From SoHo House to Clubhouse
Those of us at an adequate age to go out and drink wine at prestigious clubs are more likely to see the latest TikTok trend on CNN, rather than on TikTok itself. Dancing in front of a ring lit, mounted, iPhone was never a part of our vibe, we prefer nights spent under disco balls on steamy dance floors. The only App we needed was Messenger, our fingers frenetically texting one another to find out what time we were meeting at SoHo House for cocktails, and whose promoter had the best table at 1Oak. Monarch’s founder, Christina Rodehau, is no stranger to this scene growing up in New York and spending her Friday nights in classic Chelsea gems like Bungalow 8. As time marches on to the soundtrack of the latest hits, our responsibilities pile up, and the precious free time we can carve out, needs to count. We still want the excitement of locking eyes with a stranger across the room, and simultaneously crave quality time with our tribe to help us navigate the multifaceted issues that now envelop our lives. The club is a source of shared energy, and afterwards while piled in the back of a cab over late-night pizza we’d dissect injustices at work, fundraising for our own companies, or simply find contentment in the shared silence.
Cue 2020, where all of these reliable outlets to connect were no longer an option, and everything went virtual. Certain people and industries were better prepared than others, but we quickly learned that what initially had been a migration to the internet out of necessity, was here to stay. Zoom became a verb, and I guarantee you’ve never had more packages delivered in your life. This shift created a gap for an online space that could quench our thirst for real-world socialisation, counsel, and community. Lucky for you I know just the spot, and…
Clubhouse – the invite-only App where people gather in audio chatrooms to discuss a wide variety of topics. Leo Polovets, an investor at Susa Ventures, has said “It’s almost like a podcast with audience participation”. What makes Clubhouse so unique is this bi-directional nature of the conversation. When you speak, you’re able to get direct, real-time feedback. In talking with therapists, I learned that any situation where a person is speaking and not receiving a response can be very deregulating, which is what makes public speaking so scary. The nature of back-and-forth conversation on Clubhouse helps remove that fear factor, while also satisfying the basic human need to be heard, appreciated, and validated.
The App was founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth who couldn’t have had better timing (Clubhouse just celebrated its 1st Birthday in March). Andreessen Horowitz recently won a bidding war to invest $10 million in the app, plus $2 million in secondary shares, a safe bet that Clubhouse’s formula can outlast pandemic induced boredom. Much like the membership waiting list (rumoured to sit at about 10K) for Soho House – the queue to get into Clubhouse is endless. Instead of vying for invites via dinner parties and red-carpet events, people are attempting to get coveted invitations via Twitter, Instagram, and Slack.
If you haven’t joined Clubhouse (nor heard about it on CNN) let’s break it down. Post receiving your exclusive invite, you set up a profile (one photo & plain text only) and are presented with a variety of interests to explore from Space (yes, @elonmusk is on the App) to Karaoke. You’re then presented with a landing page full of ‘Rooms’ you can join. Once you’re in, you see Moderators & Speakers at the top, referred to as the ‘Stage’. Moderators have a green star by their names, and tend to form ‘Mod Squads’, a cohort of moderating buddies. This enables them to share hosting duties – which is necessary, I’ve hopped in and out of rooms that have gone on for multiple days straight. Directly underneath the Moderators, you see people who are ‘Followed by the speakers’– which is clearly the VIP section. Lastly there are ‘Others in the room’ – the audience, which I’ve seen spike to 7K when Mark Zuckerberg dropped in a room last month, and up to 8K when founders Paul & Rohan hold their Town Halls. As an audience member, you can ‘raise your hand’ if you’d like to come up to the stage and ask a question that’s relevant to the room topic. The goal is to contribute in a meaningful way and not thoughtlessly take up time in the name of self-promotion. In my experience the best moderators are the ruthless ones, who are unafraid to cut off individuals attempting to drive the conversation away from the original topic.
Bring on the Bottles
Historically wine has been an industry that’s taken to the internet like oil to water, but the stars seemed to align perfectly for Clubhouse to solve this cagey opportunity to connect wine with its target demographic online. Renée Sferrazza, a Certified Sommelier, Brand Consultant, and founder of the ‘Bottled Up Chat’ on Clubhouse explained that this disconnect is largely due to the dichotomy between two conflicting sides of the wine world.
“On one hand wine is serious, wine is terroir, wine is academia, but on the other hand, wine is fun! There’s judgement between these two worlds, which is why it can be hard to get wine online” Renée clarified. “Enthusiasm in wine isn’t just about DRC (Domaine Romanee Conti), it’s also about Cupcake! However, the focal point can tend to lean towards the DRC crowd instead of the more down to earth, fun, Cupcake crowd”. Where there are challenges, there will be entrepreneurial women who push the needle forward, which is exactly what Renée has done by curating her virtual wine experiences. ‘Bottled Up Chat’, which she describes as “truly a Clubhouse created wine room, that aims to keep up the participation and bring together wine-pros and winos” takes place every Saturday night at 8pm EST. Topics change from week to week and are decided by audience vote, something unique to Renée’s room. Recently I dropped in for Italian Wine Club, a chat that focused on Italian grape varietals planted outside of Italy, which Renée refers to as “world travelling varietals”. “We haven’t been able to connect in person since pre-harvest 2019” Renée pointed out, “Clubhouse fills the void of meeting people in person at Tradeshows, especially now that it’s International. Not seeing each other for this long has stifled creative team building within the industry, and Clubhouse has brought that back to life”.
Kimberly H. Washington, CEO/Founder of Beviam fine wine & experiences, was an early adopter of Clubhouse. Beviam is based in the heart of Napa Valley and creates signature events for prestigious clients, including multiple Silicon Valley’s C-Suite. She and the Beviam team successfully pivoted over the past year to expanding their virtual events, which has now become the new normal for many companies.
