Toronto-Based Entrepreneur Launches Virtual Wine-Tasting Experience


By Nicole Di Tomasso

TORONTO — In response to the changing landscape around wine tastings, Toronto-based entrepreneur and DipWSET, Michelle Paris, launched Vini Ventures — Canada’s first virtual wine-tasting company that prioritizes environmental sustainability.

Launched in September 2021, Vini Ventures creates and delivers bespoke wine-tasting kits using recyclable and re-usable glass bottles and packaging made with 75 per cent minimum recycled paper. All other packing materials are also recyclable.

Initially, Paris used mini bottles in her small tasting group to divide wines for everyone to taste. Then, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paris transitioned her WSET classes online and needed a simple solution to get wine to her students. This eco-friendly idea started to sink in for Paris, and once the government modified legislation to allow wine re-bottling and alcohol delivery, she partnered with Toronto restaurant, La Palette, to work under its license.

“My WSET students were my official guinea pigs,” says Paris. “[The idea] evolved over time and made me want to get this out to the world.

Vini Ventures uses a vacuum bottle-filler system and tops its wines with ArT Wine Preserver, which replaces oxygen with Argon, to ensure the wines arrive fresh and without oxidation. The company offers from three to six bottles per box, ranging from two ounces to four ounces. The wine-tasting kits also come with a QR code that allows customers to access notes for each wine, and tastings can either be self-guided or clients can request Paris to guide them.

Vini Ventures also partners with Toronto-based Cheese Boutique to personalize the wine-tasting experience further, allowing customers to select a range of charcuteries, cheeses and snacks that can be customized for each delivery. Wine labels can also be customized to suit a client’s needs.

In just two months, Vini Ventures has witnessed steady growth, attracting a range of clients from wine associations and producers to corporate, consumer and private companies. However, one challenge of building a start-up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact to the supply chain.

“I wasn’t prepared for what the pandemic had done to the supply chain,” says Paris. “At one point, there weren’t any mini bottles in North America. There’s a shortage of glass. There’s a shortage of paper. Dealing with that is just one side of the business.”

In the future, Paris says wineries and agencies will be able to sample wines to restaurants and private clients using mini bottles, uncovering a new revenue stream that can help make up the losses from on-site tasting rooms and restaurants.

“I have a couple of wineries that will be using the system to sell the kits to their clients,” says Paris. “If they’re having a new release, then clients can decide what they want to buy without going to Niagara or Prince Edward County. It’s the same for the agencies and wine clubs. It’s going to be a new way to approach clients.”

Online wine tasting events have become an instant success for both Vini Ventures to grow its sales through the current crisis and customers who might be looking to restore company socializing.

“There’s going to be a need going forward and a demand going forward. I’ve created something out of necessity, and I’m confident that it’s going to do well,” says Paris. “I’ve learned that I’m a real entrepreneur as opposed to just running a wine school.”

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