|Ashley Sytsma on Artisan Wine and Her Family-Owned Wine Shop|
|Written by Abbie Stutzer|
People’s Wine Market does an exceptional job of bringing artisan wines to wine lovers. This awesome wine company that began operating just recently has already seen a great amount of success. We recently interviewed Ashley Sytsma, People’s Wine Market owner/wine lover, and found out how she and Ryan Sytsma, fellow Wine Market owner, met and created their small, family-owned wine shop.
Organic Authority: How are you able to discount the wine? And how are you able to keep the shipping so low?
Ashley Sytsma: We sell the winemaker’s odds and ends. Since a bottle of wine takes years to create, a winemaker will oftentimes make slightly more than they’ll need, just in case. Whether they sell their bottles at their own tasting room or through a distributor, it's only natural for a few unsold cases to remain when the next vintage is ready to sell. These odds and ends build up -- even for the most illustrious of wineries. We comb the globe looking for these dusty cases, and buy them at a discount and sell them at a discount. They become extra revenue for the wineries and bargains for our customers! Regarding our $5 shipping. What’s interesting is that the cost of sending three bottles by UPS is not dramatically more than sending just one bottle. By selling our wines in bundles of 2-6, as opposed to single bottles, we are able to spread the cost of shipping across a greater number of bottles.
OA: There are some areas/states that don’t allow wine delivery, correct?
AS: There are a number of them, including Utah, Oklahoma and Tennessee, among others. See a full list of the states we ship to here.
OA: How many wines do you unveil every Tuesday?
AS: We generally unveil 3-5 wines every Tuesday.
OA: How do you select the wines, the family producers you carry?
AS: First, we only consider wines that have been produced by small, artisan, preferable family-owned, environmentally-friendly wineries. We give extra-special consideration to organic and biodynamic wines. Even if they aren’t organic, they must at least show a history of sustainable farming practices. Next, we taste a lot of wine samples. We are an outlet of exceptional artisan wine. We turn away over 75 percent of the bottles presented to us because they don’t meet our strict quality criteria. Only the cream-of-the-artisan-wine crop makes it on our site. Lastly, the price needs to be fair. Our goal is for People’s Wine Market to foster strong businesses. We’re not interested in lowballing our wineries so much they go out of business. We want to make sure we pay enough to at least cover their costs so that they can continue on to make a next vintage. We are “outlet,” but we are not the graveyard for failing brands.
OA: How many organic wines do you carry? Are you finding more wineries carrying organic, sustainable wines?
AS: The number that we carry varies, but it is certainly one of our highest priorities when selecting a wine. We’ve found, especially in the old-world, there are many, many wineries that operate organically, but they aren’t certified organic. The certification process is lengthy and cost prohibitive for small wineries. As a result, many of them choose to not have the certification. However, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of wineries that are doing this, which is really exciting. In Europe, a new generation is taking over the family estates and reverting back to their grandparents’ way of maintaining their vines -- which, of course, means organically. We are also seeing an increasing number of wineries in Europe, particularly France and Germany, that have gone the next step and are making wine bio-dynamically.
OA: What other earth-friendly practices does your company support?
AS: In all aspects of our business we try and be as earth friendly as possible. I think that is a function of having grown up in Seattle! First and foremost, all of our wines are made by family-owned wineries. So much of the wine on the market is made by large corporations who are interested in making large amounts of inexpensive wines. We think that artisan wineries not only make better and more interesting wines, but are also interested in being effective stewards of the land, better employers, and more of the money stays in their communities. On a more personal level, we're purchasing carbon offsets for our shipping, all of our packing materials are recycled and bio-degradable, and even our boxes are made by a company that has an integrated water system that minimizes waste. Honestly, being earth-friendly does cost more, but we think that it’s important that we internalize all of our costs as much as possible to reflect the real price of doing business while at the same time minimizing our carbon footprint.
OA: How's the business been going so far? When did you open for business, and when did the business idea first come to be? Any unintentional snags hit along the business creating process?
AS: The business has been going fantastically so far (knock on wood!). Our wine subscription service is a particularly big success. The idea first came to us about a year and a half ago when, as importers, we had a shipment of wine coming in with a new release while we still had a few cases of the past vintage in our warehouse. At the time, there were few options available to us to sell those remaining cases. We realized that there needed to be a better solution for liquidating our great bottles. We started doing the groundwork around that time, and after much research and work we opened our doors in the middle of September. Even though we’ve been in business for only a short time, the outpouring of support has been staggering -- it is really exciting!
OA: Where did you guys meet? Did you both have a love for partaking in less known, small family wine brews? How have both of your backgrounds helped in the creation of this business?
AS: We actually met at work in September of 2006. We both worked for a small non-profit in Seattle and found that even though we spent a great deal of time together at work, we wanted to spend our evenings together too. One thing led to another and in less than a year we were engaged! It became a hobby to cook elaborate meals together and pairing them with interesting wines made by small artisan wineries. As our knowledge about wine blossomed, we decided that this was a path we should go down together professionally. Our first step on this path was a wine importing business. This business allows us to travel around the country and the world tasting and learning more and more about wine, winemaking and the people behind it all. It is through this that we developed the idea for People's Wine Market, which gave us some of the fundamental know-how on how to get it off the ground.
OA: Some wine lovers aren't exactly versed in buying. If a customer has a question about a wine, can you guys help direct them towards a selection?
AS: Absolutely! Every day we get emails from folks who want some assistance in selecting a wine. We love hearing from customers! But more importantly, we make wine buying easy on our site. Instead of being faced with an intimidating wall of wine at a grocery store, we present three wines every week that we’ve vetted for quality. And at outlet prices, these wines are a great opportunity to expand your wine knowledge. You may want to try a French wine, but you don’t want to pay $40 on a bottle you don’t know is good. Buy one of our wines, and that same $40 will cost you $20… and we’ve made sure it is good for you. It is a great place for beginners!
OA: What are your other passions? Any plans to grow the business in different ways, directions? Are there any features (like the People's Wine Subscription) that are popular amongst your patrons?
AS: We both have our individual passions, of course, but what we do share is cooking foods from around the world (we have been on an Indian foods kick recently), hiking the beautiful northwest mountains and dancing in the living room until late at night. At the moment we don't have specific plans for taking the business in new ways, though we have been absolutely delighted at the response to the Subscription that we offer. The success of the subscription is what’s surprised us the most. It’s become the most popular part of our site! One of my favorite comments came from a Stanford professor who described the subscription as, " Christmas for grownups!" I think that the subscription really resonates with people who are short on time, who want to support small artisan wineries, and who want to try new wines not readily available in their region. And at $75 a delivery (5-7 bottles… a 40-75 percent discount), plus free shipping, the price is right!
OA: You guys have a warehouse, but not a physical store, correct? Do you mostly do the work from there? Do you hope to expand, add employees in the future or keep it small?
AS: We do have a warehouse where we fulfill our orders, but it is not a physical store. Except for the occasional “Warehouse Tasting Party,” we are online only. In the future we are definitely planning on expanding and hiring employees, but we want to stay small enough to stay true to our ethics. Finding exceptional artisan wines and selling them at outlet prices needs to be our #1 priority no matter what our size.
image: Peoples Wine Market