and told her that sparkling wine was my absolute favorite. (she laughs) Sorry! In all honesty, I am a lover of all varietals, although certainly not all wines.
Ultimate food and wine pairing? I’m a mood-based, sensation-driven wine drinker, so it changes from day to day. That said, Cyrus has a magnificent mushroom truffle risotto. That and a glass of Pinot…
And, if it’s not wine, it's…? Either a Coors Light or a Gin and Tonic. Non-alcoholic? Hands down, it’s milk.
Right now, Vin Couture showcases four Donum Estate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays: the 2008 Donum Carneros Estate Pinot Noir, the 2008 Donum Russian River Estate Pinot Noir, the 2009 Donum West Slope Pinot Noir and the 2009 Donum Carneros Estate Chardonnay. To learn more about these estategrown, vineyard-designated wines, click here.
Curious about setting up your own private Vin Couture tasting? Or, just plain curious about Vin Couture? Click here for appointmentsand inquiries.
For any questions regarding private tastings here at our Carneros ranch or at Vin Couture, please email me (Brooke) at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always enjoy hearing from you.