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How this Melburnian launched a wildly successful one-woman wine brand during lockdown

WORDS BY ELIZA SHOLLY

Viino Quarantino is not your run-of-the-mill wine brand.

When we look back on the pandemic, quarantine will be remembered for a number of things: face masks, matching tracksuits, Tiger King, sourdough – and if youre anything like me – copious amounts of alcohol.

COVID forced the hospitality industry indoors, which, for better or worse, resulted in traditional brick-and-mortar brands pivoting to retain audiences. One such brand was Viino Quarantino.

Described as “a Cabernet Sauvignon (blend of vintages) that comes in a big old 2L flagon”, Viino Quarantino permeated Instagram stories by way of user-generated content. The product was as photogenic as it was delicious, which resulted in founder Cinzia Ubaldi looking past the traditional modes of marketing for your run-of-the-mill wine brand.

Her multidisciplinary approach to a simple bottle of wine only reminds you just how painfully talented 22-year-olds are these days. And her approach is clearly working – after huge demand for Viino merch, the brand has a range of T-shirts coming out, and lots of exciting new drops in the pipeline, like a 2L rosé and Christmas Fiano flagons.

Part creator, entrepreneur, photographer, content creator, DJ and now, wine-connoisseur, we sat down with her to learn more about the rise of Viino Qurantino and its post-pandemic future.

Cinzia! Hello! Congrats on all the success – its been a whirlwind. Could you tell me how Viino Quarantino first came about?

Viino Quarantino itself only started in April. Just before we went into lockdown and restrictions were beginning. Although Viino didn’t exist as a brand before that, my family has always had a winery called Somerset Crossing Winery in Seymour, an hour outside of Melbourne. They have helmed that for about 25 years and always been in the wine game. A few years ago my older sister and her ex-boyfriend started Mama’s Boy wines, which served as the trendier facet to Somerset Crossing. It had funky labels and they did a lot of warehouse sales around Melbourne. After they broke up she decided to move to Berlin. She always told me to keep doing Mama’s Boy while she was away, but I was studying media and communications and had no real interest in it.

So what changed?

As soon as COVID hit and work started to die out, I noticed heaps of people acting like 40-year-old mums with their red wines. Watching all the content, I thought it would be cool if it was our wines that people were drinking. I asked Dad if there was any of the Mamma’s Boy stock left, and he said that there wasn’t, “But we’ve got all the wine in the world, what do you want to do?”. I used to work at a wine bar in Fitzroy and we would serve these two-litre flagons of rosé which were $20 and would always sell out. I wanted to get flagons because the bottle is sick and no one is doing them. They’re also good value for money and something a bit different. I also knew it had to have a funny name and be Instagrammable, so I brainstormed and Viino Quarantino came out.

Did you have an initial marketing strategy? Or just hope for the best…

Originally I just put it on my personal Instagram, alerting friends that we were selling a rejigged version of our family wine. People who already enjoyed our product started getting around it, then it just blew up. For the first half of the year, VQ didn’t even have its own website, it just piggy-backed off of Mamma’s Boy. People sharing it on social media was the clincher for us. I remember when I delivered the first batch of wine to people, there were hundreds of Instagram stories from friends and friends of friends.

Do you consider it a one-person-operation?

It pretty much is, but my family and friends (particularly my dad) have been incredible in assisting me and supporting Viino wherever needed. At the moment I am the only person who is running the entire thing – social media, operations, admin. I’ve got people doing deliveries. At the start, I was driving the wine around by myself. I spent the first three months of COVID going through every podcast and playlist zooming around the empty roads. After a while, I couldn’t keep up with the demand so I asked a couple of friends to help out. There was no system – I was handwriting on the boxes. Eventually, it evolved into a commercial operation.

When did you realise that this could evolve from a hobby/isolation project into a full-scale business?

I realised when there was a desire for the brand VQ was becoming. Ive spent a lot of time trying to decipher the type of person that buys our wine. In terms of the product, there were some people who were buying them perhaps because we were a little trendier or a little cooler than your average. We also do a bit more by way of photography and marketing, making it more lifestyle as opposed [to] product shots. Others just enjoyed the gimmick of the bottle or the name. When we started getting repeat orders, we realised some people just really enjoyed the wine. Another major drawcard for the business is that were completely local. The wine comes from an hour outside Melbourne. We bottle and deliver them ourselves. The flagons are reusable. People use them as a flower vase or a souvenir of COVID. Its almost decor and wine in one.

Were you worried that the brand – being so intertwined with quarantine – might have a short lifespan?

The identity of the brand has definitely shifted with scale. I consistently regrouped to think about what I wanted it to look like, comparing to other wine brands that I love. Not a lot of them were doing photography and video or using content in exciting ways. Thats a strength that I have really honed in on. I did wonder how I was going to reinvent it post-quarantine. Instead of putting it in a corner and trying to capture a niche market, I wanted it to be ever-evolving and ever-changing. Thats where the collaborations have come in. Different artists and musicians make it really versatile, because it is. I want it to be a really fluid brand filled with creativity and relevancy.

Youve done some notable collaborations. How have they come about?

I think that comes from my creative background. Im definitely new to the wine game, and while my family has had a winery for ages, Ive only recently started enjoying a glass myself. The creative side of it comes from my external passions. I run events on the side, so I have always seen the demand for alcohol at festivals, pop-up shops and exhibitions. I knew that if I began to collaborate with friends and Melbourne artists, it wont be so random when I try to take it into new spaces.

What plans do you have? Any exciting projects?

So many. We have just started a mix series which I am super excited about. In the music world, every single person has a mix series, but in the drinks world, very few brands do. I thought it would be really nice if there was an hour of continuous songs that you could put on in the background of a dinner party. We called it Tasting Tones and its essentially just a wine-sipping soundtrack, with an intro done by a friend who does podcasting. Its gone really well so far which is nice.

Ive also got T-shirts coming out, which is happening soon! I had so many people asking for Vino merch, which I thought was super random, so it just turned into a bit of a piss-take. Although Vino is super minimal as a brand, we didnt want to take ourselves too seriously with a merch execution. The people I use for shoots are all mature age. So many people use young, hot models and it’s getting boring. Also, good wine is aged and mature, isnt it? Models for the merch will be the same.

The T-shirts, designed by Cooper Griffin, embrace the fact that were not going anywhere. Were in Australia doing interstate trips, roadies, park hangouts and those are our holidays. The merch itself features a koala lounging around, with lots of surfing and sunset iconography as well. Below it reads Dolce Far Niente, which is essentially the Italian way of saying ‘Doing fuck all. Specifically, ‘The sweetness of doing nothing.

And any new flavours in the pipeline?

Coming into summer, I really want to soften the brand. Red wine is beautiful, but its wintery and heavy. Even though wine isnt traditionally known as a summer drink, it still can be super versatile. At the moment, Im looking at doing a white and a rosé. Sparkling rosé in a can, and a dry rosé in a flagon. Id also love some cask wine before summer. Making an upscale, fun version of a cask would be the dream…

viino.com.au

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