Carl and Mira Boucher know wine is best enjoyed with others.
But how do you bring people together to tipple in an era of physical distancing?
If you’re the Bouchers, you do it by breaking out a web cam and emailing invitations to join them online for a glass.
That’s exactly what they did on July 1, 2020, at the height of first pandemic lockdown, when they launched Carl’s Wine Club. It’s the first Canadian direct-to-consumer wine club and online forum bringing together oenophiles from coast to coast to discover and grow their appreciation for vintages produced north of the 49th parallel.
“That was the only way we could talk about wine,” Carl said. “Everything was online.”
No surprise, the couple weren’t alone in wanting to connect over a glass. When Carl’s Wine Club launched on Canada Day nearly two years ago it had 1,000 members. Today, Carl’s Wine Club is 6,000 strong and growing.
The reason is Carl’s love of wine, having been an industry consultant for more than 25 years. Most of that time, however, was spent focusing on international vintages.
It wasn’t until 2015, when he was hired by a major Canadian airline to revamp its wine program, that he learned Canada’s vintners could hold their own in winemaking.
“That’s when I got to learn about Canadian wine and got into Canadian wine, and realized we had some really great stuff happening,” Carl said.
Seeing his passion for Canada’s wine scene, Mira encouraged him to take it online and host wine virtual wine tastings. That took a little more convincing, however.
Carl knows tasting wine is an emotional and sensory experience. Doing something virtual seemed to take away from that.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual wine tastings were the only real option.
Enter Carl’s Wine Club, an accessible wine forum with no membership fee.
They would invite others to meet with them weekly on Facebook to discuss a different Canadian wine each time. Members would also receive a newsletter with the story of the grapes and the vintner teasing out the best in them in that week’s bottle.
Tapping into Carl’s industry connections, the couple also offered featured wines, custom mixed tasting packs, early releases and special editions at winery-direct pricing or with free shipping, and with no commitment to buy.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to reach out to people to teach them wine doesn’t have to be pretentious, it doesn’t have to be complex, it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable,” Carl said.
So far, it’s working. People are joining meetings and sharing their favourite finds in the Facebook group in between, including some who were once skeptical of Canadian wine’s merits.
“Some share ‘I’ll never get into Canadian wine, it’s not at that level yet,’ ” Mira said. “Then we’ll see a post they just had this wine from Niagara or this wine from British Columbia. There’s just that switch.”
“They get their first order and they’re convinced,” Carl added. “They see the quality.”
That quality carries over to the special edition Carl’s Wine Club red. Only 100 cases of this approachable blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were produced by Niagara’s Bella Terra Vineyards, of which When in Niagara founder Marcel Morgenstern is a partner.
Those who purchase a Carl’s Wine Club curated tasting pack with signup also get invited to join a private VIP Facebook group for additional tastings, and to share notes and stories.
Most importantly, they get to enjoy wine together — as it was meant to be.
“It feels like we’ve all become friends,” Carl said about the group. “We know who likes Syrah. We know who likes Chardonnay. It’s feels like we have lots of family.”
Join Carl’s Wine Club for free and discover more world-class Canadian wines! https://www.carlswineclub.com/jointheclub
Author: Tiffany Mayer
Follow her on Instagram: @eatingniagara