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Entrepreneur toasts success after pivoting his wine tasting business during pandemic

Tom Newbold, Tomelier, Rugby, wine tasting

A Rugby entrepreneur who turned his back on a career in law to set up his own wine tasting business just before the pandemic struck, has unveiled plans for expansion ahead of his third anniversary.

Tom Newbold was forced to reinvent his fledgling wine tasting business when Covid-19 put a sudden halt to all face-to-face events in March 2020.

Quickly pivoting the in-person business model, he also introduced virtual tasting packs, which became popular and, post-pandemic, continue to be so, now making up around a third of Tomelier’s total revenue.

Tom is now recruiting other wine experts to help build his brand beyond the Midlands and offer more face to face tastings UK-wide.

Tomelier, Tom Newbold, Rugby, wine tasting, entrepreneur

He said: “After working in law for ten years, I started to fall out of love with the industry and specifically my long commute.

“I love wine but there is so much choice out there and so many confusing labels, it can be really daunting for consumers. From this came the idea of a tasting company where I could introduce people to different styles of wine and using my knowledge explain to them why or why not they worked for their palate.”

The bespoke virtual tastings, delivering airtight wine pouches by post, have proved particularly popular with corporate clients who can involve teams of colleagues scattered across the country.

Tomelier, wine tasting, Rugby, Tom Newbold

“The business had only been running for less than a year with a focus on tastings at venues and conference centres throughout the Midlands. We had worked hard to build up connections in the industry and had some exciting events lined up. Of course this stopped overnight,” recalls Tom.

“It was incredibly worrying not knowing what the future held but, early on into the first lockdown we started hosting live tastings on social media with wines that people could pick up in big supermarkets. These tastings gained popularity and a loyal following and we realised that there was an appetite for virtual tastings. We subsequently developed a way of sending out 100ml samples, securely and safely whilst maintaining the integrity of the wine inside.”

Tomelier, Tom Newbold, Rugby, wine tasting
Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) annual awards.

It was following the birth of his daughter in 2016 that Tom took his first steps into the wine retail industry and going on to achieve a Distinction in the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Level 3 Award in Wine as well as the prestigious Michael Cox Vintners Award.

But as he approaches Tomelier’s third anniversary – and with his sights firmly set on growth – Tom has recruited wine professionals to offer tastings in Herefordshire and Worcestershire and is also on the lookout for someone in the north of the country.

Tom added: “Whilst the pandemic has clearly been horrific for so many people, it has forced us a business to adapt and think outside the box, and I don’t think we would have ever developed the virtual tasting side of the business if we hadn’t had to experience lockdown. With everyone shut up inside this proved very popular and we were incredibly busy throughout the period of the pandemic.

“A lot of businesses have also now adapted and see the benefits and financial savings of not having a large group travelling to one location. People are also happier using virtual meeting technology and having a tasting from the comfort of their sofa has the added benefit of you not having to drive home afterwards!”


Tom Newbold, wine tasting, Rugby, Tomelier
Tom and his daughter Iris at English Oak Vineyard in Dorset.