Vintage Networking

Wine lovers aren't hard to find in the nation's capital, where fine vintages (and even the cheap stuff) are served up regularly on the K Street cocktail party circuit and on back decks and living rooms across the capital region. So it's a bit of a surprise that the Traveling Vineyard is only now taking root here.

The Canton, Mass., company uses a network of self-employed sales representatives to choreograph in-home wine tasting events. It's a similar model to the well-known Tupperware customer network, but the Vineyard reps sell wine instead of the latest in plastic storage ware.

Angela Logomasini of Alexandria, Va., moonlights as a wine consultant for Traveling Vineyard and turned to it as an additional source of income. Her day job is serving as director of risk and environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where she researches environmental issues, engages in lobbying and appears on media programs on behalf of the think tank. Additionally, she is pursuing a doctoral degree in American Government from Catholic University.

With a schedule like that, a big glass of wine at the end of the day sounds pretty good. Last year, Logomasini attended the Washington D.C. International Food and Wine Festival where a Traveling Vineyard sales rep recruited her.

"Of course, I want to make money from drinking wine," Logomasini recalled thinking after talking with the rep. She also had been mulling over how to better save for retirement, which, Logomasini noted, is very tough working in the nonprofit field. Her interest was further piqued after attending a Traveling Vineyard conference in Boston this summer where she was regaled with tales of women making up to $20,000 a month as a Vineyard sales rep.

"I've always felt like there's been an entrepreneur inside me my whole life," said Logomasini, who considered starting a doggy daycare business but was dissuaded by the upfront costs needed to secure a facility and other issues. She estimated that an entrepreneur would need several hundred thousand dollars to get started in that industry.

Logomasini describes herself as "goal oriented," which may be why she decided to pay for classes at the Washington Wine Academy to cultivate a much deeper knowledge of wine to share at her tasting events.

Her financial goal with Traveling Vineyard is to see if she can "take the wine business to match my full-time income ... and who knows if I'll ever even end up using my PhD."

As an independent wine consultant, Logomasini finds someone who would like to host a wine-tasting event. She buys five-bottle customizable kits of wine from Traveling Vineyard and brings them to the party at no cost to the host. The host provides snacks with the guidance of Logomasini, who recommends -- with help from Traveling Vineyard --- food that would complement the wine. A bottle from the "party inventory" usually sells for about $12 to $20 per bottle. The $15 per case shipping fee is waived for the host if he or she decides to purchase any wine.

If anyone wants to purchase wine after the tasting, Logomasini gives them a form to complete and then the Vineyard ships the wine to them. They also can buy wine from Logomasini's Vineyard-affiliated Web site. She has sold wine at the six parties she has hosted so far for friends and neighbors. She gets 20 percent of the sales with the remainder going to Traveling Vineyard.

There is a problem. If a would-be purchaser lives in D.C. or Maryland, state law says the consumer can't have wine shipped to his house. Virginia limits shipments to two cases, at 12 bottles per case, a month. Logomasini said that restriction has put a damper on sales at some parties.

Traveling Vineyard, which is a unit of Geerlings & Wade, often works with boutique vineyards to create a wine of which it is the sole distributor. However, it does sell a variety of widely-available wines.

The parent company is a direct seller of wines and wine accessories through catalog mailings and the Internet in about 30 states. It was started in 1986 by accountants Huib Geerlings and Phillip Wade who left their jobs as auditors at Coopers & Lybrand in Boston to turn their love of wine into a business.

Summary: Angela Logomasini is a successful environmental analyst for a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. But concerns about saving for retirement as a single woman spurred her to become an independent wine consultant for Traveling Vineyard. She hopes to grow her second business to the salary level she currently earns at her full-time job. However, she has run into problems with direct shipping. State law does not permit direct shipments of wine to Washington, D.C., or Maryland residences, curbing some business growth. Logomasini has been trying to build her business in Northern Virginia.

By Sharon McLoone |  September 28, 2007; 6:00 AM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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