Not Your Average Blender: the L.A. Winery Offering a Unique Experience
When we came across The Blending Lab, a winery in Los Angeles that allows people to create their own unique wine blends, we had to find out more. The Blending Lab is pioneering a new way to engage people with wine, both at their cellar door and remotely. We spoke with two of its three founders, Magdalena Wojcik and Michael Keller, about the unique wine experience they have created for their customers.
How did the idea for the Blending Lab come about?
The idea came to us during numerous travels where we visited different wine country regions both at home in California and around the world, including in somewhat unexpected places, like Peru.
2/3 Blending Lab Co-Owners, Michael Keller & Magdalena Wojcik
What makes The Blending Lab different to a traditional cellar door or wine experience?
The only thing that is not different about us is the fact that we make wine from grape to bottle… just like every other winery in the world. That’s where it changes and we’re in pretty unique company. We are an experiential winery, so we not only produce our own wines and blends that we think are fantastic (which you can enjoy at the tasting room), but we both teach and allow customers to blend with us through a similar process we use to make our wines. Our customers can figure out exactly what they like and make blends that work best for them and their flavor profile. We are winemakers and wine coaches.
1/3 Blending Lab Co-Owners, Chris Payne
How do you feel the wine industry could better connect with consumers, and in what ways does The Blending Lab endeavour to do this?
The goal of the wine industry is to make a perfect bottle of wine. What that means is that you have to make a wine that is perfectly acceptable based on the varietal and the region the grape was grown. There is a lot of nonsensical appeasement to be done in the wine world if you want to make a new winery successful. To make wine more accessible and acceptable to an even greater percentage of the masses, we think the wine industry can work on making wine consumption more fun, and more personalized. Wine isn’t just about making the perfect-score cabernet, it has to be about celebrating why we like cabernet and what makes cabernet from one single plot and one single vintner so independently interesting. Just like when you score the perfect strawberries at that roadside farmstand – they are irreproducible, a product of time, place, circumstance, care, etc. We try to make wine drinking less intimidating by making it fun, interactive and hands-on. Everyone has a stake in trying to figure out what the best wine, according to them, is. Bottom line is – just have fun with wine! And you should never feel like you don’t belong.
Tell us about how you managed to create a new way to engage with customers in light of the pandemic? (tasting packs)
We turned the lab fully virtual during the pandemic and turned focus on finalizing our Wine Blending Kit product, which you can use with our wines or without. This was so well accepted by our customers across the board. We also iterated quickly and made sure to make the kits as reusable and recyclable as possible despite our tricky financial situation – we did not want to cut corners. You don’t just get to use it for one class, but you get to keep it and continue experimenting and blending moving forward with any and all wines.
Why did you decide to establish The Blending Lab in the city of L.A., making it one of the first wine tasting rooms since prohibition?
We live in LA and we really felt at the time that there was a huge opportunity to bring winery culture back to LA. It is admittedly still a general work in process that a few are essentially still battling to spearhead. There are plenty of wine bars and wine stores in the city – some have far more individualistic soul than others. We also saw that there are so many cities and urban areas that have wineries and that was the one thing that was sorely missing in LA. If you love wine, you should totally visit every “wine country” located just 3-6 hours outside of LA, but why not have a similar experience in the city and have it be more accessible when you need it?
Beyond the blending, you also produce all the wine with grapes sourced from Paso Robles, California. What’s your approach to winemaking and sourcing grapes?
Simply said, minimal intervention! We are not natural winemakers, but we strive to do as little intervention with our wines as possible. We don’t like wine chemistry outside of the art and science of blending to the native chemistry of wine. So, we try to let the grapes do their thing, only adding a little sulfites at bottling. Also… all of our wine are also vegan. We definitely are mindful of that and we do get that question a lot in LA. 🙂
What was the transition from wine loving marketers to winemakers and wine educators like?
We still do both! We still work our career marketing jobs, while we do all the operations and strategy for The Blending Lab. We’d like to believe that we live very fulfilling lives, doing the two things we love.
What has the feedback from people been like so far?
People love the Lab! We are especially grateful. Revenue and growth are great, but when customers buy a tee or something like that beyond a bottle of wine, you know you’ve hit a special chord, made their day and made a true difference in their relationship with such a special and specialized (but historically important) product like wine.
What is the main impact you are looking to have on the wine industry?
If we could have a mission, it would have to be – open it and make it more inclusive. Make it understandable, hands-on and accessible to everyone, whether you like wine or you never understood it. I am not sure if we’ll have a huge impact on the industry as a whole. We don’t see too many things changing drastically in distribution, nor are ratings ever going away. I think our goal has always been to do our own thing despite what the industry dictates and not give into what everyone thinks we should be doing because we are “in wine.” We tried to make sure to create a business that is different from what the industry is doing, allowing customers to get that more hands on and flexible/empathetic approach.
Take us out for the day in L.A., where are we going, what are we eating and who’s wine are we drinking?
We are ultimately simple folk and often prefer to cook at home. When we aren’t working at The Blending Lab or traveling out to local wine country destinations, we’re probably out finding incredible tacos, boba tea and soft serve, or just lounging at home baking bread, grilling out and then hiking out to a viewpoint to take in the overwhelming natural beauty of LA from Malibu to the gorgeous San Gabriels. We’re big into wines from every region around the globe and indulge in a few of our own wine club memberships around California, which you’d find on the table at one of our dinner parties.