While working as a bartender after graduating from business school, Josh Winzelberg was exposed to all kinds of drinks and drinkers.
“It was great experience being on the ground, connecting with consumers,” he recalls.
Winzelberg always felt he was meant to start a business, but he wanted to create a physical product. After closely examining the vodka landscape, the entrepreneur spent six years developing Vodka Mariette, a French-made, all-natural line of vodkas targeting millennial women—the “key tastemakers” of today, according to Winzelberg, but a demo that’s “not being sufficiently served.”
He noticed that products marketed to females tend to be “sparkly and low-calorie, when in reality, women are the larger buyer of quality products.”
Label design tips from Josh Winzelberg
The WeWork NoMad member saw an opportunity to shake up the game by diving into an industry traditionally “dominated by older men” and honing in on young buyers through specific and targeted marketing. In 2014, Winzelberg finally rolled out his line.
Available in select liquor stores across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut and retailing for about $29 a bottle, Vodka Mariette stands out with its eye-catching packaging in a sleek, “neckless” carafe. Additionally, the brand offers grants for female entrepreneurs as well as an accompanying book club—all means of capturing the attention of the young and creative.
“Mariette is French for ‘little rebel,’” Winzelberg explains. “We’re all about the free-spirited, creative people. It’s a new image and direction for vodka, and we’re amazed at how the market has embraced it.”
For someone who has sampled many vodkas, Vodka Mariette is “the smoothest and cleanest” Winzelberg’s ever tasted. He explains that he wouldn’t have gone through with building a business unless it was something “truly special.”
Restaurants seem to agree.
“We’re getting into a lot of restaurants, for example, that don’t take flavored vodkas, but they like ours because they’re not embarrassed to have them on their shelves,” he says. “They’re all natural, so they’re nice and light and not syrupy.”
Winzelberg’s biggest ambition for the vodka line? To make it a staple among the cocktail community.
“Our goal is mixology-driven locations—bars and restaurants—to show how serious we are about great cocktails,” he explained. “It’s not just a pretty vodka. It’s truly a bartender’s friend and a key asset behind the bar.”
Photos: Emanuel Hahn