Cork & Keg Tours Takes Visitors on a Personal Tour of our Local Craft Beverages
Personality Plus—that’s how I’d describe Renee Ventrice, who along with her husband Don, own Cork & Keg Tours. If you’ve ever taken one of her tours, you’ll recognize her bon vivant spirit.
It may be just this spirit which landed her a video feature on Entrepreneur.com (https://www.entrepreneur.com/provider/facebook-for-business) that garnered more than 18 million views to date! Her company was also voted third in the nation by popular vote in a 2020 USA TODAY Reader’s Choice “Best Wine Tour Company” poll (https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-wine-tour-company/), behind two well-established California tour companies!
How the Love Began
Renee and Don met while each was serving in the U.S. Navy as cryptologists and stationed in Spain. While in Europe, they began sampling wine in Germany. Later in their careers, when eating out in Pensacola, FL, a waiter suggested they try a Riesling to accompany their sushi dinner. “It was the first time I’d ever had wine with food, and I realized how it can change when paired with food,” Renee said.
“I discovered there was something special about wine, so I started trying more. I developed a good palate, and when we moved to Loudoun and began experiencing all the wineries, it became a natural progression.” Since she loved being a wine educator, Renee pursued training and became a Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)-certified wine expert.
The couple opened Cork & Keg tours in 2016, originally as a weekend business. In 2019, Renee left her job to run the business full time.
The Idea for a Tour Company
“Don and I had been going to Sonoma [California’s wine country] on vacation for 10 years and when we moved to Loudoun County, we wanted to take the same type of wine tours, but nobody here was offering the same type of backstage-pass tour. So we thought, ‘What if we do it like Sonoma does?’”
“We decided to take it up a level and make it luxurious,” she exclaimed. Since transportation is part of the experience, they purchased and outfitted a gorgeous van. It includes two 40” screens where guests can view a slide show of photos they submit, customized music playlists and luxurious seating. The van is stocked with chilled still and sparkling waters and tours always start with a sparkling wine toast.
With COVID-19 restrictions, Cork & Keg tours can only accommodate a group of 10 and tours must be booked by individual private groups. Strict disinfection procedures are in place prior to, in between, and after stops, and guests are asked to hand sanitize before entering the van.
A typical day tour is about six hours long, with visits to up to three venues: wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries, or a combination. “If the group allows me to do the planning, I find out more about the group: is it a bachelorette party that wants to have lively fun, or a group of sommeliers on a tasting experience?” Renee said. “I get a feel for the group and pick the type of atmosphere that’s the best fit.”
Renee always makes reservations and ensures that wherever they go has a food menu available. She encourages guests to order food to pair with their wines. She also likes to end the day in a lively atmosphere, like one with a live performer. “This is what makes us different. We’re not just a driver, we offer a fully-curated experience.”
Cork & Keg Tours is a member of the Loudoun Bed & Breakfast Guild. Renee is also a member of the Rural Economic Development Committee Board and Visit Loudoun, and is obtaining her Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) certification. This enables her to add local resources to her tours, for example, if someone wants to stay for the weekend and visit area restaurants or retailers.
Go Be Grape!
“What saved us from going under during COVID was our ability to find ways to help other businesses in our community.” Because the company had to switch to virtual wine tastings during COVID-19 shutdowns, Renee pivoted and put her personality on display. “I worked as a DJ while in the Navy, so I pull out a bottle of wine to do a tasting on Facebook Live and sing karaoke.” It caught on and area restaurants like The Conche and Eddie Merlot’s began engaging her to do tastings at their restaurants. So did networking groups, sororities, families, private groups and fundraising campaigns. She ended up making it a brand she calls Go Be Grape, a takeoff on “Go Be Great.” For the virtual tasting experience, Renee creates a menu of food and wine. Participants order their wine and foods in advance to enjoy while Renee leads the live tasting.
“As a local business, people constantly ask for donations, but I cannot give away but so many tours, so we decided to make charitable giving into a marketing opportunity we call Charity Crush.” Area charities apply to be part of the Crush and have to earn points by “doing things” like signing up for Renee’s newsletter, liking her on social media, or sharing a post. Whichever charity gets the most points at the end of the Crush receives a $500 tour gift certificate. The charities also benefit. Renee spotlights them in her newsletters and on social media to garner them volunteers and donations.
For a fun day exploring our region’s delicious craft beverages and beautiful venues, check out Cork & Kegs Tours.
Photo credit: Sweet Memories Photography by Samantha
Cork & Keg Tours
Don & Renee Ventrice