Co-founder and CEO TJ Douglas and co-founder and CMO Hadley Douglas accepted the $25,000 prize and award, which aims to recognize a small business that exemplifies the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and individual initiative, according to the Chamber of Commerce’s website. Over 1,000 businesses from across the U.S. applied for the award.
“Urban Grape’s innovative business strategy, rapid growth, and commitment to community development stood out among this year’s nominees,” the organization wrote. “Rather than selling wine by the region, the company has developed a unique scale to help customers understand and develop their palate. Called ‘Progressive Shelving,’ the system organizes wine by the body, as opposed to region or varietal.”
The Progressive Shelving is Urban Grape’s method of thinking about wine like milk, with skim being the lightest and ranking as a 1 and heavy cream ranking as a 10. This approach was called “more customer-friendly than conventional wine stores” by the Chamber of Commerce.
“With its unique approach to the education of its customers, Urban Grape makes everyone from novice wine drinkers to seasoned collectors feel comfortable and welcome, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) shoppers who have previously felt unwelcome and unrepresented in the wine industry,” the organization wrote.
Urban Grape posted on Instagram to celebrate its award.
“UG was just named the @uschamber 2021 US SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR!!!! This is a blurry picture of us freaking out in front of our community board by @curtistic because we also just won $25,000,” the company wrote. “Sane people would go to Bali but we’re entrepreneurs so we are going to use it to bring you something ah-maze-ing in 2022. Congrats to our UG team – we love you guys so much, seriously. And yes we are crying (tears of Champagne)!!!”
Urban Grape, founded in 2010, is one of the largest sellers of BIPOC-owned and -produced wines in the country, according to the Chamber of Commerce, and sells more than two thirds of all the BIPOC-produced wines sold in New England.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company grew by 65%, implementing a text support line and adding more delivery to meet the demands of the time. They also hosted virtual educational events to teach people about wine.
Meanwhile, the company also gave back to other Boston businesses, teaming up local restaurants to offer meal/wine pairings, and returning over $80,000 in sales to the Boston restaurant community, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
The company has also shown dedication to social justice. In 2020, Urban Grape hosted online events to discuss racial issues. This ultimately led to the creation of The Urban Grape Wine Studies Award for Students of Color at Boston University, which hopes to help create a path to careers in the beverage industry, the website explained.
“You can’t be what you can’t see, and our hope for this program is to create access for BIPOC to the wine industry. People of color deserve a place at the table—and through this program, we make sure that place is also set with a wine glass,” the Douglas’ told the Chamber of Commerce.