Wine Enthusiast: the magazine born from love for wine and for family
We interviewed Jacqueline and Erika, daughters of Adam and Sybil Strum, the original pioneers and creators of one of the most influential newspapers designated to the wine world.
Family Business born at the end of the 70s, Wine Enthusiast has seen a progression in the wine world: from a past in which it was difficult to find even a corkscrew to open wine bottles, to a post-pandemic present in which wine has become the product symbol of moments tranquility and relax.
The fil rouge of the magazine’s success are surely family and the ability to always understand the clients’ needs and being able to indulge them.
For this reason, we interviewed Jacqueline and Erika, daughters of Adam and Sybil, the original pioneers and creator of Wine Enthusiast.
Can you tell us more about the Magazine Wine Enthusiast: how was it born, the path that led to its birth and the passion for wine that I am sure involves of its writers?
Jacqueline: I’m proud that Wine Enthusiast is a family business and I feel lucky to be in an industry full of family businesses. Our parents founded the business in the late 70s together. Our dad, Adam Strum, was selling wine from door to door. He and our mom, Sybil, loved wine, but the industry was exclusive at the time and they had difficulty finding a corkscrew to open bottles. They created their own business selling corkscrews out of their attic, and Wine Enthusiast was founded.
In the late 80s, Adam and Sybil realized they had this thirsty audience of wine consumers purchasing items surrounding wine including corkscrews, glassware, and wine fridges. They decided to create a publication for those exact consumers and that’s how Wine Enthusiast magazine was born. They essentially combined content and commerce before it was cool!
Wine Enthusiast Catalog provides all the products for folks to enjoy wine and spirits to the fullest in their homes. Wine Enthusiast magazine is a print publication and online resource that provides relevant content like wine and food trends. And every year, we blind taste and rate more than 25,000 wines!
From the beginning, our goal has been to be a wine resource for everyone, regardless of whether you’ve been enjoying different varieties for decades or just starting to explore the world of wine. That sensibility around democratizing wine has always been a part of our DNA. From the editors to the digital team to our catalog experts, we’re proud and grateful for the entire Wine Enthusiast team and that everyone shares a passion for wine.
Since Wine Enthusiast is a magazine about wine, can you tell us how the pandemic influenced the wine market and the wine consumption in your country? Have you written about any changes brought by the pandemic? If yes, which changes?
Jacqueline: The COVID-19 pandemic is leaving its mark on every industry and the world of wine is no exception. The biggest trend we saw was a shift in how wine was being purchased. As restaurants were forced to close, there was a big disruption in how consumers bought wine. Because consumers no longer had access to wine at restaurants, people turned to their computers to shop. E-Commerce has been a growth area in the wine industry for many years, but the pandemic drove that trend to increase at five times the speed of an average year (pre-pandemic). Folks were buying wine online at record-breaking numbers and referencing the ratings and reviews on WineMag.com to make their selections.
The other big trend we saw was huge growth in the premiumization of what people purchase. Many folks spent the pandemic learning more about wine and enjoying it at home. The desire to try new and exciting brands expanded, and the more expensive segment of wines (above $20 U.S. dollars) grew tremendously. This was felt very acutely in the sparkling category where Champagne was nearly out of stock in many places. Importers were almost begging to get their overseas shipments faster. There is a famous quote from Napoleon that perfectly explains the growth in demand for sparkling wine - “in victory, you deserve Champagne; in defeat, you need it.”
During the pandemic we witnessed a growing digitalization in all aspects: from the wine trade to the wine writing. Was there an increasi in the digitalization also in your Country and how did you cope with that?
Erika: Absolutely. The pandemic brought a new barrier amongst consumers and their shopping experiences. In-person shopping was no longer an option, and brands needed to find ways to communicate consistently and with new touchpoints. Historically, we have valued our ability to offer customers a human touch over the phone. To add to this, we invested in new channels for communication such as texting.
We also opened additional warehouse locations to bring products to customers faster than ever across the country. It was a challenge for brands to keep up with the high demand, but it was important to us that we met customers with the available supply of products.
Two of our main focuses have been increasing the speed of delivery and improving the communication with customers. Our products and content provide an escape from some of the hard realities taking place in the world. I feel good that in scary times, like during a pandemic, we’re providing a respite to our customers. Everybody needs a break.
During this re-opening phase, have you witnessed any new trends on the wine world?
Erika: One trend we’ve witnessed is how wineries are truly raising the bar on customer experiences to provide visitors with memorable trips. A goal of these elevated experiences is for guests to talk or write about them on social media, which in return, brings new visitors to the wineries.
Another trend is a sense of urgency to travel again. People feel comfortable going on planes and being in larger groups, but there’s also a fleeting feeling that it may not last. To some degree, we are all trying to soak up as much “normalcy” while we can. The wine and tourism regions are doing the same.
Also, there has been a high consumption of wine for two years to weather the pandemic, and consumers are now trying to find balance. We are seeing huge waves of growth in wines and spirits with low alcohol and no alcohol. And there are stores that are now devoted solely to this.
Lastly, with more consumers spending time at home, we have seen a spike in purchases in our commerce business. Because there was a risk of travel plans being cancelled due to the pandemic, consumers were hesitant to spend on a vacation and instead, more willing to invest in their wine collection. They were buying wine coolers and refrigerators for their homes. We have had double-digit sales increases in the last few years. More consumers are experiencing the joy of a properly stored and aged bottle. We hope they are enjoying their wines and we are glad to provide them with the proper storage and tools.
Reading the market’s data, Italian wines keep being appreciated in the American market. According to you, to which reason do we owe this success?
Jacqueline: We write extensively about Italian wine in Wine Enthusiast magazine. We have two editors dedicated to covering the ratings and reviews for Italian wine regions including Kerin O’Keefe, a famous Italian wine expert. Italian wine is extremely well loved in the United States. One of the main reasons is because the food of Italy is so popular in the U.S. It is a perfect entry point to discover the wine.
Additionally, we have seen growth in sparkling wines, and the bubbly wines of Italy such as Prosecco, Trento DOC and Franciacorta have experienced massive gains in popularity in the last few years. I don’t see that trend stopping any time soon. I’m personally a big fan of Italian wine and drink it often. There’s always something new and magical to learn about Italian wine. Our team recently returned from Vinitaly in Verona and were thrilled to see the many amazing producers and partners we’ve come to know and love in Italia.
Which are the Italian wines that you appreciate the most? Which are the most appreciated Italian wines in the USA?
Erika: Italian wine is incredibly special and varied. No matter the occasion or setting, you can select an Italian wine and find a perfect pairing. Wines from Mount Etna have been rising in popularity in the U.S. I have seen them more frequently on menus in New York. To me, they have great intensity and richness with a rugged character. Americans, particularly on the coasts, like to feel that they’ve made a discovery or are drinking something unique. Drinking wine from an active volcano certainly feeds that need! As far as widespread adoration, it is tough to compete with Tuscany. I would like more Americans to become familiar with Gavi di Gavi. There is truly no other white wine in the world like it.
Do you have any suggestions or things you noticed that can be improved for Italian sellers that want to sell in your country?
Erika: European wineries need to find ways to make wine approachable to a younger, American audience. There is still a barrier-to-entry for wine beginners to start drinking and loving Italian wine because they are unable to purchase with confidence. I understand there is a challenge with European wine label laws. If Italian brands can invest in clear, understandable messaging on their bottles and remove the doubt during purchase, they’ll find success in the U.S. market. Of course, there will always be the romance of enjoying Italian wine!