Words by Johanna Harlow
Truth: Pondering the wall of wine at the store can be a daunting endeavor. What the heck makes a liquid “dry?” What gives it “legs” and “body?” How is a merlot different from a malbec? What separates syrah from sangiovese? After squinting at poetic descriptions of tasting notes, many call it a day and grab the closest bottle with an eye-catching label.
“The industry has gotten more over-the-top confusing over the last couple of decades,” recognizes Joe Welch, co-founder of In Good Taste Wines. “There are many different wines out there: thousands of labels, thousands of varietals. That’s a scary thing!”
But it doesn’t have to be. “We want to be a gatekeeper for the industry, to help usher in new customers,” explains Joe, who grew up in Palo Alto. It’s why In Good Taste delivers tasting flights with six to eight single-glass servings of first-class wine to your doorstep. The objective? To help you “find what you love—and feel more confident doing it!” Joe summarizes.
The company’s mission statement, “Making wine more accessible and less intimidating for the everyday drinker,” speaks to this emphasis on approachability. As does their selection of varietals. “We want the wine to be as true to the region and the grape as possible,” Joe states. “Because then you’ll know, ‘Do I like a Napa merlot? Yes or no?’ The days of opening a full bottle of wine only to realize you don’t love it are over.”
In Good Taste takes into account both vintner and vineyard. “I think almost every wine has a story—whether it’s who made it or where it’s from,” Joe muses. “It is such a personal product and such an emotional product… Very often you can find some really fun tidbits or information to share with people.” He pauses, then adds, “What we try not to do is force a story on a wine that doesn’t have a story. Sometimes, a wine’s just a good wine!”
Joe’s own story is quite the tale. After graduating from Palo Alto’s Gunn High School, Joe spent two years in the military. While working at Twitter, he completed his education at Stanford—then aided early-days DoorDash in launching its services across major cities including San Diego, Seattle and Toronto. “It was the Wild West of food delivery,” he recalls. Following that, he contributed to the exploration of “the final frontier” at SpaceX.
But what next? “I knew I’d bopped around a bunch, so I had to pick my next move carefully,” Joe relays. “You can’t just keep jumping around forever.” Wine seemed a natural fit. “I’d been around wine my whole life,” he says, recounting early memories of his dad and grandpa buying vineyard grapes and making wine in their basement—or the bathtub. “Wherever they could,” he laughs.
Joe also recognized wine’s enduring market opportunity. “Pretty much every alcohol drinker eventually moves towards wine as they get older,” he remarks. “Nobody opens up White Claw for dinner. Wine’s been part of society for thousands of years. It’s not going anywhere!”
To cement the concept, he joined forces with Los Altos native and fellow Gunn High alum Zach Feinberg. “We knew each other from high school and we were friendly, but we weren’t super close—which actually really helped from a founder relationship. It’s dicey starting a company with your best friend.” The two had also worked alongside each other at DoorDash. “I knew he wouldn’t quit,” notes Joe. “I knew he was competitive. And he knew the same thing about me.”
After testing out a monthly consumer subscription model, the partners pivoted to selling to hotels. Zach’s knack for networking came in handy. He’d attend conferences—then beeline it for the bar, chatting with everyone in line. And if he didn’t make the connections he was hoping for… “He would walk to the bathroom, dump his drink out and then get back in line,” Joe chuckles.
Even so, the first three years were admittedly tough. And then the pandemic hit. With the shutdown of the hospitality industry, the partners decided to return to the consumer model, offering one-time orders “to keep the lights on” until the chaos blew over.
The concept exploded. “It was kind of right place, right time, right product. People were looking for experiences at home and we sold tasting flights of wine,” Joe explains. They were also early to the virtual tasting game, gaining fast recognition as an industry leader. “I think our record was 12,000 virtual tastings in one month,” Joe marvels. They created a wildly popular wine advent calendar for the holiday season to close their banner year.
Today, In Good Taste partners with award-winning winemakers Matt Smith and Neely Ashley to source wine from well-known regions both domestic and abroad. “We tried to craft each brand around a style of customer or a style of wine,” Joe says, explaining that their Unprecedented line delves into regional Northern California wines. “You’ll find your big, bold Napa cabs, your buttery chardonnays, your bigger merlots,” he informs. Then there’s Pluma (Spanish for “feather”). “There’s gonna be zero sugar in any of those. All really dry, really fresh summer wines.” And don’t forget the Wild Child selections. “It’s somebody who wants a little bit more adventure, who wants to get off the beaten path,” says Joe, who identifies most with this category. In fact, Joe served a Wild Child vermentino and nerello cappuccino at his wedding this past year.
Reflecting on fond memories at In Good Taste, Joe pinpoints the little moments. “It’s at the end of a long day at the warehouse,” he describes. “You’re tired. You’re not drinking out of a fancy glass. You’re probably finding a plastic cup. And you’re just sitting around talking about what you just did for the last eight hours—reconnecting, relaxing. For me, that is heaven.”