Education & Family

Local Wine Company Tipsy Teacher Gives Back to Public Schools

By donating 15 percent of its proceeds to educators in city and county classrooms, the brand aims to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for teachers and ease the overall exhaustion that comes with the job.
—Photography by Matt Roth

In 2019, with an infant at home and a class full of children whose families who couldn’t afford school supplies, teacher and first-time mom Brittany Fugate was having a rough go. With most of her paycheck supporting her students, there wasn’t much left to bring home.

“The school system makes it pretty hard to get resources from [other] places,” says Fugate, 32, who teaches in the Baltimore County public school system. “I had always been buying my own school supplies, but the pain of that was really intensified now that I was also paying for my own child.”

In February 2020, Fugate and family friend Kenny Feldman, an entrepreneur, were having a glass of wine when they came up with a solution: Tipsy Teacher, a wine company that would donate 15 percent of its proceeds to support educators in city and county classrooms. Not only would this help reduce out-of-pocket expenses for teachers, it could also ease the exhaustion that comes with the job.

Initially, the founders partnered with a California vineyard to produce the wine and handle online orders. But after local news outlets broadcasted their efforts, Easton’s Far Eastern Shore Winery reached out with plans to take over production. Fruit-forward blends—with quippy names including “Extra Credit Cab” and “Teacher’s Pet”—are now sold online, at regional festivals, and local stores like The Old Vine, Harborview Liquors, and Chesapeake Wine Company.

For the amusement of customers, “All of our labels are teacher-themed,” says Fugate, chuckling about their illustrations, which take after Bart Simpson-style chalkboard repetitions. “Some of them say things like, ‘I will not get tipsy at parent teacher conferences again,’” with faux wine stains alluding to necessary provisions for grading papers.

QR codes on the back of each bottle show customers which school their order supported and what teachers bought with respective donations, such as chalkboards, new seating, and daily student necessities like pencil pouches. In 2023 alone, Fugate and Feldman say they’ve been able to help nearly 35 classrooms secure supplies, with nearly $20,000 donated thus far. And with plans to expand Tipsy Teacher—which could see a name change as soon as next year to Kind Vine Teacher Wine—to reach national customers, they expect that impact only to increase soon.

Whether shoppers are buying a bottle of wine for themselves or to give to a friend, the brand’s semi-sweet blends are ideal for gifting, says Fugate. “People love to help out. When they scan that QR code, they feel good about themselves.”