Women in Wine: Plonk Wine Merchants’ Etty Lewensztain

By Fabiana Santana

When wine pro Etty Lewensztain couldn’t find the perfect job, she created it. ” I saw that there was a lot of action and articles written about the online world of wine. But I also saw that there was a gap for value priced wines online. There are the big ones like wine.com but no one person or site who had a specific point of view, who narrowed or filtered things down in a certain way to make their perspectives unique. So i just went for it.” And by ‘it’, she means Plonk Wine Merchants, a website dedicated not only to selling stellar, yet obscure and great cheap wine, but also to educating wine lovers on what is out there.

Etty spent several years in New York City, working with the Wines of Chile. But when she decided to head back home to the West Coast to spend more time with her family, she realized the world of wine wasn’t as readily available to her. “My initial plan was to work for a wine importer. The problem is that LA is not a hub for wine importing. I interviewed with small importers but the opportunities were unappealing. I would have to go back 5 years instead of moving forward in my career. I’m not gonna chase a job. So I decided, I am going to make my career work around what I need which is to be here and with my family.”

When Etty started Plonk, she had a clear vision to deliver good quality wines that would otherwise, most likely, not be discovered.  What really sets the site apart from the other wine sites out there, aside from the fact that at Plonk (which is British and Australian slang for inexpensive wine) is committed to finding the best wine values under $30, is Etty herself. She personally tastes every wine she sells and accompanies that wine’s page with a video review explaining what that wine is all about. “The thing with the videos,” she explains, “is that not many people are doing them. Or anything interactive involving wine. That is the biggest problem with online retailers – there is no personal interaction, you really don’t know what you’re getting. Some people have a very male approach to wine in a regular guy kind of way that is probably appealing to a lot of younger guys, while others are very refined and almost intimidating.” But not everyone wants to that experience when they are trying to select the right wine to bring to their boss’ holiday party.

“I wanted to demystify wine, prove that it is not for snobs, but in a more feminine and approachable way. I want to shy away from intimidating people and the videos I make help people really get the wine. They are more willing to take a chance on something unfamiliar after seeing them.”

And fans are not just taking a chance on the wine, but on Etty, too. Customers will often email her with a dinner party menu and ask her for her pairing recommendations, or send a recipe her way  looking for advice on what wine to serve with it. ” I love bringing joy and pleasure to someone’s night. Not many online business owners get to interact with their customers in  that way. I am trying to put that message out there that I am available to help them, not just to sell to them.”

It’s just like going into a store or having your own personal wine concierge, but without leaving home. And let’s not forget the learning part. Etty is formally educated both nationally and internationally in wine making and tasting.  But that doesn’t mean that she has her sights set only on the  big producers.

“I’m really focused on smaller family wineries making wines from indigenous grapes. These wineries don’t have the money for marketing and advertising. But their wine deserves the attention.” The wines in the Plonk collection are almost all sourced from unfamiliar, exploratory territory. “Think small production, off the beaten path, mostly native grapes.”  Also, many of the wines on the site are organic, biodynamic and limited-production varietals.  Basically, Etty is taking that trip to Tuscany or Chile for you and meeting the local wine makers who are doing something amazing with their local grapes. And let’s not forget that under $30 price tag.

www.plonkwinemerchants.com“Everything on the site is between $10-30 dollars. Nothing is below $10 because, in general, on a quality basis, it is difficult to find amazing, memorable wines for $8 dollars. But that sweet spot between $15-25 bucks is where you can find amazing, super high quality wines from around the globe. You just have to know where to find them.”

Lucky for us, Etty is doing the leg work.

The Plonk Wine Club is the perfect way to experiment with her findings. A monthly fee includes the delivery of 4 bottles of wine to your door step: 1 bottle of the Plonk Pick of the Month and 3 that will be featured in the monthly online wine tasting. You also receive admission to Plonk’s monthly online wine tastings where you can chat with other wine lovers about your new finds. Club members will also get a 10% discount on all wines purchased from the site for the rest of the year.

And Etty promises that everything you get will be good. “There are no dog wines here. Everything we offer is really good. It takes hours on wine.com to find these smaller, affordable, great quality wine makers. At Plonk, I am doing the editing for people. I want to open people’s eyes to new things. I want to show them there is more to life than just merlot.”

Like following your dreams.

We’ll drink to that!

Watch Etty’s review of 2009 Nicole Chanrion Domaine de la Voute des Crozes Côte de Brouilly.

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