In 2014, Berlin Crystal Kelly was your typical millennial. She was living in New York City, working in finance on wall Street, climbing the corporate ladder and quickly realizing that most of these big companies were all about the bottom line. Berlin found herself in a rut, going from work to the bar to home -- rinse and repeat.
As an active member of the New York City Homebrewers Guild, Berlin loved to craft things, had an entrepreneurial mindset and she knew that owning her own company was something she wanted for herself. When Berlin was made "an offer she couldn't refuse" on a property she owned in California, it felt like her moment to really take action. But as she began to consider the idea more seriously, she knew she didn't want to create another product unless it could do some good for the world.
"I didn't want to just create another beer, wine or cider -- we have so many of those products on the market already," said Berlin. "I needed to connect with my products and make something meaningful."
Proud Pour, a wine label that funds local environmental programs, was officially launched in June 2014, partnering with the billion oyster project in NYC to restore oyster reefs in the Hudson River estuary, which had been destroyed by over harvesting, pollution and dredging. For every bottle of "The Oyster" Sauvignon Blanc that is purchased, 100 oysters are restored to local waters.
In an effort to localize environmentalism, Berlin and her co-CEO Brian Thurber (who came on board in Feb. 2015) partnered with 10 different nonprofits up and down the east coast that are all working to restore oyster reef ecosystems. So depending on where you purchase your bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, oysters will be restored to different local water sources. To date, Proud Pour has helped restore over three million oysters and counting!
"I just thought, what if we were able to convince people to take the money they are already spending on alcohol, or even just a portion of it, and redirect it for good?" said Berlin. "We want to make it cool to have our bottle of wine not because it's really old and expensive, but because it's doing good in the world. Wouldn't you rather say 'I restored 1,000 oysters last night, what'd you do?' versus 'I spent $1,000 on an old bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon?'"
And when Berlin learned that D.C. was spending $1.3 million per night on alcohol purchases, she knew where she needed to expand to next. In the DMV region, Berlin is working with the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), which has been working since 1994 to restore the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.
Maybe you are thinking, "Great, but why should I care about the oysters?" Turns out these tasty little treats are super important foundations to keeping our ecosystems healthy and viable, and we've already lost 85 percent of our wild oyster reefs. The Chesapeake Bay, for example, loses more than 2,600 acres of oyster habitat per year. Did you know that an individual oyster filters 30 gallons of water per day and provides a habitat for fish, crabs, lobster, and other species? Neither did I! But don't worry, eating sustainably farmed oysters isn't harmful to the environment. In fact, Berlin encourages people to eat more farmed oysters (paired with her Sauvignon Blanc of course), as oyster farming cleans water that wouldn't otherwise be cleaned if farmers weren't farming the oysters, and the farmers wouldn't be farming the oysters if they weren't in demand.
Berlin also knew that millennials were a great target audience, considering that 42 percent of the wine consumed in 2015 was drank by millennials and that millennials have been proven to be a generation that is willing to spend a bit of extra money if they knew the product they are purchasing can make a difference. Berlin studied the success of companies in the fashion and beauty industry who were engaged in social issues, such as TOMS shoes which donates a pair of shoes to a child in need for every purchase made, and knew she could replicate it in bars.
"There really isn't anyone doing this direct social impact thing in the alcohol industry," says Berlin. "There might be a company that says ' one percent goes back to the planet,' but we aren't seeing them fully engaged in the issues or fixing the problems. And I find that interesting, because you don't really talk about your fashion all that much, but when you're out with friends, having a glass of wine, you'll take about that wine -- it's a natural conversation starter for people, so why not put some meaning behind every bottle?"
Originally Berlin launched Proud Pour with a single wine option: a 2014 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc that pairs well with oysters, clams, mussels and scallops. Now, she's introduced a 2015 Oregon Pinot Noir, which is helping the 3,600 native bee species across the U.S. by replanting wildflowers on local farms to protect the bee ecosystems. It pairs well with a roast chicken or pork chop. Both wines are sustainably grown and vegan. While the price of the wine is determined by the distrubtuor and retail shops selling it, Berlin says the average cost for the Sauvignon Blanc is $19.99 per bottle and $23.99 for a bottle of the Pinot Noir.
Berlin would love to expand the line to a full-range of alcohol products all benefiting various local environmental problems -- think a whiskey for the wolves, a tequila for the bats, a beer for the beavers etc. Ultimately, her end-all, be-all goal is for a consumer to be able to go into any bar and have a "Proud Pour" option, or a regular option.
"Basically, you'd always the option to drink to help or you can just drink," says Berlin. "It'll still be your choice, but we want you to always have the chance to do something good with your alcohol purchase."
Restaurants in the DMV serving Proud Pour wine
- Northside Social Coffee & Wine (Pinot Noir only)
- The Grilled Oyster Company (Sauvignon Blanc only)
- Chef Tony's Fresh Seafood Restaurant (Sauvignon Blanc only)
Where you can buy Proud Pour wine
- Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits (both)
- Broad Branch Market (Sauvignon Blanc only)
- Cheestique in Ballston, Arlington and Alexandria (Pinot Noir only)