Martin Skegg and Mallory Smith are wine professionals who have run Sunday School LLC, a wine education and events company, for the past two and a half years. They provide unconventional ‘pop-up’ wine classes around town that are inclusive, inspiring and informative. Last summer, they organized Alt Wine 2019, a festival held in Newburg that featured some of Oregon’s 71 alternative wine grapes. They also host parties, private events, and company parties for the holiday and year-round.
What was the spark:
I had been wanting to grow my career in wine but wasn’t quite sure in what capacity I wanted that to be in. Through conversations with some of my mentors in the wine industry, I was encouraged on a number of occasions to start teaching classes. I never took the suggestions seriously and quickly brushed them off. Finally, a customer at the bottle shop I manage said, “If you teach a class, I will come and bring all my friends.” It wasn’t so much her promise to bring students as it was that this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to actually consider it and mentioned the idea to Martin to see what he thought. His response was “Sure, let’s try it” with zero hesitation. So we tested the waters with a class on rosé a few weeks later and the rest is history. (Though the customer from the shop has never actually been to a class!)
The problem it solves.
We started Sunday School because we found that people are increasingly interested in wine but often don’t know where to start or even what questions to ask. While there are excellent formal classes geared towards industry professionals there wasn’t really anything that offered authoritative education in a casual environment. We provide a fun, casual and inviting space where no one is excluded—anyone, regardless of knowledge, can come learn about wine and be a part of our community of wine-lovers.
When starting our business I assumed that the support we received from others would directly correlate with the closeness of our friendships. However, I was surprised to see that that wasn’t necessarily the case, which I think is to do with whether people understood what it is like being an entrepreneur. Some of our strongest supporters have been those who understand what we are doing regardless of personal relationships.
One of our business mentors told us to “keep it simple.” The perfectionist inside of me always strives to make everything we do the absolute impeccable version. But with that mentality—and especially with all the hundreds of hats you wear as an entrepreneur—nothing would ever get done. I’ve had to alter my expectations of myself and prioritize getting something done rather than getting it done in the “perfect” way.
Through a series of events and conversations, we decided to throw a wine festival featuring Oregon’s ‘alternative’ wines (that’s everything except pinot noir). We put together Alt Wine 2019 in less than two months. We attracted 31 reputable Oregon winemakers to come and pour and hosted over 200 guests. The event sold out well beforehand and was bursting at the seams (we had to turn both winemakers and guests away because of overcapacity). The positive response was overwhelming, with winemakers asking how they could ensure to be included next year and guests emphatically stating that this was the best wine event they had ever attended. Needless to say, we were very proud of ourselves (and grateful to all our friends who went above and beyond to help us with the dirty work). We are already planning next year’s event, with ideas on how to expand and grow the festival.
Our wildly successful venture would look like:
Our local classes and events have proven very successful and we now want to take that to the next level. Our next major step is to create an interactive online classroom experience that retains the fun and casual spirit of Sunday School so that anyone, regardless of geographic location, can become part of our wine community. We also have plans to expand our brand into other wine-related ventures (that we can’t talk about right now).
When I grow up:
Mallory – graphic designer
Martin – astronomer
Stay connected to Mallory and Martin from Sunday School: