French-Canadian Marte Belisle grew up in Ottawa with her three brothers and two sisters. But when she was eleven she was sent off to boarding school in London, Ontario to learn and improve her English.
While she made close friends there, she found the rules and regulations very restrictive and disliked the lack of freedom available to her.
Not sure what she wanted to do when she went to university, she chose to get a business degree back in Ottawa, and then pursued interior design at Sheridan College.
Always creative and thinking outside the box, she developed Cocoon – a multi-purpose piece of furniture that from the outside looked like an armoire, but when you opened it up, it became your home office, complete with desk. She won recognition for her design and sold Cocoon across Canada, but after five years, she was totally spent – financially and emotionally.
“It was hard to be a woman in a furniture manufacturing industry that is dominated by men. They didn’t take me seriously and this was before the age of the Internet, and no one believed that people would work from home.” shares Marte.
She joked that she would be doing an amazing business today with the pandemic and everyone working from home. She views it as a successful venture and as she said “we all measure success in different ways, it’s not always financial.”
With her interior design background, she moved on to become a fabric representative for different fabric distributers and had a network of independent representatives working for her across Canada.
“Starting the wine business was supposed to be my retirement project, something that would keep me busy and that I could do on the side.” confesses Marte.
She’d always been interested in wine and made it her purpose to visit every wine district in the world. Realizing that she needed more in-depth knowledge, she went back to school again – this time to George Brown College – to study wine.
As a start, she was a representative selling wine to restaurants, and then launched Sommevents full time four years ago. She loved it. “I enjoy sharing my knowledge of wine with people. Her goal with the business was to provide wine tasting events and tours, often for companies.
Then along came COVID-19. All the bookings she had until November were cancelled and she was faced with the decision as to whether she should close the business down. But she didn’t.
Instead, she redirected her energies to actually selling wine direct to the customer and launched a virtual wine event which is held every Wednesday. “It was important for me to stay in front of people, so that when this pandemic is over, they remember my business and come back to me.”
What happens at these virtual wine events? People choose their own wine and then talk about the wine they have selected, with Marte asking questions so the participants learn more.
And she’s not stopping there. This fall she will be launching a Wine of the Month and after introducing it, people can purchase that wine in cases of six for that month only.
She also is starting a Wine Club and at $75 a month, you receive a bottle of wine and a recipe that should be paired with that wine from a chef. Marte ships her wine across Canada.
While COVID could have been the end of her business, instead Marte feels blessed as it gave her time to review her plans and rethink what she wanted to do and you just know she will do well.