In a new subscription-heavy world, wine clubs are a dime a dozen — but very few of them are helmed by a world-class sommelier who is personally selecting each wine. Human touch, and that coveted industry expertise, is what sets apart Salutay, a new female-founded wine club and sommelier services company created by Taylor Grant. As one of the foremost sommeliers in California, Grant was honored by Food & Wine in 2019 as one of their Sommeliers Of The Year, and the magazine also highlighted how she started her own wine label, Tresomm, inspired by the burgeoning wine scene in Baja, Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe. Not satisfied with just one wine company, she launched Salutay in late 2021 to help build further community in the California wine scene.
But Grant also has tenure as a sommelier at high-profile restaurants like Scopa Italian Roots, Old Lightning, Dama and Mozza, and has made her way as a rare woman recognition in a male-dominated space. That’s another part of what informs the ethos of Salutay, acknowledging feminine and otherwise marginalized winemakers and producers in the wine industry, and bringing the spotlight to them. The playfully-named club — a phonetic take on the Italian word “salute” for “cheers” — is also a subtle nod to her own name, and a step away from the idea that excellent wine is only for the stiff and formal. With three distinct levels for varying price points and levels of wine obsession, Salutay emphasizes small producers, sustainability and minimal intervention.
So how did this renowned sommelier become a wine expert in the first place? Born and raised in LA which she laughs is “more rare” for Angelenos, Grant explained during a recent Zoom interview that she didn’t grow up surrounded by wine culture at all, but ended up in it by accident. “My parents loved to cook, but they weren’t really big wine drinkers,” she remembered. “So I didn’t grow up in a family that was in wine culture at all. I started drinking wine — not even good wine — in college, but it just wasn’t a part of my upbringing in any way. It wasn’t even that I knew it was going to be wine — I just fell into it.”
Grant followed in her father’s footsteps to work in the entertainment industry, and got a job working at a talent agency, before she quickly realized it wasn’t a fit. Switching lanes, she accepted a part-time gig for a Paso Robles-based wine club, and started learning about the industry here and there through that role, eventually signing up for the WSET wine classes to get more background. These courses, along with another part-time job at the Santa Monica bottle shop, Wine Expo, were the gateway to what she calls “getting sucked in.” After a trip to Southern France and the Rhone Valley, her mind was made up — she returned to Los Angeles and began to pursue a career as a sommelier in restaurants.
“From my perspective, I never saw working in wine as a possible career,” Grant said. “I didn’t think you could even be a sommelier. This was before being a sommelier was in the spotlight. I ended up getting a part-time job for a winery that was based out of Paso Robles, but I thought it was an in-between thing until I found my “real” job. A trip to the Rhone valley was the turning point for me, and after that is when I started as a sommelier on the floor and went down the rabbit hole.”
Starting off at Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza as a self-described “very green sommelier,” Grant leaned on the knowledge she gained at Wine Expo, where she learned a lot about Italian wines, to guide her through. From there, she collaborated with chef Antonia Lofaso and Steve Livigni on Scopa Italian Roots, and went on to open two more venues in that restaurant group, Old Lightning and Dama. “The most important thing, as a sommelier, is listening to the guest,” Grant said. “Understanding what they’re wanting, and even anticipating what they’re going to want next. There’s a balance with wines that you like but also fitting what the guest wants.”
After spending several years as a sommelier, Grant was ready to stretch her legs and explore aspects of the wine world that weren’t on the restaurant side. Starting first with Tresomm and then expanding more into Salutay, she’s been able to connect with other wine lovers without being tied to a specific brick and mortar restaurant. “The club is the starting point for sharing wines I’ve found,” she said. “A lot of these wines are producers I’ve known from before, so it’s a collection of the years I spent working with these wines, picking out the ones that are really special to me and sharing them with people.”
Aside from the club itself, Grant does private client work through Salutay, and also curates occasional tastings and events under the brand’s umbrella. Since launching about a month ago, the club currently offers three tiers: Cin Cin and Kan Pai are both $55/month for a six bottle offering sent quarterly (four times a year), with the former focused on adventurous wines and the latter a mix of classic and contemporary bottes. Then there’s the more elevated Prost level, $80/month for a six bottle offering, also sent quarterly (four times a year), but this level is geared toward the “budding collector” who is interested in unique and rare bottles.
Grant has set Salutay apart from other clubs by offering elements like a “side by side” tasting that follows a theme in every shipment. Whether it’s including wine from the same grape grown in two different regions, or different quality levels of similar wines, the exercise of comparing and contrasting helps subscribers learn more about wine and expand their palate. And if it’s not of interest, they can also just skip the exercise and drink at their own pace.
“The Cin Cin and the Kan Pai are the same price, and the Cin Cin is just a bit more esoteric,” she said. “More skin contact and unique varietals in that one, the Kan Pai is a bit more classic, you probably won’t find any Pet Nats in that box. You’ll find Nebbiolos, but you could also find a weird wine for Greece or wines that are more unique, it’s just more classic in a general sense. Prost is the higher end here, stylistically these would fit more in line with the Kan Pai but a higher level of quality.”
As another Taylor would say, ‘tis the damn season, so it’s worth noting Salutay also doubles as a great gift for someone who is just getting into wine, or would enjoy the process of receiving and collecting bottles for a few months. Grant envisions a club membership as a gift that goes above and beyond just grabbing a bottle of wine for someone, partially because of the side by side tastings, and due to tasting notes and frequent recipes for suggested food pairings that are part of every delivery. “It’s easy to give a bottle of wine as a gift, but the subscription gives more of an educational factor,” she said. “You’re getting wine but more of an experience factor, because we include tasting sheets, then there’s the side by side tasting, and even recipes that can help make it into something more than wine.”
And for those who have an eye out for brands and entrepreneurs who are seeking to level the playing field in their industry, Salutay also includes a focus on women and other underrepresented perspectives within wine. “It’s important to emphasize the people that are underrepresented in the industry, including women but not limited to them,” she said. “I’m a woman, so I connect with that group, but this is my small platform to create a space in the market for those underrepresented voices.”
In the end, the whole goal of Salutay is to share a little bit of the love for wine that Grant has developed over the years, and help people enjoy themselves. Even if collecting wine is and can be a serious thing, the playfulness of this wine club is always going to be a part of the brand, too. “First and foremost, I want people to enjoy themselves,” she said. “And I want people to feel comfortable and trust in the wines that they’re getting. Even if one may not be just in their style, that they can trust these are going to be good, well-made wines. Obviously I care so much about the wines that I’m putting my name behind, so it’s serious, but it’s also supposed to be a little playful as well.”
Learn more about Salutay here.