Brianne Cohen is the principal in a lifestyle brand and business based out of Los Angeles. She has been producing events and weddings for over 10 years in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a focus on non-profit events for LGBT organizations. To complement the event and wedding arm of her business, she added her love of wine and offers her services as a wine educator, writer, and consultant to inspire people of all ages. Since COVID hit, Brianne has educated and entertained over 2,600 people through her “Virtual Vino” online wine classes, both public and private. Brianne regularly judges at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and the International Wine Challenge in London. She also completed the entire curriculum with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and traveled to London in January 2019 in order to receive her Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University and currently blogs at www.BrianneCohen.com.
1. How did you get into the wine business?
I first started studying wine (through the WSET program) for fun and personal enrichment. I love wine personally and I am a consummate student, so it just made sense. I started with the WSET Level 2 (a weekend class, all good, and for fun). Then I immediately enrolled in WSET Level 3 (one night a week for a few weeks, all good, still for fun). I then explored the WSET Level 4 Diploma program and realized that it was a three-year process and cost a few thousand dollars! I decided that I had had my fun and that I was done. I didn’t need to go that far for fun or for a hobby. A year later I got the itch and decided to pursue the Diploma program. What did I have to lose? A few thousand dollars and a lot of hours, it turns out!
As I started the program, I decided to launch a wine blog and a social media presence. I dubbed my project SOMMspirations: wine inspirations from a sommelier. I had just seen the movie Somm and saw more and more people interested in the wine industry and these pseudo- celebrity wine figures. I launched the blog in order to document my arduous WSET Diploma journey. Little did I know that was my entry into the wine business. I was a wine writer and communicator and didn’t even know it. I developed relationships with producers and PR firms. Once I finished the Diploma program in 2018, I launched the wine education arm of my business. I specialized in fun and approachable wine education as a team-building activity in corporate settings.
When COVID hit, the events side of my business halted and has been in hibernation ever since. I did take the wine education side and quickly pivoted it virtual. And I mean quick! My first Virtual Vino wine tasting was on March 19, 2020, with 120 registrations! I knew I was onto something, and the rest (as they say) is history. I saw that wineries were starting to offer small- format tasting sets for shipping across the country. I now have 15 producers I work with who offer these tasting sets. I work with corporate clients, non-profits, and individuals to offer high-quality, fun, and approachable virtual wine tastings. To date, I have seen over 2,500 faces across my Zoom screen and 2020 was my best year in business EVER.
2. What are the most frustrating and rewarding parts of your job?
The most frustrating part of my job in the wine business is that it did not “hit” until the pandemic started. BC (before Corona) I had trouble getting my foot in the door and getting corporate clients who wanted to hire me for private tastings. It took a pandemic for my wine business to thrive!
The most rewarding part of my job is all the positive feedback I receive from my Virtual Vino attendees. Many people have never been talked to about wine in the way I do: unpretentious, laid back, and FUN.
3. What is your most memorable wine experience?
My most memorable wine trip was to the Hunter Valley in Australia. The beautiful pastoral settings, salt of the earth people, and fantastic aged Semillon made it hard to leave. Australia, in general, is a pretty magical place.
Principal Business Owner,
Certified Wine Consultant,
Sommelier and Event Producer
4. What is an upcoming trend you see in wine?
I see a trend towards transparency in wine. Things such as ingredient lists and nutritional facts. Similar with what we see in food.
5. What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?
Be yourself. There will always be people in the wine industry who tell you that you don’t know enough, you’re doing something wrong, and that things have always been done a certain way. Take all of that and toss it out the door. Be yourself and own your place in the wine business. There is room enough for everyone. The haters will always be there.
6. What is one tip you have for someone just getting into wine?
Wine is a tough business. It can be exhausting, cutthroat, and not always welcoming and inclusive. My tip is to find your people. Find the people who are welcoming and who elevate those around them. People who find a chair for you at the table. People with whom you connect in more than just wine…things like wellness and self-care. Don’t forget to sleep, exercise, and watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol abuse and dependency in the industry is a real thing.
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