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A&M alum’s non-alcoholic wine makes sweet impression on Sam’s Club

HUNTSVILLE — One legacy of the pandemic is the brain child of an Alabama A&M alumna – an alcohol-free wine.

Dr. Ashley Hunt-Poole said she started her “mocktails” during her 2020 pregnancy. Now she’s making a name for herself in the market.

Her company Mocktails for Mommy has partnered with Sam’s Club to launch MAMÁ: Alabama’s first Black and Female-Owned alcohol-free wine brand.

“Funny enough, my degree in family and consumer sciences has a tie to it,” said Hunt-Poole. “At that time, I couldn’t drink, so while I was at home, I was like, ‘OK, how can I mimic a margarita?’ When I taste a margarita, I taste that lime and that strawberry. I tried to take fresh fruits and create drinks to make them taste as close as possible to a regular margarita. I was literally in my kitchen coming up with these concoctions and it spawned from there.”

Dr. Ashley Hunt-Poole and Her Non-Alcoholic Wine

Hunt-Poole said her mocktails not only filled a void, but provided a healthier option to drinking. Once her recipes were perfected, she went to work on social media.

“I started doing Instagram and Facebook videos just showing people how to make mocktails from the comfort of their homes,” she said. “Those videos kind of sparked me to creating my own beverage company.”

Hunt-Poole launched Mocktails for Mommy in January 2023 after being inspired to explore non-alcoholic wine at the Crush Wine Festival.

“It’s a huge wine festival here in Huntsville and I saw that there weren’t any non-alcoholic wine options,” she said. “I went to another non-alcoholic wine brand and told them I was interested and they were like, ‘No, I don’t think you’ll be able to do it, it’s going to be too much.’ That lit a fire under me. Literally less than six months after that, we launched MAMÁ wine with our first product, Momscato Peach and we have blossomed and grown ever since. There weren’t any Black female-owned alcohol-free wine brands. I’m really the first. I had to seize the opportunity.”

Dr. Ashely Hunt-Poole's MAMÁ Momscato Peach wine

She credits her company’s expanse to wine to her sheer determination, and Google.

“I’m the Google Queen. I’m gonna’ Google and call and try to figure out a way to make it work,” said Hunt-Poole. “I kid you not, we probably called 300 wineries. We talked to wineries in Italy and Spain. I called everywhere to try to find someone willing to give me a chance, and also work with my budget. I told them, ‘Hey, I’ve only got $500. Can you do something with this?’ Luckily my winery, was like, “We can make it work.”

That winery, Finger Lakes Grapes, in the Finger Lakes region in Naples, N.Y., now produces all of her wine.

“It’s been a difficult journey. You have to find a winery that is willing to produce alcohol-free wine, because there’s a difference between alcohol-free and alcohol removed,” said Hunt-Poole. “Most wineries make alcohol-removed wine, which means they take a traditional wine and they burn it to a really high temperature or it’s process where they spin it out and they get most of the alcohol out, but not all of it.

“My process is that we specifically use wine grapes and we press them and then we cold-stabilize them so it will never turn into alcohol, it will never ferment. We don’t add any sugar, we don’t have any artificial coloring or flavoring and its vegan and gluten friendly so that’s where we really try to set the standard to be different.”

The St. Louis native says she has always been determined and driven. She is a three-time Alabama A&M alumna, earning her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a music concentration in 2017 and master’s degree in family and consumer science in 2019. She came back to A&M for a master’s degree in engineering in systems and materiel science in 2020 and earned a doctorate in healthcare administration from Virginia University of Lynchburg in 2022.

Hunt-Poole also met her husband, Robert Poole, on The Hill. The Atmore native earned his bachelor’s degree and MBA in logistics at AAMU.

“He works at FMS Aerospace and he’s literally their logistics procurement guru and I really lean on him heavily for that,” said Hunt-Poole. Her husband helped pitch Mocktails for Mommy to Sam’s Club.

Dr. Ashley Hunt-Poole and Husband Robert Poole at Walmart and Sam's Club Open Call

“Every year Walmart and Sam’s Club have ‘Open Call,’” said Hunt-Poole. “Thousands of people, I’m talking 30,000 people or more, apply to have the opportunity to pitch their brand in front of buyers. I filled out an application and got picked to present my pitch to both Walmart and Sam’s Club. We drove all the way to Sam’s Club headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and did our pitch, full Mocktail for Mommy.

“I went all out, big hair, big colorful outfits, which they loved, just really showing my personality. I think that’s what really stuck out for my buyer. After the pitch, Sam’s Club picked me.”

Dr. Ashley Hunt-Poole at Sam's Club Headquarters

Hunt-Poole said her family is her driving force. She and husband have two children, and she has a full-time executive level job as the Administrative Coordinator for the CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

As for her company staff?

“Oh, it’s just me,” she said. “I tell people all the time I’m a one-woman army and I’m a force to be reckoned with. When I really think about what I have accomplished and it’s just me, I do my marketing, I do all of my social media, and still have a full-time job, I just love my life!”

Dr. Ashley Hunt-Poole and Family

Hunt-Poole said the journey isn’t easy. She’s had sleepless nights working to get her products to local stores, groceries and national chains, often with no success.

“We have literally met with Whole Foods, Publix, Fresh Market,” said Hunt-Poole. “We went to Meijer headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., and they picked me for their Black Business Summit. I got to pitch and they tried the wine, but we didn’t get picked up. So, we’re out there, but when you’re being innovative and you’re leading the way, you’re going to run into barriers. We just got into Oakwood’s Farmers Market. That was a two-year process of me just being consistent and persistent.”

Because of her tenacity, Hunt-Poole’s mocktails and wines are now available in Huntsville at The Wine Cellar, Star Market, The Wine Rack, a Black-owned wine store, and on her website.

“We ship all over the world because it is alcohol-free,” said Hunt-Poole. “Momscato Peach is my number one. MAMÁ Rose has been really popular. And we just launched a non-alcoholic prosecco, Prosecco Rose. Momscato Peach is the one that’s officially launching at Sam’s Club. We’re also on walmart.com and are working a deal with Walmart.”

Hunt-Poole also offers Mocktails on Location, handcrafted Mocktails delivered right to your door.

“People hire me to come in as a mocktender,” said Hunt-Poole. “My friends help and it’s the same experience as bartending. We shake it up with your ice and use different flavors. I have a lavender lemon drop people love. If you’re making a mocktail you’ve got to have ginger beer. Ginger beer is going to always take it to another level.”

Hunt-Poole said her ultimate goal is to teach entrepreneurship courses.

Her first lesson? “When people told me no, I proved that I can accomplish anything and I did. It takes time, but you have to be persistent. Also, know your people, know your target audience and bring that product to them.”

She said her journey to entrepreneurial stardom is a testament to her alma mater’s influence. “My time on The Hill, it has shaped me to be who I am,” said Hunt-Poole. “I had some very difficult professors, I had some that were easy going. I worked super, super hard. I was in almost every organization on campus. I had a scholarship to sing in the choir, that’s what paid for my undergrad degree. I am a full A&M Bulldog through and through.”

We asked if she ever thought about appearing on “Shark Tank,” the TV series that allows entrepreneurs to present their businesses to investors.

“I would love to appear on “Shark Tank” or any show for that matter,” she said. “Because even if I don’t get a deal, having that exposure and being in front of millions of people is worth it, especially for a Black and female-owned company. We are the ones that get less funding, we are the ones that get overlooked.

“I would take that opportunity just to say ‘Hey, I’m here!’”

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