Laura Bartlett opens a bottle of wine and leans forward to toast. “Are you a little confused that a mom and son are in this business?” she asks. “Most would probably never do it. But to us, it
isn’t weird. Anyway, these are Wine Condoms.” She’s brought a sleek black box with her, with a golden embossed logo. The “I” is a wine bottle. Inside, a number of square foil packets twinkle in the light.
The inventors of Wine Condoms describe themselves on their website as “Millennial entrepreneur Mitch Strahan and his Dallas-area stand-up comedian, single mom, Laura Bartlett.” Not every mother and son could go into business together and find success, but they aren’t exactly every mother and son.
“We have the same goofy, silly way of looking at the world. We’re a lot alike but also a lot different,” Laura explains. Their shared sense of humor paid off on one perfectly ordinary night a few years ago when Laura went over to a neighbor’s house for a drink. They didn’t finish the bottle and her neighbor insisted Laura take it home. In lieu of the cork—which they couldn’t find—she wrapped the opening of the bottle in saran wrap and secured it with a rubber band. Laura took it home, setting it on the counter where Mitch saw it.“At first I thought it was amusing. But the more we looked at it the funnier it got.” After a moment, they looked at each other and both said, “wine condom.”
“We both wondered why no one had come up with the idea,” Laura explains. “We’ve been shoving bottle stoppers in bottles forever and never really evolved beyond that.”
Mitch had always been a natural entrepreneur and entertainer. Once, when he was in second grade, Laura recalls attending a meeting about a very strange disciplinary problem. Mitch’s teachers reported that every day he’d been getting to school early and sneaking down to a convenience store right around the corner. He bought enough off-brand energy drinks to fill his backpack and smuggled them into school to sell to other kids at a higher price.
“He had a good understanding of profit margins,” Laura laughs. “He was a mover and shaker even then. His teachers were not excited about having all their students jacked up on energy drinks though.”
Laura, who began doing stand-up comedy when Mitch was around 13, once invited him to do his own set at a comedy club with her. His preteen outlook on life and shocking wit went over so well, a lady in the audience asked for his autograph. He signed his school picture for her. But Mitch graduated high school at loose ends. He didn’t want to spend time and money at college until he knew what he wanted to do with his life. So Mitch stayed in town waiting tables.
“The normal thing, college, corporate job—that was never what he wanted,” Laura says. Instead, Mitch decided to make Wine Condoms work. “This is perfect for him. It requires entertainment and promotion and his personality really comes through,” she says, equal parts business partner and proud mom. She got onboard early to do publicity and has been involved ever since.
Laura and Mitch made a Kickstarter campaign for Wine Condoms in 2014, merely hoping to gauge the public’s reaction to the idea. It went viral within days.
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“People were reporting on it in Croatia and Pakistan—we got a crazy amount of press in the first 48 hours. We didn’t even have the things made,” Laura laughs. “That put the onus on us to actually make them.”
Wine consumption is increasing worldwide and millennials seem to be at the forefront of the red and white wave. Wine Market Council, a wine industry nonprofit, released an oft-quoted study which showed that millennials drank 42 percent of all wine in the United States in 2015, more than any other age group. In fact, millennials form such a major part of the wine market that the age-old industry has evolved to meet their needs. For example, Business Insider observed that with millennial cost-conscious wine drinkers have come wine delivery services, apps and other products that promote convenience. It’s the perfect time for a tongue-in-cheek brand like Wine Condoms.
Wine Condoms must be stretched first before being rolled over the neck of the bottle where they conform to its shape. To prove how portable and safe they are, Laura slaps one on the open bottle and dangles it right above her laptop. She shakes it a little. Not a drop is spilled. The laptop is spared.
“At restaurants, they put the cork in and wrap it in plastic and still tell you to put it in your trunk because they don’t trust it,” she explains. “But these are portable and safe. They won’t leak.”
It took a couple of years to get them exactly right. Mitch and Laura did everything themselves, a “ragtag team with a quirky idea.” Mitch built Wine Condoms from the ground up, showing a marked instinct for business. For example, he was advised to use cheap packaging, but Mitch was adamant that he wanted to sell Wine Condoms in luxury gift boxes, refusing to skimp on the foil embossed logo.
“He grew up with Apple products,” Laura explains. “He was inspired by the experience of unwrapping a new product, the anticipation of it.”
His instinct was right. Most people buy Wine Condoms to give as gifts—often gag gifts—and the packaging not only feels elegant enough for that purpose, but makes the experience of receiving
Wine Condoms memorable. Hilarious but useful, they’re smash hits at white elephant parties. The most recent press release called Wine Condoms “Pinot protection. ‘Wine Condom 2.0’ is virtually guaranteed to eliminate performance anxiety.” That’s Mitch talking.
Laura also points out that the jokes about Wine Condoms are just that—jokes. “It made us laugh and we figured it would make other people laugh. … Ultimately, this is a stopper. It isn’t a condom. There was no better name. It describes seamlessly how it works.”
Sometimes people don’t understand their vibe. The pair have been approached by sex shops and even the New York City Sex Museum.
“I didn’t know there was one,” Laura admits. “That isn’t our vibe though. We aren’t about that. We’re about laughter, people coming together and wine. We aren’t about the $100 bottle of wine. We’re
about the $7 bottle most of us get from our grocery stores and share with our friends.”
Wine Condoms fit easily in a purse or pocket and it’s always a good idea to have one stashed away. Just to be safe. You never know where the night will go.