Today we’d like to introduce you to Chelsea O’Brien.
Chelsea, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up on sips of wine at the dinner table (thanks mom and dad!), so my interest in wine started early. Being from Rochester, NY, we always had wine country a short drive away. Those who have been to the Finger Lakes can tell you the region is absolutely stunning and intoxicating in more ways than one. So when I moved to LA fresh out of college, I immediately sought out trips to California’s Central Coast whenever possible. In the Santa Ynez Valley, I found myself asking question after question in the tasting rooms, staring at maps and learning everything I could about the grapes in my glass.
For a long time, wine education for me was just an interest, not a mission. My actual career is in advertising, and I currently work for a boutique agency called Omelet as a Creative Director. Writing ads for global brands is awesome, but also exhausting. And after a long day’s work, a glass of wine is how I wind down from the day (or continue working from my couch). But because I don’t actually know how to sit still, I chose to enroll in wine classes at UCLA in 2014 and spent two years going to night school on top of my day job, pursuing my certificate in Wine Education and Management.
With this newly minted degree, I knew I wanted to do something impactful, without leaving my career in advertising. That’s where Women for WineSense LA came in.
As a national organization, Women For WineSense has been around for nearly 30 years, and I cannot take any credit for the incredible non-profit it is. It was started in Napa by two wine industry females, Julie Johnson and Michaela Rodeno, as a way to educate on wine’s rich history, how it’s made, and most importantly at the time— its health benefits. Since 1990, the organization has grown into 11 chapters across the US, from Portland to Central Florida. I first heard of the organization through my mom. She has been an active member of the Rochester chapter for over a decade and having witnessed with her firsthand how incredible the events were, I knew I needed to start a chapter in Los Angeles. So in 2017, with a few friends and former wine classmates, we formed our board, and Women For WineSense LA was born.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Starting anything from scratch is not easy. But we have an incredibly dedicated, talented board of women, all committed to making the chapter great. As a non-profit, putting on events is a 100% volunteer, unpaid effort. All of us have day jobs, many of us already working 50+ hours a week. It’s truly a labor of love. We knew going into this we’d have a lot of “competition”. LA is a bustling city. On any given day, there are hundreds of fun events you can attend — many of the wine tastings. We knew we had to be distinct, and offer something no one else could.
At first, getting the word out was our biggest challenge. As a non-profit with zero dollars in the bank to start, you can’t exactly buy a billboard on Sunset. But with so many of our board members having backgrounds in advertising, we found clever ways on social to get noticed. (Also, we begged our friends to come.) Soon, the wine lovers found us, often through word of mouth. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have members come up to me and tell me they’ve finally found “their people”.
Funding events is easily our next biggest challenge. We are committed to offering our members incredible events at a low price point. Many of our events only cost $30 a ticket, and that includes multiple quality wine pours, a guest speaker and some light bites. To pull this off, we have to negotiate like crazy with event spaces and often rely on wine donations and the generosity of our guest speakers. In return, we do everything in our power to promote the incredible wine shops, wineries, event spaces and people we partner with.
LA’s sheer size is also a challenge. This city is just so darned spread out, it’s impossible to please everyone with where we choose to host an event. We try to keep our events to quieter weeknights after 7pm (complete with our signature sparkling wine reception, aka traffic buffer), as well as on weekends.
Please tell us about Women For WineSense LA.
Women For WineSense is a national wine education organization that connects women who share an interest in wine. In LA, we host events monthly, alternating between casual meetups and formal ticketed events—each with a different topic, style, selection of wines and guest speaker. Our past guest speakers have included winemakers, advanced sommeliers, wine shop owners, wine writers, importers, and distributors. Event themes range from regional spotlights to food & wine pairings, single winery tastings and industry panels. Whenever possible, we love to shine a light on notable females in the industry.
But no matter the theme or topic, we always keep our events affordable, friendly and unpretentious. That last part, in particular, is super important to me. When looking at the other wine events in the city, I noticed that many cater to the industry professional, are pretty pricey, and are rather intimidating to the wine newbies. Wine education can come off a little snooty if we’re not careful, even if we have the best of intentions. That’s why with our events, we work hard to ensure there’s something for everyone, from the total novice to the wine professional looking to make connections and broaden their knowledge.
As an organization, I’m most proud of what we do to lift up other women. We will always be inclusive and our membership and events will always be open to men, but we pride ourselves on connecting like-minded women and highlighting the women who are paving the way in the industry today. Past speakers have included Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz wines, advanced sommelier Danielle François Fournier, and Coly Den Haan, owner of the female winemaker-focused Silver Lake wine shop, Vinovore.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Oh my goodness there are so many important things! But I do think our #1 key to success is providing our members with unique, quality programming that keep them coming back. Anyone can attend our events. You do not have to be a member to come (although you do have to pay a bit more). So in order to retain and grow our members, we need to constantly be thinking about what makes the membership more valuable than the casual drop-in. We need to listen to what they want and take their feedback to heart. Our intention is to showcase the wines, wineries, and topics they’re interested in. We want to bring them to wine shops and bars they’ve never heard of, expand our list of partners where they get discounts, and create meaningful connections that lead to networking opportunities and lasting friendships.
- A one-year aficionado membership to WWSLA is just $45 a year.
- Average ticket prices to our events range from $25-45. Our annual coursed wine dinner is around $75-$100.
- Our members pay an average of $10-15 less per event ticket than non-member attendees.
- Website: https://www.womenforwinesense.org
Photographers: Corey Vent, Michael Wilson, Chelsea O’Brien