An Intoxicating Side Gig

“Data manager by day, sommelier wrangler by night” is an unorthodox career trajectory. But it suits Vanesa Raymond just fine.

EPSCoR Data Manager Vanessa Raymond

“I’m a multipassionate person, is really what it comes down to,” said Raymond, who works as the Data Manager for Fire & Ice and also founded Telesomm, an app that links up wine enthusiasts with sommeliers.

Raymond’s resume is, shall we say, picaresque. She holds a Master’s in Arctic Governance from UAF and a Bachelor’s in Cultural Studies from Hampshire College, for which she wrote a thesis on the history of jazz. She’s worked as a cook on a windjammer in Maine, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria, a market researcher for a national wine event franchise, and in a variety of project and data management positions across Massachusetts, New York, California and Alaska.

She first collaborated with Alaska NSF EPSCoR when she took a job in 2014 with the UAF Geographic Information Network of Alaska, an EPSCoR project partner with whom she helped to develop the Vis Space visualization facility as well as elements of EPSCoR’s data management and online presence. She left GINA and eventually ended up working for Axiom Data Science, then returned to the fold when EPSCoR contracted with Axiom to manage Fire & Ice research data.

“I review data and help scientists write scientific metadata so that it can be properly archived and re-used by other researchers,” she explained. “I also help set some of the best practices and guidelines around how we should be sharing data, how we should be documenting science data.”

Raymond in Bulgaria
Raymond at a grape harvest in Varshets, Bulgaria in 2009, during her time serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Never one to be complacent in her career, Raymond also recently embarked on a side gig based on one of her many interests: wine. In April 2020 she founded the Telesomm app, through which wine devotees can schedule virtual wine tastings with any of 11 sommeliers from around the globe. The sommeliers recommend wines (and sometimes food pairings), then meet via Zoom with the clients for a tasting and info session. “They will talk you through the process of learning to taste wine, and they’ll also tell you information about those wines, the wineries, the winemaking process, the grapes, maybe the winemaking culture that wine comes out of.”

Raymond said that online wine tastings are growing in popularity, but that what makes the app unique is its personal sommelier service. “Lots of people were starting to do online wine tastings, but I saw that they were kind of missing some personalization,” she explained. “It was like buying a ticket to an event, as opposed to a private experience with just you and your friends on your birthday with your favorite wines.”

Raymond spent months building and testing the app, gathering market data from segments of the wine industry, gauging interest from sommeliers, and running a series of test events. She benefited a great deal during the process from Alaskan services for business startups, including Alaska Startup Week and the Alaska Developers Alliance HAKathon, both of which enjoy support from EPSCoR. She also took part in Upstart Alpha, a business accelerator run by the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, and has employed an intern (senior undergraduate Iman Allen) provided to her through a UAA entrepreneurship class.

“I definitely consider myself an output of the Alaska startup ecosystem,” she said. “As nascent as it is, I’ve been absorbing anything

Raymond and her cousins in New Jersey, Washington, and Ohio take a world tour of Chardonnay on Telesomm with sommelier Nicole Castro Garro.

that comes out of it.” 

Raymond said that the app has been used by thousands of people so far, including a number who discovered it through a collaborative event with a Balkan pastry company that garnered a mention in Forbes magazine. She hopes to expand and diversify Telesomm’s offerings to include beer and coffee as well, while also being careful to not let maintaining the app overwhelm her free time. “I’m trying to grow it slowly, because I do have a day job that’s really intensive, so I can’t dedicate a lot of time to it,” she said.

But the endeavor has been entirely worth it, she added. “I’ve had so many incredible experiences and met so many cool people through this process that I never could have expected.”