Husband and wife sommelier team Chris Gaither and Rebecca Fineman first linked up at the Advanced Sommelier exam in 2012. Their early dates included sharing their dreams of one day opening a space together. They both went on to achieve individual success with Fineman becoming the 25th female Master Sommelier in the United States, and Gaither being named a Best New Sommelier by Wine and Spirits magazine.
Six years, marriage, and one baby later, the pair opened their dream restaurant and bottle shop, Ungrafted in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, with a focus on wine education, community involvement, and a family-friendly environment. They began offering weekly wine classes at the shop in April 2019, bringing in anywhere from a handful to a dozen people for blind tastings and regional surveys every Sunday. With class names like “Level Up!: Central Italy” and “Power Hour: Think Pink!”, Ungrafted aims to inject celebration and inclusivity into their class offerings.
When the pandemic first hit San Francisco in mid-March, Ungrafted was allowed to stay open due to its status as a wine retailer, and thus its classification as an essential business. While they drastically reduced their hours, Gaither wanted to ensure his staff was still able to earn an income. “We are dedicated to taking care of our staff, especially those that couldn’t receive unemployment,” says Gaither. “So we offered a very limited menu for takeout and had them come back to work to keep them getting paid and keep them busy.”
But the amount of revenue from takeout wasn’t going to be enough to sustain the business alone. At the end of March, the team moved their signature weekly wine classes to an online virtual format through Resy At Home. “People were very excited about it, and it was easy to set up on Resy because I was already dealing with table inventories at the restaurant,” says Gaither. The team quickly saw attendance skyrocket, starting with 19 attendees at the first virtual event to a peak of 75 attendees just a few weeks later.
Nearly every virtual event they’ve held since the pandemic began has had 2 to 3 times more attendees than any of their previous in-person events. From April through July of this year, Ungrafted generated 580% more in event ticket sales than they did during the same period last year. “Our classes are more successful virtually than they’ve ever been before,” says Gaither. “While the classes weren’t necessarily our main business focus before COVID-19, they’ve become one of the staples of our business and account for a significant portion of our revenue.”