We’ve all been there — standing in the wine aisle with no clue what differentiates one bottle from the next. You settle on the most interesting label and call it a day. Luckily, the Pinellas County native behind a new subscription-based wine club aims to take the guesswork out of that shopping trip while exposing Floridians to independent wineries.
Over the last four years, Brian Seel has visited more than 230 wineries around the world. So, yeah, it’s safe to say the certified sommelier — who previously lived in Sonoma, California — did his research in preparation for the October debut of Vineration Wine Club. Interestingly, though, Vineration originally started as a wine travel blog. Its transformation came on the heels of Seel’s return to Tampa, where he saw a need in the Florida wine market and wanted to make a change.
But let’s rewind a little bit further: Prior to relocating to the West Coast for nearly three years, Seel and his wife, Lindsay, experienced a serious case of wanderlust. That hunger for travel led them to quit their jobs in 2015 and visit 27 countries in a year. Throughout their journey, Seel’s infatuation with artisan vino blossomed as they explored the wine regions of Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, to name a few.
Afterward? The globetrotting couple made the move to Cali wine country.
In Sonoma, Seel found himself hitting up multiple wineries on the weekends, which allowed him to refine his palate and expand his knowledge of winemaking and distribution before coming back to Tampa over the summer.
“Despite the fact that we love California, being close to family mattered more,” Seel said.
What he gained in familial support, however, he lost in local wineries. According to the Vineration founder, Florida’s physical distance from major wine regions and restrictive alcohol sales laws fueled his desire to introduce curious drinkers to the lesser-known wines and winemakers he’s come to love.
Once Seel knew he wanted to launch the wine club, he had to assemble more than a simple business plan, because Florida follows a three-tier system of distribution (read: wine must be sold from wineries to distributors and then to retailers before it reaches consumers). The loophole that Vineration capitalizes on is direct-to-consumer sales. Since most small winemakers don’t have representation in the Sunshine State, consumers would ordinarily need to reach out to them directly — and that’s assuming they’re even on a consumer’s radar. But Vineration fills that void, providing access to otherwise unattainable wines.
“I am essentially the middle man,” said Seel, “bridging the gap to help Floridians learn about wine, drink like a local and forge a real connection to America’s wine country.”
He’s looking to pull back the curtain on mass-produced wine companies and offer transparency through his hand-selected hauls.
“I know each of the winemakers and personally curate the featured wines,” he added.
Vineration members receive two bottles from indie wineries across California, Oregon and Washington every month, as well as the story of each wine’s origin and a tasting guide. They reach the ultimate level of adulting, too, with additional benefits like invitation-only tastings and winemaker dinners, wine travel concierge services, special deals on wines, educational resources and event sommelier services.
The monthly membership costs $77, which includes a $10 shipping fee.
If wine enthusiasts are tight on bread but still want to get in on the action, Vineration gives them the option to pop in and out of their memberships as they please with an anytime cancelation policy. Or, you know, they could always send the “gift” link on Vineration.com to a loved one who’d like to pay for their one- or three-month subscriptions.
Seel lets members weigh in on the featured wines from time to time. Combinations vary month to month — from red and white bottles to a pairing of white and rosé — and two reds were his most recent mashup.
As for the list of featured wineries, it’s been built from his impressive network of winemakers on the West Coast. Not only does Seel want the Vineration community to sip the winery’s product, but he also wants to them to learn about the vineyard — one of them being Peter Mathis’s Mathis Vineyard in the hills above Sonoma Valley. Mathis made wines for two decades at Ravenswood before clearing the land for his vineyard more than 15 years ago. His vino has scored several coveted accolades, and in February, the wine club will spotlight the 2015 Mathis Grenache for tasting.
Although wine subscription services that delivery to our doors aren’t uncharted territory, Vineration is exclusively available to Floridians. At least for now. Seel’s five-year plan involves expansion into other states, but adventurous drinkers who aren’t wearing flip-fops 24/7 can join the waiting list.
“The craft beer wave has been going strong for a few years now,” Seel said. “We, as consumers, want to know where our products are being made, and it should be that way for wine [in Florida] as well.”