Women in Wine: Anu Karwa of Swirl Events
By Fabiana Santana
Everybody has a dream. The having isn’t the hard part, it’s the following. Even though she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance & Economics and held a great job as a brand manager in the beauty industry for L’Oreal, John Frieda and Victoria Secret Beauty, Anu Karwa knew there was something else out there that she wanted to do. Or in her case, drink.
Anu Karwa is the founder and CEO of Swirl Events – a NY based wine tasting event company. Even though the field is dominated by men, Anu used her background and work experience to develop a brand that would stand out from the pack. Her themed tasting events can focus on a specific region, price point or even have general interest focuses like fashion or celebrities. A 2006 Paso Robles that starts out nicely but ends with a poor finish is compared to the likes of Britney Spears, while the complex layers in a 2005 Valpolicella evokes thoughts of Johnny Depp.
She decided to create Swirl Events to combine her passion for wine and bringing her friends together for memorable evenings. After earning her Advanced Certification from the internationally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) – and through her tasting experiences – she realized wine did not have to be complicated or stuffy. Thus began her dream of sharing her passion through Swirl.
How did you get into the wine business?
I decided to follow my passion for wine and bringing people together after a bit of inspiration. I’d loved wine since I lived in San Francisco. A few years ago, I threw a small wine tasting for a group of girlfriends to raise money for a charity I support that provides resources for victims of domestic abuse in the South Asian community (Sakhi.org). At the end of it, my girlfriends made me realize this was my calling and encouraged me to start the business. I decided I wanted to do something meaningful and took the leap.
When did you decide to go into business for yourself?
I got the idea in April of 2006. I worked on the idea, brand, operational, legal and financial structure of the business on nights and weekends for the next year and half. After testing the concept and confirming there was a market for Swirl Events, I quit my full-time corporate job in August of 2007 and launched the company.
What are the challenges to running your own business?
Mentally, you are always “on.” Even on vacation, you think about the business. Breaking through and getting visible with consumers is the biggest challenge.
What are the most popular parties/events you are asked to host?
Bridal showers and bachelorette parties are SO big for us. It’s because we provide an alternative to the “usual” bridal event that so many people actually dread. We create something fun that everyone can participate in that is truly a celebration of the bride and all her family and friends.
How do you keep current on the trends in wine?
I read blogs daily, Wine Spectator & Wine Enthusiast, talk to all my colleagues in various parts of the industry and visit a few choice wine bars in NYC that are think are always ahead of the curve such as Terroir in the East Village. And importantly, I pay attention to my clients. I want to understand where they are in their own wine evolution – what they like, are getting into, what’s piquing their curiosity.
Is it challenging working in a male dominated environment?
Women are taking leadership in the industry. It is still male dominated which can be a challenge, but a welcome one.
How do you keep your concepts current in terms of themes for parties?
I stay attune to pop culture and what’s important that season – is it Oscars, “Green”/Sustainable, Value-drive.
How did you develop the celebrity similarity method of tasting wine?
The concept of comparing wine to celebrities happened organically at one of our first test events. I was testing new wines with more-than-eager-to-help friends. I saw they were struggling to describe the wine in relatable terms. So, we started conceptual brainstorming with questions like “If this wine were a car, what would it be?” That very quickly lead to “If this wine were a celebrity, who would it be?” Everyone started passionately debating this so I knew I had something.
What are some tips for women who want to plan a girls night in wine tasting?
Pick a theme and center the wines around that. For example, dream destination. Have everyone bring a bottle from a country they dream of going to and have them explain why. This builds stories around the wines. Or, if your friends are trying to be more environmentally responsible, try local wines to cut down your carbon footprint.
Provide snacks that are wine friendly including nuts, cheese, fruit. And provide water!
Make sure everyone has a place to record their thoughts on the wines.
How often to you cook for yourself?
Several times a week. I feel healthier and I really enjoy it. I don’t make complicated meals but I do “try” to replicate my mother’s Indian food. That’s always a welcome challenge.
What is your favorite make at home for yourself meal?
Mexican food – it’s some of favorite but it can be pretty unhealthy outside. I made my own vegetarian taco beans by soaking kidney beans overnight, cooking them in a pressure cooker, seasoning them, etc. Then I create a taco fixings bar and create new versions for days since the beans keep well.
Here are Anu’s rules for wine pairing the next time you plan a dinner party or are in the mood for an at home tasting all your own!
A few rules for wine pairing:
1. Think about the strength of flavor and weight of your food and pair similarly. For example, a salad may be light in weight but full of flavor. You want a light bodied wine that has bright, intense flavors like a Chilean or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Eating something really dense like steak, you need an equally dense and chewy wine like a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec. If you paired the Cabernet with the salad, you’d overwhelm it and never taste the salad.
2. Think opposites – pair sweet with salty. A classic pairing with a salty cheese like Roquefort with a port.
3. Think balance – if you’re eating something really spicy like Indian or Thai food, balance that with a wine with a touch of sweetness.
And here’s our added tip: Follow your dream, especially if it involves of a glass of wine in a fully bubbled tub.