For once, it didn't start in Europe -- not exactly, anyway. Yes, Wine Smarties' Lindsay Pomeroy did spend a year teaching English in Italy; but, she says, she "didn't drink much wine. I went on some vineyard tours, but I had, for whatever reason, some allergic reaction to the wines that were poured in the region. So I avoided wine."
It started here in San Diego, after she moved here from Boston to join her sister. "The first job I had was as a wine broker -- selling wine over the phone. I thought it sounded fun -- drink wine all day, talk on the phone. It was a crash course in basic wine-tasting -- you had to have some sort of knowledge in order to say anything about the wines."
After nine months of that, she wandered past Wine Steals in Hillcrest, became a customer, then a part-time employee, then full-time, then assistant manager. The big lesson from her time there: "People need education -- there's really a thirst for it. No pun intended. Some people talk a good talk, but in the end, they don't really know much. But what I hear an insane amount of times is, 'I really like wine, but I have no idea what I'm doing.' Or, 'I don't know what I'm doing. My husband always orders the wine for me. '"
Statements like that aroused the teacher in Pomeroy -- that part of the Italian experience did have some influence. If people said they liked sweet whites, she introduced them to Moscato d'Asti. She built flights based on what they said they liked, choosing wines that were similar but not the same to their stated favorites -- "not so different that they would be closed to them."
And in the beginning, business was slow enough that she could take time to not only prepare flights but discuss individual wines. But business did not stay slow, and she began to miss the in-depth discussions. Along the way, she had become a certified wine specialist through the Society of Wine Educators, and now she was working towards becoming a certified wine educator. It occurred to her that "there's really no company devoted to educating the population about wine through events and consulting. There are individuals, but no company." Thus was born Wine Smarties, a company devoted to helping folks enjoy "thoughtful drinking." "My end goal is to have an entire country of Wine Smarties, complete with a TV show. I want the TV show. I am for sure a visionary and for sure a dreamer, but luckily, I have a good work ethic and I'm slightly relentless."
The time in Italy plays a part here, but it's more about the teaching than the wine. "I understand you need to break information down and present it in a logical way. As with ESL, there are levels. Some people may want to take just one or two classes; some may want to come along for the whole ride." Even a basics class can quickly require division. "We can do a Basics of New World vs. Old World, a basics class on the classic varietals and what they're supposed to express, a basics of winemaking.... I want to be flexible and to gauge people's interests and cater to them. What I've found most successful is my 'Drink Smarter' series, which are the introductory wine courses."
A more experienced group might prefer something like her "Limo Bus Wine Bar Crawl." "We did Wine Steals and the Third Corner; it was part of the 'Buy Smarter' series that I do. We walk around the shop -- I focused on France and Italy, because those are the scariest to new wine drinkers. I teach people who have no idea what a Vouvray is how to decipher labels. They're usually excited to discover a new wine, as long as you put it so they can relate to it."
For now, she is casting her net wide, seeing what catches. "I'm working with a couple of restaurants, helping with the wine list, doing events, training the staff. I'm working on a curriculum for industry professionals. Part of the reason I started the company is because I was sitting in this restaurant, asking simple questions of the waiter, and he didn't know anything." Too often, she says, "They haven't even had most of the wines that are listed on the menu, let alone having enough basic wine knowledge to be able to recommend something. I really, really want to help industry professionals."
She is hosting parties, together with chef Sean Magee. It's the "Unchain Your Palate" food and wine series. "I'm fun and spunky, and they really learn stuff." The food and wine pairing smart-chart offers tips on creating matches (a rich Chardonnay with a lobster risotto), contrasts (a high-acidity Champagne with the same dish), and disasters (a fruity New World Sauvignon Blanc with same). After that, students/partygoers assess the style of four wines and then attempt to pair them with two different dishes. "If I say, 'Here's this creamy risotto and this Champagne, and they're a perfect match,' they're going to believe me. Instead, I bring the food, pour four different wines, and have them play and determine: What is the match? The contrast? The disaster? Maybe it doesn't quite match my chart, and that's interesting, and we discuss why. It's interactive, it allows them to be a part of the process, and it's really fun."
Direct marketing to consumers has produced the most response so far -- nothing like networking, actually dropping your fliers in wine bars, and trying to build buzz through a website -- but, says Pomeroy, "I'm also liaisoning with a meeting-planning company. They have corporate clients who are looking for events. I'm trying to nestle in with a couple of hotels that book lots of corporate clients. Some sales companies -- real estate companies -- want to sweeten the pot. They think, 'Hey, why don't I send my customers to your events and help close the deal?' I'm kind of throwing stuff everywhere; I know that something is going to click."
And someday, after something has clicked and cities nationwide are turning out Wine Smarties, "There needs to be a TV show or a wine network. Like what the Food Network does -- they're traveling around, meeting and talking to winemakers, discussing the wines of the region, or going to wine bars or restaurants. Just kind of super-fun and interactive. I'm thinking it would be really cool if it was with a group, like a family -- different generations of people involved, because that's how the wine industry is. It's kind of an ageless industry. Who knows where that could go?"