NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On any given evening, you can hear the clang of wine glasses in almost any restaurant along Norfolk’s Granby Street.
34-year-old Kiera Hill, a certified sommelier, is the owner of Vino Culture. She opened her first brick-and-mortar store in Sept. 2021.
“I openly admit, I’m a nerd about wine,” Hill said.
Inside she has hundreds of bottles of libations from all over the globe and upstairs she holds wine tasting classes.
In a time when brick-and-mortar stores have struggled, Hill’s business has thrived. She truly believes none of it would have been possible if it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hill first started Vino Culture in 2018 after working for years in the restaurant industry.
“I started Vino Culture just to be a wine education company. And I used the ABC license and rooms of restaurants all over Hampton Roads, and I taught wine classes that were open to the public,” Hill said.
A true wine professional, her passion is to teach others to explore new wines.
“We talk about regions, history, biology in the vineyards, chemistry when being made and in your mouth interacting with food,” Hill said.
She would also host personal wine tastings inside people’s homes.
“I was basically the ‘somm on wheels’ I called myself,” Hill said.
But like so many others relying on in-person experiences, those wheels came to a screeching halt in March 2020 when Gov. Ralph Northam instituted non-essential business shutdowns.
“There was a moment of panic and a very large glass of wine when I realized I had to cancel all of my events for the indefinite future,” Hill said.
But at the bottom of that glass, she realized her wheels could keep on turning. Instead of in-person classes, she turned to wine deliveries.
“People like myself still need wine. I got to get it to them,” Hill said. “It was amazing and it actually helped grow my business.”
Demand grew so rapidly that her mother joined her in delivering wine to people’s doorsteps.
After making her deliveries, she would then often find herself in front of a webcam hosting tastings via Zoom.
“Developing this online chat room where everyone is talking about wine and really tasting together even if it’s virtual,” Hill said.
But Kiera still missed that personal interaction. Hence, the idea of the store.
“I really thought that what I loved the most about my business at the time was being able to go anywhere and not feeling trapped. And not feeling trapped and not feeling ‘oh i’m chained to this spot.’ I was very resistant to the idea of a brick-and-mortar,” Hill said. “I think because of the delivery business I had such a wide following already in Hampton Roads. And so I had this loyal customer base that was just so excited to support the store as soon as it opened.”
Now she has four employees that help her continue wine deliveries while also managing the shop. Tasting classes are underway again.
It’s her story of pandemic perseverance.
“Wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for how I grew the business through the delivery side of it,” Hill said.
She said moving forward she hopes to start being able to deliver wine across the country.
“Always try new things, Life is way too short to drink the same wine.”