I recently had the opportunity to interview the founder of Tomelier, Tom Newbold, who called time on his career in the law to launch a virtual and in-person wine tasting company.
When was the business launched?
I originally established the business in 2019 as a partnership and found a niche in the market of offering wine tasting events at corporate venues and conference centres across the Midlands.
Things started well, building some good relationships with venues, but then COVID hit, putting a stop to all planned events. Fortunately, we were able to relaunch the business offering virtual tastings, which are still popular today – especially with corporate clients – making up about a third of our business.
What inspired you to set up the business?
I love wine! After working in law for ten years, I started to fall out of love with the industry and specifically my long commute.
When my daughter was born my wife and I took shared parental leave. During this time I took a wine course offered by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) which I loved and wanted to pursue further, so in the autumn of 2016 I took a job with a wine retailer that offered further educational opportunities.
There is so much choice out there and so many confusing labels, it can be really daunting for consumers. From this came the idea of a tasting company where I could introduce people to different styles of wine and using my knowledge explain to them why or why not they worked for their palate.
How easy has it been for you to move from a full-time job to running your own business?
Throughout my career I’ve always worked long hours. I would regularly be out of the house for 14 hours a day when I worked in law and 10-hour retail shifts were not uncommon. Running my own business involves long but flexible hours so I can plan my day around the business and family life, even if that means having to do some admin jobs at unsociable hours.
The biggest challenge is being responsible for absolutely every aspect of the business, including areas where I had no prior experience (website design jumps to mind), but with help, advice and time I have been able to get to grips with this.
What do you really enjoy about running the company?
The complete control I have over the direction I take the business in. It’s also great being able to be in total control of balancing my work and family life.
I can take my son swimming on a Monday, my daughter to dance classes on Tuesday and plan my working day around this. It does mean that there will be times that I have to work in the early mornings or late at night, but when it’s your own business that doesn’t matter.
Have there been any issues or problems you have had to overcome in running your business?
There are always problems cropping up that need resolving. IT is quite a regular offender but probably the biggest issue we’ve had to overcome is when the company who provided our delivery solution for our virtual tasting kits suddenly pulled out of the market before last Christmas, our busiest time of the year.
Shipping wine is not as simple as popping to the local post office, a lot of carriers don’t accept it and those that do require contracts which take time to set up. Fortunately, after some stressful days, we were able to put something new in place to save Christmas.
What do family and friends think?
They are really proud that I have built something which is truly a reflection of who I am and what I believe in. Having a wine professional on hand has a lot of upsides for them as well, there are normally a good few samples up for grabs!
On the downside, everyone is now scared to bring a bottle of wine with them when they come over!
Hobbies and interests (other than wine)?
I love my rugby. I played throughout school and in my twenties but took a step back when I became too old and unfit to keep up with the youngsters.
Nowadays, my activities are a bit more sedate. Where the weather permits I love strapping my son into the baby carrier and exploring the local countryside, particularly as I can then justify a pub lunch afterwards!
That is one of the most common questions I get asked and one of the most difficult to answer! Doing this job I have to try a lot of wines and I love exploring wines from unusual places. There are literally tens of thousands of grape varieties out there to try.
I don’t typically buy a lot of the same wine for myself, instead preferring to give something different a go. If you were to force me to commit though I would go for a Syrah (Shiraz) or a Syrah blend from either the Rhône Valley or the South African winelands.
What’s next for the company — what’s in the pipeline?
After two years in lockdown we are seeing an increase in demand for in-person tastings. To deal with this increase we’ve recently recruited a very experienced wine professional based in Worcester who will give us increased coverage and flexibility in the region.
It’s very important to us that anyone hosting a tasting understands the Tomelier brand and ethos.
In the long term I intend to do some further qualifications which will enable me to run WSET educational courses alongside our current social styles of tastings.
Are you looking to franchise the concept or otherwise scale the business for growth?
COVID caused a lot of change to the business model, with a focus on virtual events rather than in-person tastings.
As things return to normal there is a renewed demand for face to face tastings and as such we are looking at increasing our reach and coverage across the country.
We have recently taken on an experienced wine professional to provide additional coverage in Herefordshire and Worcestershire and are looking to find someone to cover South Yorkshire.
The brand and its ethos are very important to me and I need to ensure that anyone representing our brand understands that. Franchise has always been an idea for future growth but we need to see some continuity and stability before that can be developed further.
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