Glass Half Full: The Story of Innovate! TCU Business Challenge Winner Sip & Share Wines

Nicole Kearney is creating her own space in the wine industry and making room for more people to share in the experiences she offers.

In mid-March, Nicole Kearney founder and vintner of Sip & Share Wines was struck by a sense of dread. Just one year earlier she started releasing her 7 Words collection of vegan wines. Now, a pandemic was putting her meticulously calculated business plan into doubt.

“It made the future very uncertain,” Kearney said. “We don’t have a tasting room. Pre-pandemic we traveled to pour for the people at festivals, events and popups across the country. Before, we would be like, ‘We’re going to be in California, we’re going to be at this particular tasting’ and people would show up.”

A purveyor of boutique, artisanal, vegan wine, Sip & Share was left with an excess supply purchased in preparation for the upcoming summer season as shutdowns and shelter-in-place mandates canceled events indefinitely.

The forced adjustment because of pandemic has not stopped the acclaim for Sip & Share’s products. Forbes listed its Conjure Zinfandel as one of the 10 wines to drink for the summer.

In need a new revenue stream, though, Sip & Share pivoted to hosting virtual wine tastings that Kearney calls “SipSperiences,” as well as online happy hours and painting events with artists, connecting with wine enthusiasts in the Midwest and across the country.

For the virtual tastings, Sip & Share ships participants a sampler set — seven small bottles each containing a glass of wine — along with a tasting grid. Participants also receive an email invitation with instructions, such as which wines to chill and suggested cheese pairings. Then the group gathers to learn the basics, sip some wine and get to know each other.

“We do the tasting and education, it’s super fun,” Kearney said. “Virtual tastings allow us to reach a much broader community.”

Founded in 2016, Sip & Share started as a home wine tasting business representing Black and women winemakers and seeking to change the narrative about wine consumers. Kearney saw the need for a space where people like her could grow, celebrate and learn from one another.

“We have a diverse taste in wine,” Kearney said. “And I want to do my part to bring people together to learn, study and experience wine.”

Kearney says her goals go far beyond her own business.

“What I want to see in our community is that we are creating not only a community of wine enthusiasts and lovers,” Kearney said, “but also creating businesses that will have longevity three generations from now.”

Listen to a podcast detailing how Nicole Kearney and Sip & Share adapted to the pandemic — earning the small business $5,000 in the Innovate! TCU Business Challenge: