While this year’s pandemic stopped many from entertaining, the stylish founders of Wine Spencer, Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith, continue to serve the community with virtual wine tastings. Whether you are a novice looking to expand elementary knowledge on wines, learn the difference between old world vs. new world wines, or get in-the-know about exciting black winemakers, Wine Spencer will deliver.
At Hobnob, we love the idea of guided virtual wine tastings. What a great gift to give to your family or circle of friends as a way to virtually get together. Think of these tastings as a substitute for that birthday party or anniversary celebration, where everyone can join in and, best of all, drink great wines. Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith have made it their business to spread the word. These two entertaining aficionados (who happened to be sisters) are WSET Level 2 sommelier certified, and have a strong desire to redefine what wine means and give it a modern significance—especially among minority communities, diverse ethnicities, and cultures that have been traditionally not been catered to by the wine industry.
They would love to create a custom tasting for you. Virtual wine tastings start at $25 per person. Each session will provide wine recommendations and the best place to purchase. Classes are conducted over zoom and cover wine tasting technique, wine regions, and the winemaking process. Plan at least three weeks in advance to get it all together. Head to the website to fill out a simple form to book. Wine Spencer donates a portion of their proceeds to the BET Saving Our Selves Relief Effort with United Way. Most classes are 90 minutes, but will vary based on the number of people and how many wines in the tasting.
We spoke personally with Shaunna Cooper and Shayla Smith of Wine Spencer, read on…
Hobnob: When did you first launch Wine Spencer and why was it important to you?
Shayla: We launched Wine Spencer in September 2019 after Shaunna came to New York and we visited a few wineries on Long Island. We have always loved wine and never felt like wine brands saw Black consumers as a viable market to genuinely target. We want to educate people about wine, while also showing wine brands that Black people are not a monolith. They have a diverse palate, and they are open to new wine varietals.
Hobnob: Has your brand strategy changed at all since the pandemic and addressing of racial injustice?
Both: We started out doing in-person tastings, either in homes or with companies, as part of employee engagement events. Since the pandemic, we have switched to virtual tastings which have been a great way to expand our reach even further. As a company led by two African American women, we wanted to support communities devastated by COVID 19 and the series of protests around the country. We partnered with United Way and BET because they are able to mobilize and donate money to organizations and communities in need across the country.
Hobnob: What are your favorite wines right now?
Both: Shayla loves sparkling wines and is enjoying Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, and Cremant, a French Sparkling wine outside the Champagne region. Both are made using the traditional method of Champagne but with a lower price point. Shaunna is enjoying New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Rhône style blends.
Hobnob: Can you name some black winemakers we should get to know?
Shayla: Ntsiki Biyela is the first Black female winemaker in South African and makes beautiful Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon under the brand Aslina. This is one of the winemakers we discuss in our Black winemakers class. The company was named after her grandmother and since our own company draws from the legacy of our own family name we love the symbolism of carrying on a family legacy.
Shaunna: Longevity Wines is a boutique winery in Livermore California. Winemaker Phil Long Sr. started making wines in his garage before opening commercially in 2008. I love the story behind the design of their label which represents artisan hearts the owner would give to his late wife. Their Deb-Ru-Vee is their signature Rhône style blends and one of my favorites.
Hobnob: What is your main focus for the future, and what Wine Spencer services should we take advantage of right now?
Both: Right now we are encouraging people across the country to book a virtual wine tasting. We have a fun seasonal class on rosé where we talk about the different styles and winemaking regions. We even do a simple cocktail demonstration! In the future, post-COVID 19, we would like to go back to in-person tastings. As restaurants open up, we’d like to host wine dinners where each course offers a complimentary wine pairing and we discuss the wine pairing during the meal.