Beviam adds unique elements to their virtual events by including tactile experience boxes to accompany the wine tasting, like a ring of fabric swatches to explain the mouthfeel of wine, adding an extra layer for the audience to engage with. Wine is a medium of the senses, and in unlocking creative ideas like this one, the sensory experience can suddenly be shared more effectively in this new virtual space.
Kimberly was invited to Clubhouse by Drue Kataoka, a friend of founders Paul and Rohan, in August of 2020 when only ~1K people we’re using the App. She shared that in these early days the App felt like “the first year at Coachella, with only one or two rooms open a day in a Townhall format, where people were just brainstorming about what Clubhouse could potentially be”. It’s safe to say these conversations shaped what Clubhouse is today, and I’m so grateful a powerhouse voice like Kimberly’s was present during this embryotic stage. Around September she started to see an influx of interesting people joining the app and kicking off clubs. Realizing this was a great space to bring the wine industry together, Kimberly and her husband Anthony started one of the first clubs on the app, “House Wine”. The club now has 16K+ followers/members in which they host rooms with global wine makers and vintners as their guests.
Inclusivity in an Exclusive App
A common theme in talking with both Kimberly and Renée was how easy it was to include people from all over the world in these conversations. Kimberly remembered when Clubhouse opened up in Germany & Italy, and it seemed all of their rooms centred around wine. The App was organically becoming a great space to bring everyone in the industry together. I was in a room with the brilliant Julia Coney recently when she called out the important role that Clubhouse plays in opening access to people who may have previously been hindered from participating. Whether it be not having the physical ability travel to a tradeshow, or lacking the financial capital do so, Clubhouse knocks these barriers down.
We can’t talk about inclusivity and sustainable development in the Wine Industry without discussing gender and race. The reality is, only a couple of decades ago, the industry was primarily dominated globally by white men. This landscape is beginning to change, and the Clubhouse wine demographic is extremely reflective of that. “When you’re moderating a room, it’s helpful to be well prepared, you really need to think through the topics you’re going to focus on” Kimberly stipulated. “I select co-moderators and speakers whom I know will be both inspiring and enlightening”. “On this platform we have a responsibility to bring to these spaces and/or rooms honest content that also inspires a level of change we want to see in the world”. The wine sector on Clubhouse is seemingly taking admirable steps towards inclusivity, the best rooms I’ve been in have had incredible Black women like Tonya Pitts and Nadine Brown sharing their perspectives. It’s equally encouraging that there’s been a steady crowd of allies who have showed up to support and hold space for the women in these rooms.
Renée and I discussed how using the “amplification” technique, the one women in Obama’s White House made viral, works well on Clubhouse. When Renée is moderating, she’ll commonly default to “she said something” to ensure women’s comments aren’t steamrolled. “You can do this in a way that brings attention to the actions that are happening and humanize it. There are so many human experiences that unite us all, feeling sad, disenfranchised, upset, annoyed, frustrated, and there’s a line between debating and berating” Renée said, “this is easier to control when you’re moderating a room”.
Clubhouse also manages to be inclusive of both introverts and extroverts, as well as various lifestyles. No one can see you, and these conversations aren’t (typically) recorded, which makes the whole experience feel a bit safer. Another important point Kimberly brought up is that in the Clubhouse rooms “you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to”, you just simply select the ‘maybe later’ button if you’re invited to join the conversation. Along with being a founder of Beviam, Partner at the London based company – Leaders on Purpose, Kimberly is also a Mom and Wife. She finds Clubhouse to seamlessly fit into her busy schedule. “For those of us who are extreme multi-taskers and enjoy global networking with like-minded founders & professionals, this App is wonderful.” Clubhouse allows her to put on a headset and moderate a room in between playing games with her five-year-old daughter and also running her companies.
Wines’ deep-rooted history is one of the things that make it so unique, but we have a responsibility to make sure we’re pruning it to be successful in the 21st century and beyond. It’s all about shared experiences through community, and connecting our ever-growing demographic that spans geos, cultures, and learning styles is crucial. Renée and I laughed remembering how we used to love talking with people over the phone. “There’s so much conversational nature to how we’ve grown up and the spaces we’ve been in that are unique to our generation”, she said. Bringing back this rudimentary vocal conversation is how Clubhouse is solving for a problem that has troubled the wine industry for years. It fits the demand we have for socialization at this point in our lives and accommodates our swiftly globalising trade. SoHo house may have started in London, but global expansion is what made it a true success.
Monarch X Clubhouse
Thirsty for more? Lucky for you the Monarch Wine Club is officially open. Monarch’s Wine Club is an aural extension of our digital publication, where our conversations go deeper and further with our favourite Wineries and Somms. Our exclusive content will range from prestigious wine wisdom with our Master Somm, John Szabo, to dynamic food & wine pairings, and sensory experiences like ‘Varietal Vibes’, featuring our resident composer, Andy Favre. From travel to art, wine investment to design, you won’t want to miss out on these cool conversations where we’ll connect wine professionals, brands, and consumers. Head over to the ‘Team’ section of our website and follow the Monarch Wine crew on Clubhouse for your exclusive invite to join. See you at the club!
Lucy Spain is an International Wine Professional currently based in London, with certifications from the American Sommelier Association, and a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines. Her experience acting and writing as a proud member of the Screen Actors Guild, as well as 10 years in Media Technology, make her uniquely qualified to present wine in a fresh way. She focuses on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the industry, and uses her background in tech to look at the ancient art of winemaking through a modern lens. You can find her work at lucyspain.com, and say hello on Instagram