The Wining Hour is a boutique, a blog and and above all a place of sharing and a source of useful information for wine enthusiasts all over the world. Both the website and the blog are fuelled by the knowledge and passion of one woman. A creative visionary with a background in the field of education, Li Valentine has turned her passion for wine and for Italian culture into a one-woman enterprise that caters to the savvy wine-lover’s every need. From tableware to quirky gadget, from insight into the latest trends of the wining industry to virtual tours of Italian regions and their vineyards, traditions and typical recipes.
How did your passion for all things Italian come to be born? where does it stem from?
One of my grandparents is of Italian descent, born in Sciacca, Sicily. My family always told me, there are two types of people, those who are Italian and those who want to be Italian. While I may be a mix of other things, I have Italian in my blood, so I definitely have ‘root in the boot’ also! I have always felt drawn to the food and wine, of course, and the culture, language and the country itself. Additionally, I have family and many friends in Italy, so that just adds to my love and appreciation for the country. I travel to Italia every chance I get, from North to South, and it only made sense that I try to master the language. So I have been doing so and using every opportunity to practice. Italians love wine, so that just fits right in with The Wining Hour.
At which point did you decide to turn it into a business?
I’ve been traveling to Italy for many years, but it is only within the last couple of years that I decided to use my love for wine, travel and Italy and open a boutique that caters to wine lovers. There was no specific impetus, but I realized that I’ve been doing this all along, so why not turn it into something profitable. As a business, it allows me to write about all of my favorite subjects, share information and products with others and travel more.
How was The Wining Hour born? (shameless plug time! 🙂 tell us about what you do!) How would you define yourself professionally? An entrepreneur? A solopreneur?
I suppose I can be referred to as both an entrepreneur and solopreneur, as I began and continue to run my business solo. However, I feel that I am just a person doing what I love. I do not always think of The Wining Hour as my business or company. I enjoy drinking wine, talking to others about wine, learning from them, sharing my knowledge, writing about wine and finding and sharing unique wine-related products with others. Therefore, it is more of a hobby for me. If the business happens to land in Forbes Magazine, well, that would be great! However, that is never my focus. I honestly do not promote The Wining Hour as much as I should, or could, because promoting and marketing is not always at the forefront of my mind. I am often busy writing articles and sharing information because that is the essence The Wining Hour for me. It is purely to do what I love to do and for enjoyment.
The wine industry is a part of the F&B industry and yet often perceived as secluded from the rest of it. What do you make of wine lovers as a community? Why don’t they like to mingle?
Yes, the wine industry is under the Food and Beverage umbrella, but wine is a culture and a movement with a personality of its own. This is evident in the fact that there is a wine-lover community. Wine lovers are compelled to differentiate and distinguish themselves in the industry, as it should be. There is a separate language, or jargon associated with wine that is unique to the wine industry. I may not be a winegrower or winemaker, but as someone who rubs shoulders with key figures in the industry and someone who markets to all lovers of wine, it is clear that the wine industry definitely stands alone. Wine even seems to attract a different group of people. As wine is a socially mediated event in itself, people love to talk, write and share their pictures and experiences about and with wine. While food and wine pair very well together, wine is big and bold and does not need a costar. Wine performs well as a solo act, and anything else just serves to compliment or accent it.
Do you attend trade shows such as Vinitaly? What are your must-go appointments, what are the trade shows a wine lover should never miss?
Unfortunately, I have not yet attended Vinitaly. I missed it here in February in NY and I will miss the one in Italy in April, as I arrive the week after! However, Vinitaly should not be missed and I plan to attend their Taste of Hope event in May. I spent a lot of time around the Vinitaly pavilion while at Expo Milano 2015. James Suckling’s Wines of Italy, Antonio Galloni’s various Italian wine events and Wine Enthusiast’s Grand Tasting events are not to be missed either. I usually try to attend the Fancy Food Show in NY, the Food & Wine events in Sobe, as well as the NYC Wine & Food Festival. There are also a variety of events throughout NY, NJ and Long Island Wine Country that I attend and also sponsor.
What would you say are the next big trends in your business?
Well, these days, there is a vast multitude of wine blogs and people writing about food and wine. Everyone has a voice, whether its via blog, podcast, YouTube videos or some other media. I also notice that every other person is getting certified as a Wine Specialist (WSET) and/or involved in some sort of wine or sommelier training. I choose to write my blog to let my customers and readers know more about me, my likes and dislikes. If they happen to get educated along the way, great. Another trend in the industry is tasting events and trips. I am a low profile girl, so I am not sure if I will do any of these. Maybe. In terms of wine-ware, everyone wants to have the latest and greatest. The next big thing would be wine preservation and dispensing systems like WineKeeper and the ones all over Italy! Many people are ordering those, along with lots of wine barrel furniture.
If you were to advise a first-time traveler on visiting Italy, where would you suggest they start?
I would suggest that first time travelers begin in Florence, of course. Florence is home of the Renaissance, so it would be a fantastic place to be exposed to what Italy has to offer. However, I would be certain to advise them that Florence is not seeing Italy. While Florence is amazing, that would only be seeing a part of Italy and every region is very different in terms of its characteristics, architecture, food, culture and beauty. For me, there is no place that resembles the Tuscan countryside. However, that does not take away from the beaches of the Cinque Terre or in the south, as in Sicily or Basilicata. The north has its own history and flair, in addition to its diffusion with eastern and northern European cultures. The more I say, the more I want to say about every region on this fabulous boot-shaped peninsula.
Have you done business in Italy? What was it like?
First, it’s good to know that I am easily able to communicate with everyone I meet, whether they speak English or Italian. I have sold some of my products in Italy, as well as online to people in Italy. Mostly, my business in Italy involves wine tastings, visiting and touring wineries and vineyards, conducting interviews with winemakers and wineries, and then writing about them. My experiences in Italia are always delightful! I am always well fed and “wined” up when I leave! I look forward to more business opportunities in Italia.