Intro To The World of Wine
In 2013, I embarked on a study abroad program called Semester at Sea, in which I was able to take a wine course called Geography of Wine. Our program took place on-board a cruise ship and our floating campus allowed us to visit up to 12 countries throughout our academic semester. As part of this class, we were assigned to learn about the wines of each of the countries we visited, and throughout this wine journey, I fell deeply in love with wine and the diversity of flavors, tastes, and styles that existed around the world.
Work Experience & Educational Journey
Upon returning from this program, I moved to Colorado and began taking sommelier courses to continue growing my knowledge and appreciation of wine. Through this period I was introduced to The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery in Denver, CO, which was known for its wine in kegs and cans. I began volunteering for them in their packaging department, and then went on to work in other wine-related jobs and educational opportunities.
For the next 5 years, I was able to work in various parts of the industry in wineries such as Silver Vines (CO), King Family Vineyards, and First Colony / Thatch Winery (VA), Chateau Ste. Michelle (WA), and Union Wine Company (OR). I began to realize I wanted to create my own wine business and wanted to find a way to make a positive impact in the world of wine. That is when I decided to do the OIV MSc – a Master’s of Science in Wine Management program based out of Paris, France that is academically sponsored by Montpellier SupAgro.
OIV MSc & Free Flow Wines
The OIV MSc allowed me to visit a total of 27 countries and their respective wine regions in the course of 11 months. My goal through this experience was to learn about Alternative & Innovative Solutions for wine, and one of our stops in our program was Free Flow Wines. I had been researching wine in kegs and cans throughout my time during the OIV MSc, so after our visit to Free Flow Wines, I became more educated and excited about the world of alternative packaging! It was then that I decided I wanted to become the Largest Wine on Tap Winery and Tasting Room in the world, and thus the adventure of opening Wanderlust Wine Company began!
During my travels abroad, I witnessed how some establishments offered a self-serve opportunity for patrons to pour their own beers on tap at their own pace, and I wanted to see this for wine on a large scale! The Enomatic machines were very popular and offered a self-pour opportunity to patrons, but it was limited to bottled wines, and bottled wines were something I was looking forward to reducing the use of.
I found a self-pour technology called PourMyBeer, which is a leader in the self-dispensing beverage industry, and we began discussing my project, Wanderlust Wine Co. We teamed up and began working on what was going to be the largest self-pour installation for wine in the world!
The Largest Self-Pour Wine on Tap Winery
We currently have 56 Wines on Tap that are self-pour enabled, plus a few more taps in our Wine Club room. Our self-pour tap wall includes wines from all over the world, with around 10+ countries represented and all in the keg format.
We are located in the heart of downtown Austin, and the reception for the concept has been incredible. Our generation appreciates the reduced carbon footprint that keg wines have, plus the fresher flavors, and the ability to serve themselves instead of waiting on a bartender/server. Also, being charged for what they pour vs. what is poured to them is highly attractive to our patrons.
We have a delicious food truck on-site, called The Heel of the Boot, that serves authentic southern Italian cuisine, which pairs perfectly with our many wines! We have a casual environment at Wanderlust Wine Co. as we wanted to avoid the pretense wine can have and encourage anyone of legal drinking age to enjoy wine.
Nonetheless, we always strive to offer the best wines at the best prices, never comprising quality over cost. Most of our staff is highly trained in wine as well, holding up to WSET Level 4 – Diploma credentials and most attend monthly wine workshops and/or masterclasses to continuously grow their knowledge and appreciation of wine.
2020 In Review – Challenges & Successes
We had originally sought to launch back in March/April of 2020, but that was also when the restrictions and quarantine rules came into full effect in Austin, Texas. We were in a very fragile position, having just bootstrapped to launch, and then getting hit with the inability to launch due to a world pandemic.
We never gave up, and the most powerful phrase I recall repeating in my mind was, “We didn’t come this far, just to come this far.” Our perseverance led us to become a leader in face-mask sales in Austin during our inability to sell wine on-site, and once things opened up in June 2020, we finally had a shot at a soft-launch.
The success was short-lived and celebrated since the social justice protests began occurring in front of our winery due to the Austin’s Police Department being located right next to us. Even with the ability to operate (at reduced capacity), people were not coming to visit and consume wine due to the tension and potential for violence around our area of town. We held on, but summer was looking grim, especially with a new city order to reduce operations even further after shortly lived a moment of hope.
We adapted and persevered once again, launching new specials and promotions to our limited audiences, and thanks to the popularity of these promotions and word of mouth, we began succeeding during the pandemic. We began having enough business to cover our big debts that were deferred due to COVID-19, but the holiday season became the toughest challenge of all. With an increase in our costs and debts to be repaid and restricted business abilities, our small amount of earnings fell back to the red line.
It has been a non-stop battle to stay afloat, and even as I write this, I am thinking of other ways for my business to succeed, increase the streams of revenue, and have a fair fighting chance at success. We are now looking forward to hosting our Grand Opening one year after the initial attempt, and we know the future will be bright and exciting after this last set of challenges.
How Wine Kegs & Self-Pour Technology Helped Us Survive 2020
To circle back to kegs, our success would not have been possible without the combination of using kegs and integrating a self-pour system. The preservation of wine in kegs allows for extended periods of time for the business to sell a product without it going bad, and enjoy the savings from purchasing in keg/bulk vs. bottles.
Not only have we been able to stay afloat during a slow period, but we have also been doing something unique and better for the environment. We have liked this sustainable approach so much, that we are continuously looking for ways to become greener and reduce our overall waste and carbon footprint.
Also, people seem to appreciate the self-pour wine on tap concept primarily because they can socially distance at the tap wall and there are no bartenders, so patrons do not have to worry about other people handling their drinks. The self-pour feature also allowed our staff to focus more attention on sanitization and ensuring a safe and fun environment for our customers. As a business, the self-pour technology allowed me to hire smart and train a small, yet efficient, team that knew the products and operations very well. This resulted in our staff being able to handle larger crowds comfortably and maximizing their individual tip earnings.
Changing The World, One Glass At A Time!
We are very proud to be the Largest Self-Pour Wine on Tap Winery in the world, and I look forward to being a strong influential player in the category! We aim to see the use and adoption of keg wines continue to grow in Texas and around the world.
Enjoying some of the best and freshest wines available, while also making a positive impact in the world, now that’s something to drink to!
ABOUT SAMMY LAM
After completing his Masters of Science in Wine Management, Lam decided to develop Wanderlust Wine Co in Austin, TX. His concept is one that increases the appreciation and responsible consumption of wine through self-pour technologies, while also making an effort to protect the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of wine by using keg wines. It is Lam’s hope that wine (in alternative packing) will become the go-to beverage of his generation, and his first attempt at this goal will be through his flagship winery in downtown Austin with the largest selections of wines on tap in the world.